Academic journal article Yeats Eliot Review

The Remarkable Relationship of T. S. Eliot and Mary Hutchinson

Academic journal article Yeats Eliot Review

The Remarkable Relationship of T. S. Eliot and Mary Hutchinson

Article excerpt

Mary Barnes Hutchinson was a fascinating and complex woman, to whom the British artist Henry Tonks once said, "What an unusual power you have, you are no ordinary person" (qtd. in Hone), a sentiment echoed by many, though certainly not all, of her contemporaries. Although she was a consistent figure in Eliot's life from 1916 until his last months, their remarkable relationship has not been explored to any great extent. This essay will shed some light on the woman herself and on that relationship.

Hutchinson was born in India in March 1889 (six months after Eliot's birth) to Sir Hugh Barnes and Winifred Strachey Barnes. After her mother's death, she and her brother were raised in Florence, Italy by her maternal grandparents, with lives that were privileged, cultured, and cosmopolitan. After these beloved grandparents died, the children attended boarding schools in England. In 1909 she moved to London and in 1910 married the eminent barrister St. John (Jack) Hutchinson, a marriage that lasted until his death in 1942, despite her various affairs. A wealthy socialite and a member of the beau monde, she was famous for her elegant soirees at their homes Eleanor House and River House and for her stylish fashion sense, a source both of admiration and of envy.

Virginia Woolf, for example, often commented admiringly on her clothing, describing in her diary in January 1923 Hutchinson's "lemon-colored trousers with green ribbons" (Diary II, 223); in a letter to Quentin Bell in July 1933, she wrote, "Mary is to me ravishing in chalk white with a yellow turban," but couldn't resist adding that she looked "like an Arab horse, or a pierrot" (Letters V, 207). As David Bradshaw notes, Virginia regarded her as "a paragon of style," asking her in 1924 to write a book on fashion for the Hogarth Press; that the book never materialized was a source of some annoyance to Virginia (II, 7).

In 1914 Hutchinson began a twelve-year affair with the art critic Clive Bell and through him was included in the activities of the Bloomsbury group. However, she was always considered a bit of an outsider and was often the subject of jealousy, spiteful comments, and gossip. With the hope of winning their acceptance of her, Bell praised her extravagantly, which aggravated them instead. According to Quentin Bell, he insisted that they "should recognize in her the most infinitely subtle and civilized being in their society" (59), arguing in a letter to Harold Nicolson that "that delicious person was the nearest approach we can hope to see to what should be the Millamant de nos jours," a reference to Congreve's The Way of the World, which had recently been performed in London (qtd. in Bradshaw II, 7). And Virginia Woolf famously and somewhat spitefully referred to the pair as "parrokeets" (Letters II, 258).

As with most of the members of the Bloomsbury group, Hutchinson was flirtatious and had various sexual liaisons with both men and women, in addition to her long-term and openly acknowledged affair with Clive Bell. These included liaisons with Vita Sackville-West; Peter Morris, a young American artist living in London in 1927 (Bradshaw II, 8); and the Frenchman Georges Duthuit, the son-in-law of Matisse (Richardson 128). She may also have had an affair with Virginia Woolf, as indicated by some of their letters to each other in the 1920s and 1930s with erotic overtones (see Lee 383, 490); it was at the least, as Nicholas Murray notes, "a complicated relationship" (142).

Further, Hutchinson had a secret and steamy relationship with Aldous and Maria Huxley ("Biographical Sketch"). According to Murray in his biography of Huxley, beginning in late 1922 or early 1923 Huxley and Hutchinson began an affair which soon evolved into a menage a trois with Maria; indeed, Murray indicates that from the beginning Mary's interest in Huxley was "a means to Maria" (148 n 19). In June 1925, Maria wrote to Mary, with a hint of jealousy at the end, "Never have I seen you more lovely, Mary & I remember with poignant tenderness your new beauty with closed eyes during last night. …

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