The Book of Beauty. To the Editor of The Nation and Athenaeum
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[ 211 The Book of Beauty1 To the Editor of The Nation and Athenaeum2 Sir, I intervene in this matter with some diffidence and at the risk of being told to mind my own business, but as Mr. Beaton and Mrs. McLaren have so completely distorted what I take to be the point of Mrs. Woolf ’s letter, I feel that it is not impertinent for an outsider to draw attention to the real issue. And the fact that Mr. Beaton is a very insignificant, though malodorous , insect, does not affect the general vermifugitive principle. I make no doubt that Mr. Beaton is entirely within his legal rights and as, on his own admission, he has once been inside a church, I fear lest we may soon have another Book of Beauty of the Virgin Mary and the more select saints. But to my mind Mr. Beaton’s position is very much that of a literary pirate in New York.3 As everybody knows, according to the actual copyright law, American publishers have frequent opportunity of pirating the work of English authors. They would be quite within their legal rights to do so, but the more reputable publishers would never think of filling their lists in this way, and the less reputable suffer from public opinion. Let us hope that Mr. Beaton will have the same experience.4 I am, Sir, Your obedient servant, T. S. Eliot Notes 1. In this, his first book of black-and-white drawings and photographic portraits (London: Duckworth, 1930), the photographer Cecil Beaton (1904-80) included two sketches of Virginia Woolf, together with his descriptions of her “chaste and somber beauty” and her “timid, startled eyes set deep, a sharp birdlike nose and firm pursed lips” (37). On 29 Nov Woolf wrote to the editor of N&A about their unauthorized inclusion in the book, asking the editor “to give publicity to these facts by way of protest against a method of book-making which seems to me as questionable as it is highly disagreeable to one at least of its victims” (291). Beaton replied as one “last from church” in the issue of 13 Dec to point out “that in such matters the victim is seldom–andnevershouldbe–consulted.Whichcaricaturisteveraskshisvictimforpermission to include him in a book of caricatures – all the less reason to protest against inclusion in a Book of Beauty?” (373). Essays, Reviews, and Commentaries: 1930 212 ] In the issue of 20 Dec, Woolf countered that everyone “assumes that those who appear in ‘Books of Beauty’ have given their consent. In this case many people were surprised that consent had been given, and then, when they learnt that consent had not been given, were still more surprised that the drawings should have been published. It is to explain this situation and to save the need of answering inquiries that I write. My protest was against the principle and not against the individual taste” (403). Immediately below, Christabel McLaren (1890-1974), Lady Aberconway, a social beauty and patroness of the arts who was also photographed by her friend Beaton, registered her protest against Woolf ’s attitude, declaring the drawing “exquisitely like her. It is well that this drawing should be like her, for until now her beauty has been very much the monopoly of her friends and relations; . . . I should not wish posterity to imagine that Mrs. Woolf had no other less sterile beauties than the somewhat muddy one of ‘significant form’ ” (403). 2. Unpublished: Faber letterhead, dated 19 Dec 1930; see L5 440-41. 3. In 1926-27, TSE was a victim of the literary piracy of New York editor Samuel Roth, who published “Eeldrop and Appleplex” and the two sections of Sweeney Agonistes in separate issues of his Two Worlds Monthly. See 3.179 and 3.296. 4. The editor of N&A, Harold Wright, returned the letter to TSE, stating that his printers were nervous about its potential for libel and that it “seems to me to be somewhat deficient in that urbanity which generally characterises correspondence in the ‘Nation.’  ” Wright made emendations and deletions for TSE’s reconsideration; TSE made irritated comments on the returned letter, but he did not revise or resend it. See L5 441, n.1. ...


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