Whilst an editor at publishing house Faber & Faber, T. S. Eliot was instrumental in bringing Nightwood to the masses. Djuna Barnes‘ novel, at the time controversial due to both its content and style, had for years been rejected by many editors and only when read by Eliot did it find an influential supporter. Barnes’ novel is now considered a classic in lesbian literature by many and ‘one of the great books of the twentieth century’ by William Burroughs. The following letter was written by Eliot to Geoffrey Faber in 1936, shortly after they were introduced to the manuscript. Soon after, Eliot ‘softened’ some of the story’s language and the book was published.
FABER & FABER
24 RUSSELL SQUARE
R.H.I.DE LA MARE
Frank showed me your letter this afternoon – but I had only a hurried read of it between two interviews – and after five visitors between 3.30 and 6.30 I should be too limp to reply anyway. It’s certainly one of the most interesting letters I have ever received – if I may say that I have received it: even if I were feeling more robust at the moment, I couldnt reply without having it infront of me, and I had to give it back. (Incidentally, I dont simply mean, by the unkillable worm, the perpetual letch – that’s just it, to me the book gets deeper than “sex”; I mean la misère de la condition humaine). But I must say that I dont want to press the firm into publishing a book which will land it with fines and damages – though I should be be willing to do a short stretch in the 2nd division for it, that might be a rest: and that aspect of the matter must be gone into carefully. I think yr attitude very sporting & handsome. I am sorry that you are so umgebaut vom Publikum, and I hope Enid will get some period of rest presently. And when you come back I have a good photograph of Old Ike Carver of Mosquito Cove to show you.