Lived at 31 West Street, Marlow,1917-1920.
26th September 1888
4th January 1965
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born into the prominent Eliot family of St.Louis, Missouri. His father Henry was a successful businessman and his mother Charlotte wrote poems and was a social worker. Known to family and friends as Tom, he was the last of six surviving children.
Eliot studied at Harvard, the Sorbonne, and Merton College, Oxford. Whilst at Oxford he was introduced to Cambridge governess, Vivienne Haigh-Wood, and after knowing each other for only three months, they were married on 26 June 1915. Eliot declined a second year at Merton, and in the autumn of 1915 took a teaching post for a term at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. However, he hated teaching and soon after leaving the RGS found a secure and undemanding job in a London bank, where he was free enough to pursue his poetry writing undisturbed by pressures of marking and lesson preparation. It has been unkindly suggested that this time at the RGS inspired his poem The Wasteland. T.S.Eliot’s teaching room was Room 26 in the Main Block and it is still used for English teaching.
Eliot and his wife set up home in 31 West Street, Marlow in 1917 and it has been suggested that Vivienne and Bertrand Russell had an affair there, but these allegations have never been confirmed.
In 1925 Eliot left Lloyds Bank to join the publishing firm Faber and Faber, where he remained for the rest of his career, becoming a director of the firm.
In 1927, he took two important steps in his self-definition. On June 29 he converted to Anglicanism and in November he became a British subject. His troubled marriage ended with an official separation in 1933. His subsequent marriage to his secretary Valerie Fletcher in 1957 was more successful.
Eliot’s early poetical works, The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land express the anguish and barrenness of modern life. In his later poetry, notably Ash Wednesday and Four Quartets, he turned from spiritual desolation to hope for human salvation. He wrote the plays Murder in the Cathedral and The Cocktail Party, and his whimsical volume of children’s verse Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was adapted into the long-running hit musical Cats. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.
Eliot died of emphysema in London on January 4 1965. He was cremated and his ashes taken to St.Michael’s Church in East Coker, near Yeovil in Somerset, the village from which his ancestors emigrated to America. On the second anniversary of his death, a large stone placed on the floor of Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey was dedicated to Eliot. This commemoration contains his name, an indication that he had received the Order of Merit, dates, and a quotation from Four Quartets: “In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning.”
T.S.Eliot - A Life by Peter Ackroyd, published by Penguin in 1984.
T.S.Eliot - An Imperfect Life by Lyndall Gordon, published by W W Norton & Co in 1998
Painted Shadow - A Life of Vivienne Eliot by Carole Seymour-Jones published by Robinson Publishing in 2001
Read more about T S Eliot and read some of his poems at www.poets.org
31 West Street, Marlow (currently a restaurant, The Vanilla Pod) – a commemorative plaque can be seen high up on the wall.