The Marriage:The Better half, for the worst

The Better half, for the worst:

The 1994 movie Tom & Viv was based on Eliot's marriage with Vivienne.

The Marriage that made him a poet, but killed him as a man. T.S. Eliot respected women a lot and even considered them a source of his inspiration. Vivienne Haigh-Wood was a Cambridge governess, who came to meet Eliot, thanks to Thayer. She was born in 28th May 1888 herself and she went on to marry T.S. Eliot, becoming his first wife.

Vivienne Haigh-Wood

They had met in Oxford in March 1915, while Eliot was studying at Merton College and they both were married in Hampstead Register Office, within three months of their meeting. They remained married till she died in 1947, but their relationship was not that great because of Vivienne’s poor physical and mental health and Eliot’s inability to handle and tolerate her.

While Eliot was busy looking after his career, a philosopher named Bertrand Russell took an interest in Vivienne, whose flat, the young couple actually stayed in. There were speculations regarding some sort of an affair between the two, but they were never proved. Eliot however had confessed that it was not a happy marriage and that he lived with Vivienne, because he wanted to have the connection with England and she herself, believed that she needed to be with him, to make him stay in England.

Eliot had arranged for a formal separation in February of 1935 and avoided Vivienne completely, not even talking or seeing her, despite her, trying everything to get to him. He even asked his friends and colleagues to not reveal where he was. Vivienne unable to handle the separation, became depressed and she became severely mentally ill.

Vivienne finally managed to get to Eliot in November 1935 at a Sunday Times Book Fair, in London. She had arrived there with her dog and three books and she asked Eliot, if he would get together with her again, but he denied discussing it with her and that was the last time Vivienne saw him.

Miranda Richardson Playing Vivienne in the 1994 movie Tom & Viv.

She was then taken into Asylum in 1938, by her brother Maurice. She spent her life there, having tried to escape once, but ending up back in the asylum and died at the age of 58, out of heart attack, though it was suspected that she had died of overdose. Theresa, Eliot’s sister in law, quoted on their relationship, "Vivienne ruined Tom as a man, but she made him as a poet."

It is believed that T.S. Eliot had written the Waste Land, because of his not so happy marriage with Vivienne. Vivienne was considered to be the Muse for Eliot’s work, but not in a way of praise, but for making their marriage disastrous and thereby inspiring Eliot, to bring some of the most well known works of the nineteenth century.

The 1994 movie Tom & Viv, starring Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson was based on the true story of the relationship between T.S. Eliot and Vivienne Haige-Wood Eliot.


  1. I am a huge TS Eliot fan but this entire aspect of his life depresses me. Vivienne is always portrayed as a crazy stupid woman. I am sure that Eliot was as equally responsible for the marriage's failure and not because he "had an inability to put up with her poor mental and physical health" but because I suspect he was emotionally distant and a bit as Woolf said "priggish" and arrogant and standoffish. Don't get me wrong, I love Eliot's work.

    But it seriously disturbs me that every conversation about his first marriage belittles and stereotypes Vivienne as the overbearing, crazy wife. Marriage is 2-sided. And people forget that Eliot himself had poor mental health - why not mention that? He spent 1 year in a sanatorium in 1921. It really disgusts me that even that is blamed on Vivienne. Sheesh. Give the woman a break people.

    If you look through history, one of my most upsetting findings is the way that some of my literary male heros treated their wives. They may have been geniuses, but they were shitty to their women. Fitzgerald confiscated his wife's book claiming that she was a third-writer and used material from their lives that was "HIS."

    Gulp. I just can't quite make peace with all of the ways that Eliot and Fitzgerald and all the others are praised, while the women they are married to - writers too - are shit on.