Virginia Woolf Meets T. S. Eliot

Van Gogh's Early Years Human Voices Wake Us

Tonight, we enter into the early years of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), from his birth in the village of Zundert in the Netherlands, to his time in the Borinage mining region of Belgium. It was there, at the age of twenty-seven—and after years of personal and professional failures—that he hit bottom … and suddenly realized he was an artist. In the first half of the episode, I read from Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s biography, Van Gogh: The Life. The second half is devoted to a handful of letters Van Gogh wrote to his brother in 1879 and 1880, where he admits the humiliation of his failures, and then revels in his newfound passion for drawing and painting. The letters can be found online here. You can join Human Voices Wake Us on Patreon, or sign up for our newsletter, by clicking here. I assume that the small amount of work presented in each episode constitutes fair use. Publishers, authors, or other copyright holders who would prefer to not have their work presented here can also email me at, and I will remove the episode immediately. — Send in a voice message: Support this podcast:
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From Virginia Woolf’s Diary on November 21, 1918:

I was interrupted somewhere on this page by the arrival of Mr Eliot. Mr Eliot is well expressed by his name – a polished, cultivated, elaborate young American, talking so slow, that each word seems to have special finish allotted it. But beneath the surface it is fairly evident that he is very intellectual, intolerant, with strong views of his own, & a poetic creed. I’m sorry to say that this sets up Ezra Pound & Wyndham Lewis as great poets, or in the current phrase “very interesting” writers. He admires Mr Joyce immensely. He produced 3 o 4 poems for us to look at – the fruit of two years, since he works all day in a Bank, & in his reasonable way thinks regular work good for people of nervous constitutions. I became more or less conscious of a very intricate & highly organised framework of poetic belief; owing to his caution, & his excessive care in the use of language we did not discover much about it. I think he believes in “living phrases” & their difference from dead ones; & so making this new poetry flower on the stem of the oldest.

As an illustration of Eliot’s views I may add what Desmond has just (Thursday 21st Nov.) told me; D. asked him how on earth he came to add that remark at the end of a poem on his Aunt & the Boston Evening Transcript that phrase about an infinitely long street, & “I like La Rochefoucauld saying good by” or words to that effect. [“I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning/Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld,/If the street were time and he at the end of the street”] Eliot replied that they were a recollection of Dante’s Purgatorio!

The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume 1: 1915-1919