The Hollowed Man

The Letters of T. S. Eliot
Edited by Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton
Yale University Press
Volume 1 (1898–1922), $50, 912 pp.
Volume 2 (1923–1925), $50, 912 pp.

On New Year’s Eve 1925, the last day covered in the second and most recent volume of T. S. Eliot’s letters, the poet wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald to thank him for the gift of The Great Gatsby. The novelist had written in the flyleaf, “For T. S. Elliot [sic] / Greatest of Living Poets / from his enthusiastic / worshipper / F. Scott Fitzgerald,” and the poet wrote back to say that he had read the novel three times and was convinced that it was “the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James.”

James was important to both men. Eliot himself, as he told Leonard Woolf, had set out to work in James’s shadow but then, wrote Woolf, “a personal upheaval after ‘Prufrock’...altered his inclination...to develop in the manner of Henry James.” And yet the influence persisted, for it is difficult to imagine “Burnt Norton” having been written without “The Jolly Corner” as a precursor. And if Eliot’s Jamesian investigation of “What might have been” proved persistent, so did James’s influence prove for Fitzgerald (along with a touch of Eliot’s). Reviewing Fitzgerald’s posthumously published book The Crack-Up, Lionel Trilling noted: “It is a book filled with grief of the lost and the might-have-been, with physical illness and torture of mind.” As the most recent volume of his letters shows, Eliot had an advanced degree in dealing with physical illness and torture of mind. “My fatigue, which has been...

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About the Author

Christopher J. Knight is a professor of English at the University of Montana. His most recent book is Omissions Are Not Accidents: Modern Apophaticism from Henry James to Jacques Derrida (University of Toronto Press, 2010).