In January 1961 I came to London and started looking for a job. I’d graduated the previous June and been told by the person in charge of women’s appointments that the best I could hope for was a job as a typist. In March I started work at Faber, as the advertising manager’s secretary. Faber was T.S. Eliot’s firm: my father was very impressed. I shared an office with two other secretaries, one of them Eliot’s. She was called Angela, not Valerie: Valerie had married Eliot four years before, in 1957. (We all know now that she’d decided to marry him long before she first came to Faber, but some people knew even then that she kept a pair of white shoes in a drawer in her desk to wear when he summoned her to his room.)
I had some bad moments with him. I hadn’t been there more than a few months when he caught me looking out of the window onto Russell Square. I had my back both to my colleagues and to the door, and I was saying: ‘Look at all those lucky people in Russell Square doing bugger all.’ My colleagues were silent and when I turned round I realised why: Eliot had come into the room and was glowering at me. I might as well have been tearing at the grapes with murderous paws. After I’d graduated to blurb-writing he showed all the directors a blurb I’d written, saying: ‘Surely we can’t publish this.’ It was for Ann Jellicoe’s play The Knack and I’d said that the knack in question was the knack of getting girls into bed. Once, early on, I pointed out a discrepancy between two printings of one of his early poems – I can’t remember which. I was quite proud of myself. He said it didn’t matter.
Another reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing more of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our March session. On March 23 we will focus on “The Dry Salvages” and “Little Gidding.” Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.