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Mary and Mr Eliot: A Sort of Love Story

Erica Wagner

A rediscovered story of unrequited love which reveals an intimate new portrait of the poet T. S. Eliot – and of its author, a formidable woman sidelined by literary history.

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A rediscovered story of unrequited love which reveals an intimate new portrait of the poet T. S. Eliot – and of its author, a formidable woman sidelined by literary history.

‘Heartbreaking and wonderfully told.’
Susan Hill, Spectator Books of the Year

‘Compelling … compulsive.’ Margaret Drabble, New Statesman

In 1938 T.S. Eliot struck up a friendship with Mary Trevelyan, a passionately curious woman and intrepid traveller. Their relationship was cosy and domestic — characterised by churchgoing, record-playing, day trips with Mary at the wheel or Eliot in his rolled shirt-sleeves cooking up sausages for dinner. Over the years, Mary came to believe that their friendship might lead to something more . . . but their journey together did not end as she would have hoped.

Trevelyan left a unique document — of diaries, letters and pictures — charting their twenty-year-long relationship in her vivid prose. Erica Wagner has brought this untold story together for the first time. Mary and Mr Eliot is a revelatory tale of joy, misunderstanding and betrayal that feels utterly modern and deeply human.

Critic Reviews

I loved the integrity of this intimate record taking us back to wartime and post-war England. Mary Trevelyan’s forthright honesty about Eliot goes in tandem with Erica Wagner’s telling narrative and insights. As the two move together across a chronicle of twenty years, what emerges is more than a memoir of knowing a famous poet; it’s a dual portrait of a woman who hides nothing and a celebrity given to secrecy. A spirited dauntlessness is the core of Trevelyan’s character, perfectly matched with Erica Wagner’s placings of what was said, lifting a private story onto the world stage. An inventive co-narrative brings to light a long-ago relationship between a poet already amongst the immortals and an independent woman who dared to say exactly what she thought. How deftly Wagner transforms a scrapbook filled with gems into a revealing and ultimately tragic story.

Lyndall Gordon
Critic Reviews

Reading this elegant, clever and moving book is like looking at Eliot through a lancet window: we get a tightly-focused and revealing view of one of his most important friendships, and a valuable understanding of how it relates to the panorama of his whole personality. An exemplary ’sort of’ biography.

Andrew Motion
Critic Reviews

A completely fascinating, revelatory exposure of a forgotten corner of TS Eliot’s amatory life – brilliantly curated, edited and annotated by Erica Wagner. A classic of its kind.

William Boyd
Critic Reviews

This pitch-perfect portrait of the singular friendship between two remarkable people is an absolute joy. Engrossing, enlightening and deeply affecting, it’s a richly rewarding read.

Sarah Waters
Critic Reviews

Erica Wagner brings the secret history of T. S. Eliot and Mary Trevelyan to light in this gripping account of friendship, repressed desire, and heartbreak. Trevelyan was Eliot’s loyal companion for nearly twenty years. Over intimate dinners and long country drives, he confided in her about his anxieties, desires, and haunting memories of his first wife Vivienne. But the platonic relationship ended abruptly. Trevelyan’s revelatory manuscript offers a surprisingly fresh portrait of ‘Tom’ Eliot, and her own dashed hopes for a life together.


Erica Wagner is an author and critic. Her books include Gravity: Stories, Ariel’s Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of Birthday Letters and Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge. Literary editor of The Times for 17 years, she is now a contributing writer for the New Statesman, consulting literary editor for Harper’s Bazaar…

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