Former St. Louisan T.S. Eliot's Non-St. Louisan Wife Dies; Responsible for Existence of Cats

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Valerie Eliot in 2006.
Valerie Fletcher first became obsessed with T.S. Eliot when, as a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl in Reading, England, she heard a recording of John Gielgud reading Eliot's "Journey of the Magi." By 1950, she had succeeded in become his secretary at the publisher Faber & Faber, where he worked as a director.

Their courtship moved at a pace that could be charitably described as glacial. Knowing that Eliot was besieged by poetry groupies, whom he escaped by ducking into the bathroom (ah, yes, the world was a different place back then), Valerie instead decided the best way to win his affection was by becoming the most efficient secretary ever.

"I can't get to know her at all," Eliot complained to one of his other lady companions. "She shuts up like a clam."

He eventually proposed by slipping a note into a pile of papers she was supposed to type up. After she accepted, he asked, "Do you know my Christian name?"

They finally married in 1957. The marriage was a happy one, marked by long evenings spent eating cheese and playing Scrabble. More significantly, Eliot's first miserable marriage, which ended with Vivienne's death in 1947, though the couple had, technically, separated in 1933, inspired his greatest work, including "The Waste Land" and "Four Quartets."

By contrast, during his marriage to Valerie, Eliot wrote no more poetry, except this, the dedication to his 1958 play The Elder Statesman:

To whom I owe the leaping delight
That quickens my senses in our wakingtime
And the rhythm that governs the repose of our sleepingtime,
The breathing in unison
Of lovers whose bodies smell of each other
Who think the same thoughts without need of speech
And babble the same speech without need of meaning.

The feeling was apparently mutual.

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