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T.S. Eliot’s Secretary

From ‘The Love Song of T.S. Eliot’s Secretary: A Memoir’ by Brigid O’Donovan, published in the Fall/Winter issue of Confrontation (1975):

Every morning a large pile of contributions would arrive, many of them from agencies which were, and remained for years, household words in the literary world. These contributions were without exception complete rubbish: stories about dogs and cats; holiday adventure; poetry by total amateurs. All a tribute I imagine to the tiny salaries and low postage rates of the 1930s, which enabled firms to carry on from year to year without looking closely, if at all, into The Criterion corner. (A tremendous bonus was the equally extraordinary selection of books sent for review, many of them first class in fields The Criterion never covered for review. TSE took first choice of the books, I had second, and the remainder were sold by the firm.)

I used to flip through the articles submitted, and send them back. Most of the articles and poems that were finally published in The Criterion came from TSE’s friends, but the process of getting him to put his mind to making a selection was a difficult one. As the ‘time’, so-called, for going to press approached, the pressure had to be more continuous than most secretaries cared to apply to their boss. Then suddenly Eliot would decide to get on with it, and he would finish the job in an afternoon. After the contents were fixed and any letters written asking the contributors for changes, he lost interest in the work. There was no real question of editing. Length didn’t matter within limits, so I was able to carry out the various stages of proofreading myself, and I developed the proofreader’s sixth sense for mistakes he doesn’t really understand. French and Latin quotes went to TSE himself. Geoffrey Faber took care of Greek, and I struggled with the German. I also carried out the usual acrimonious correspondence with the printer about dates, the printer knowing full well that no one cared tuppence about dates.


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