In the spring of 1958 the (relatively) new Mr and Mrs Eliot travelled to America for a month so that T. S. Eliot could introduce his new wife, Valerie, to his family. They sailed from Southampton to New York aboard the Media before flying to Texas for lecture engagements and then on to Cambridge, via New York, to spend time with various members of the Eliot family. Robert Giroux, Eliot’s friend and publisher, arranged a tour of lectures and readings which would have contributed towards the cost of the trip.
We are fortunate that so many wonderful snaps from the trip survive. Here are some of the highlights in the Eliots’ own pictures.
The Eliots’ first views of New York as they came in to dock at the Cunard Line terminal. You can just make out the silhouette of the Empire State Building through the smog.
T. S. Eliot aboard the Media on the the day of their arrival in New York – 19th April 1958 – waiting to dock ahead of dinner with Robert Giroux and Charles Reilly.
As well as get-togethers in New York, Robert Giroux accompanied the Eliots to Texas, overseeing the tour which included lectures at the University of Texas and Southern Methodist University (SMU).
In Dallas, Eliot was made an honorary sheriff and given a Stetson hat and sheriff’s badge. He can be seen here showing off the badge with Charles Reilly.
A sunny garden gathering, presumably in Texas, with T. S. Eliot and Robert Giroux in sunglasses.
After a ‘feverishly busy week’ in Texas and a few days in New York, the Eliots travelled up to Cambridge, Massachusetts where they spent three weeks meeting various members of the Eliot family, including T. S. Eliot’s last surviving sister Marion, and sister-in-law Theresa Garrett Eliot.
During their time in Masschusetts, the Eliots’ social engagements included an evening at the Harvard boat club where Robert Lowell recalled in a letter to Elizabeth Bishop (21 June 1958) that the Eliots ‘danced so dashingly … that he was called “Elbows Eliot”.’
While in New York, the Eliots arranged to meet with various authors, publishers, and friends, including poet Marianne Moore.
Robert Giroux tells a story about the moment this photograph was taken in his article ‘Remembering T. S. Eliot: poet, editor and friend’ (1988) –
‘She [Moore] told Elizabeth Bishop that when Valerie Eliot took a snapshot of her husband and Marianne together, she told him to put his arm around Marianne. “Well, did he?” Elizabeth asked and Marianne said, “Yes, but gingerly”.’
This last photograph of Valerie was taken by Eliot himself. Eliot has annotated the print on the back, describing his shot as ‘very artistic’.