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Monday, November 12, 2012

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

Posted By on Mon, Nov 12, 2012 at 6:30 AM

Valerie Eliot and her husband at a theater in Chicago in 1959. She once wrote, "I sat next to TSE, my darling, and that makes any play endurable." Also, is it possible she actually saw St. Louis? - IMAGE VIA
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  • Valerie Eliot and her husband at a theater in Chicago in 1959. She once wrote, "I sat next to TSE, my darling, and that makes any play endurable." Also, is it possible she actually saw St. Louis?
Valerie Fletcher Eliot, who was married to the poet T.S. Eliot, who grew up in St. Louis and then moved permanently to England although he occasionally mustered enough nostalgic feeling to write poems about the Mississippi (which he described as "strong brown god--sullen, untamed and intractable"), died Friday after what her family described as a long illness.

She has been described as the one person capable of making him happy.

Given that Eliot was born in 1888 and died in 1965, you may be forgiven for thinking that Valerie Eliot was extraordinarily old. She was not. She just happened to be 40 years younger than her husband and was 86 when she died.

If you ever saw the movie Tom and Viv (as some of us had to in a creative writing workshop for reasons that as yet remain unexplained) you may also be forgiven for supposing that Valerie Eliot was batshit crazy. She was not. The film was about Eliot's first wife, Vivienne.

(For the record, Valerie was not a huge fan of the movie, which portrays her husband as an unfeeling asshole. "Tom tried very hard and for a very long time to make a go of it, and he's never given credit for that, is he?" she told the newspaper The Independent in a rare interview in 1994.)

However, if you suspected that Valerie Eliot, who outlived her husband by nearly 50 years, remained the steadfast guardian of her husband's legacy, editing his letters and turning down endless requests for interviews and access to Eliot's papers by academics and biographers but cannily selling the rights to Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats to Andrew Lloyd Weber, who turned it into the musical Cats (incidentally, the favorite play of former President George W. Bush)...well, you'd be right.

You can't blame Valerie for "Memory," though. Andrew Lloyd Weber came up with that unspeakable piece of shit all on his own.

It must also be noted that she used all the Cats money to establish Old Possum's Practical Trust, a literary charity, and the T.S. Eliot Poetry prize.

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