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This item is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

Letters from John Lucas
Tom and Nancy

A propos John Haffenden's interesting piece about Vivien Eliot's version of the (cancelled) Fresca passages from The Waste Land, I wonder whether some explanation for the difference between her comparative lightness of touch and the poet's undoubtedly misogynistic lines may not have to do with the possibility that he had Nancy Cunard in mind. According to Peter Ackroyd, Cunard tried to lure Eliot away from his wife, and although he admits he is relying on hearsay in making this claim, I can affirm that as late as the 1970s such rumours were around, although this isn't to say that they had any basis in fact. But as I point out in my edition of Nancy Cunard's poems (Trent Editions, 2005), her biographer, Ann Chisholm, accepts the identification of Fresca with Cunard, although she suggests less sexual revulsion than that the poet's attitude 'might be explained by the contrast between the struggles of Eliot and his wife against illness and poverty, and the affluent, leisured existence of Nancy; not to mention the contrast between the difficulties [Eliot] and Pound experienced in getting their work into print and appreciated and the ease with which the well-connected amateur, Nancy, found publishers and respectful reviewers for her work.' This would certainly explain the lines where Eliot remarks that

on those nights when Fresca lies alone,
She scribbles verse of such a gloomy tone
That cautious critics say, her style is quite her own.
Not quite an adult, and still less a child,
By fate misbred, by flattering friends beguiled,
Fresca's arrived (the Muses Nine declare)
To be a sort of can-can salonniere.

Given that Eliot also characterises Fresca's style as born from 'a soapy sea/Of Symonds - Walter Pater - Vernon Lee', it seems reasonable to suppose that Nancy Cunard plays at least some part in Fresca's make-up. 'A doorstep dunged by every dog in town', Eliot calls Fresca. A hateful line, certainly, but though it can't be justified it can, perhaps, be explained as his appalled reaction to what may have been sexual importuning. But this is, I freely grant, no more than speculation. And after all, he didn't publish the Fresca section.


This item is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

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