22 January 2023
Trevelyan Way: a reminder
of Mary Trevelyan from
Stony Stratford and her
unrequited love for TS Eliot
In my walks around Wolverton and Old Wolverton in recent days and weeks, I found myself one early morning at Trevelyan Way in Old Wolverton. The name of Trevelyan Way recalls the Trevelyan family, who gave the Church a distinguished family of clergy associated with Saint Mary, Wolverton, the parish based at Saint Mary’s Church on London Road, Stony Stratford, and who lived for a time at Calverton Limes across the street from the church.
The name of Trevelyan Way also reminded me this week of Mary Trevelyan (1897-1983), who was born in Stony Stratford on this day 126 years ago, 22 January 1897. She was the eldest of six children of the Revd George Philip Trevelyan (1858-1937), Vicar of Saint Mary’s, Wolverton (1885-1897).
Mary Trevelyan is remembered to this day for her work as the warden of Student Movement House in London. But two recent books also discuss how Mary Trevelyan for many years was the close companion and long-time friend of the poet TS Eliot. She believed they were romantically committed to one another and she had expected to marry him after the death of his first wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood.
Mary Trevelyan was born in Stony Stratford on 22 January 1897, the eldest of six children – four daughters and two sons – of the Revd George Philip Trevelyan and his wife Monica Evelyn Juliet, daughter of the Revd Sidney Phillips of Worcester. Her grandfather, the Revd William Pitt Trevelyan (1812-1905) of Stony Stratford, was the Vicar of Wolverton (1856-1872) and of Calverton (1859-1881). She was raised in a family committed to public service. Her brothers were the film censor John Trevelyan and the colonial administrator and the writer Humphrey Trevelyan, Baron Trevelyan.
Mary had a privileged childhood and became a determined, idealistic and energetic women. TS Eliot described her as ‘industrious, honest, and moderately temperate.’
She was educated at the Royal College of Music, London, and became the organist and choir trainer at Saint Barnabas Church, Oxford. (The present Vicar of Saint Barnabas Jericho is the Revd Christopher Woods, one of my former students and a former Chaplain of Christ’s College, Cambridge. He is currently involved in some consultations in Stony Stratford parish).
Mary Trevelyan later joined the music staff at Radley and Marlborough Colleges. After a private tour of India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), she returned to Britain in 1932, intending to return to the musical profession. But she began to wonder if she could help groups of Indian students she noticed on the streets ‘looking lost in the wintry rain.’
She took up the post of Warden of the Student Christian Movement’s Student Movement House (SMH) in London that year. The house at 32 Russell Square in Bloomsbury, was a non-residential club for overseas students. Among its members in the 1930s was Jomo Kenyatta, later the first President of Kenya. Some members were Britons from overseas, including students from missionary families.
Mary took a sabbatical in 1937 to travel to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India, Burma (Myanmar), Singapore, Penang (Malaysia), China, Japan, the US and Canada. She wanted to learn about the worlds those international students were returning to. She was particularly inspired by her visit to the residential International House of New York, and returned to London fully committed to promoting internationalism and peaceful co-operation among young people.
From 1938, as the Warden at SMH, Mary led a fundraising campaign to pay for a new building for the club. The premises at Russell Square was about to be levelled in plans for extend London University, and in April 1939 SMH moved into new premises at 103 Gower Street.
London University later had to apologise for its building work at Russell Square, and a modern building in Russell Square displays a plaque apologising to the Russell Estate for a development not in keeping with the expectations of these attentive landlords.
A public and academic apology to the Russell estate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)
Mary Trevelyan remained at SMH throughout most of World War II. Then, in September 1944, she was given by SCM to go to Brussels to run a YMCA hostel for allied soldiers returning from war and organising a reception centre for returning prisoners of war.
When she returned to London in May 1945, tensions grew between Mary Trevelyan and her SCM employers. After beginning an appeal for another new building in 1945, she resigned and left SMH. From 1946 to 1948 she was headed the field survey bureau in the UNESCO Department of Reconstruction in Paris. She spent part of this time visiting and making surveys on priority needs in education after the war in Burma, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong, North Borneo and the Philippines.
On her return to London in 1948, she became the first adviser to Overseas Students at the University of London, and held that post until 1965. During this time, she played a major part in the founding of the London Conference on Overseas Students. She also founded the Goats Club in 1956 as a weekly, inter-collegiate, international gathering of students.
Meanwhile, from 1938 to 1957, Mary was TS Eliot’s close friend and constant companion. The two attended Communion together, ate dinner with one another on a regular basis and exchanged frequent letters. 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.
By 1950, Mary came to believe that their friendship had deepened into romance, and she expected they were going to marry now that Vivienne had died. Until Vivienne’s death in 1947, Eliot refused to consider the idea of divorce and remarriage, believing both were unacceptable in his understanding of Anglo-Catholic beliefs and practice.
It appears that during the 10 years after Vivienne’s death, he was torn by regret. He drew back from the love and happiness he longed for out of a guilt for the harm he had visited on Vivienne.
In the two recent books, Lyndall Gordon’s The Hyacinth Girl and Mary Trevelyan and Erica Wagner’s Mary & Mr Eliot, Eliot emerges as a someone who could be cold and austere as well as warm and affectionate, and whose friendship came at a considerable cost.
Tired of being on her own, Mary had written to Eliot to ask: ‘Why should we both be so lonely?’ Erica Wagner recalls Mary’s stoic heartbreak: ‘I spent a bad afternoon and evening, but came through it and was able, by the time I saw him again, to look at the picture from a new angle.’
She loved Eliot, but he did not return her affection and romantic expectations. Eventually, Eliot turned away from marrying Mary, and also pulled back from the idea of marrying Emily Hale, who had been his romantic interest during his days at Harvard and who is the Hyacinth Girl of The Waste Land.
In January 1957, to Mary’s shock, Eliot married Valerie Fletcher, who had been his secretary at Faber; he was 68 and she was 30. By then, he felt he had atoned for his marriage and subsequent abandonment of Vivienne. Eliot and Mary never recovered their friendship and they lost touch with one another.
After Eliot married Valerie, Mary Trevelyan continued to dream of a new International House for students. Her dream became a reality when International Students House opened in Park Crescent in May 1965.
With the opening of the house, she had achieved her cherished dream and the peak of her career. She retired in 1967, but continued to keep in touch with the many friends she had helped as students, ranging from the most humble to heads of government.
She was appointed OBE (1956) and later promoted CBE (1968). She died in Newbury on 10 January 1983 at the age of 85 after a long illness.
Mary Trevelyan left a detailed and riveting memoir about her experience with Eliot, The Pope of Russell Square. It was never published and until recently it was only available to scholars. In Mary & Mr Eliot, Erica Wagner presents Mary Trevelyan’s text, interwoven with letters between Eliot and Mary Trevelyan and Erica Wagner’s own commentary.
Eliot kept his women apart as each ignited his transformations as poet, expatriate, convert, and, finally, in his latter years, a man ‘made for love.’
Erica Wagner does not hide her disappointment with Eliot: ‘Where does one draw the line between privacy and deception? At this point it’s difficult not to believe that Eliot, in regard to what he shared with his friend Mary – who had stood by him through thick and thin for nearly two decades – was tilting towards the latter.’
Lyndall Gordon, The Hyacinth Girl: TS Eliot’s Hidden Muse (London: Virago, 2022).
Mary Trevelyan and Erica Wagner, Mary & Mr Eliot: A Sort of Love Story (London: Faber, 2022).
Praying through the Week of
Christian Unity and with USPG:
22 January 2023
Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).
Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I have been reflecting in these ways:
1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;
2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’
However, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began last Wednesday (18 January 2023), and until next Wednesday my morning reflections look at this year’s readings and prayers.
Today is Third Sunday of Epiphany (Epiphany III) and the fifth day in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Later this morning, I plan attend the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles. As part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the visiting preacher is the Revd Geoffrey S Clarke, Moderator of the East Midlands Synod of the United Reformed Church.
Later today, Churches Together in Milton Keynes continues to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with a concert to concert to celebrate the formation of Churches Together in Milton Keynes in the Church of Christ the Cornerstone at Saxongate at 7:30. The programme includes Bach’s Magnificat and Michael Tippett’s ‘A Child of our Time,’ with the Cornerstone Chamber Choir, Orchestra and soloists, directed by Adrian Boynton.
Sir Michael Tippet wrote and composed this moving oratorio during the dark days of World War II. It reflects on the experience of oppressed people across the World, with a longing for peace and reconciliation.
Michael Tippett was a former Conscientious Objector and President of the Peace Pledge Union. At the turning point of this week, this concert performance will root the search for justice in the depths of the human soul. Tickets (£20/£16) are available from Cornerstone or at the door.
Day 5: Singing the Lord’s song as strangers in the land
Psalm 137: 1-4:
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked us for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
Luke 23: 27-31:
Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.
The lament of the psalmist originates in the exile of Judah in Babylon, however, the pain of exile is one that reverberates across time and culture. Perhaps the psalmist shouted this refrain towards the heavens. Perhaps each verse was given voice between deep sobs of grief. Perhaps this poem emerged with a shrug of indifference that can only come from living within injustice and feeling powerless to effect any meaningful change. However, the words were brought forth, the heartache of this passage finds resonance in the hearts of those who are treated as strangers in other lands or in their own lands.
The demand in the psalm comes from the oppressor to smile and make merry, to sing the songs of a “happy” past. That demand has come to marginalized people throughout history. Whether it was in minstrel shows, or Geisha dances, or Wild West cowboy and Indian shows, oppressors have often demanded that oppressed people perform happily to ensure their own survival. Their message is as simple as it is cruel; your songs, your ceremonies, your cultural identity, that which makes you sacredly unique, is only allowable so long as it serves us.
In this psalm generations of the oppressed are given their voice. How could we sing the Lord’s song when we are strangers in our own land? We sing not for our captors but to praise God. We sing because we are not alone for God has never abandoned us. We sing because we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. The ancestors and saints inspire us. They encourage us to sing songs of hope, songs of freedom, songs of liberation, songs of a homeland where a people is restored.
Luke’s Gospel records that people, many of them women, follow Jesus even as he carries his cross to Calvary. This following is faithful discipleship. Furthermore, Jesus recognises their struggles and the suffering that they will have to endure in faithfully carrying their own crosses.
Thanks to the ecumenical movement, Christians today share hymns, prayers reflections and insights across traditions. We receive them from one another as gifts borne of the faith and loving discipleship, often enduring struggles, of Christians from different communities than our own. These shared gifts are riches to be treasured and give witness to the Christian faith we share.
How do we raise up the stories of ancestors and saints who lived among us and have sung songs of faith, hope, and liberation from captivity?
God of the oppressed,
Open our eyes to the harm that continues to be inflicted
On our sisters and brothers in Christ.
May your Spirit give us the courage to sing in unison,
And raise our voices with those whose suffering is unheard.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
USPG Prayer Diary:
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began last Wednesday (18 January), and the theme in the USPG Prayer Diary last week was the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The theme this week is the ‘Myanmar Education Programme.’ This theme is introduced this morning with a reflection from a report from the Church of the Province of Myanmar:
‘The Church of the Province of Myanmar (CPM) knows that education is key to development and human flourishing, and to Christian discipleship. Throughout the pandemic and amidst Myanmar’s turbulent political situation it has persevered with its educational programme to improve training of its members and the people they work amongst. By focusing its attention on targeted rural communities across eight regions, it has set out to raise the status of secular, theological and health education.
‘The Church’s long-term goal is to equip members of the diocesan education committees with the necessary management and leadership skills, underpinned with theological learning, to lead the programme into the future. The strategic use of existing educational facilities in the target areas to train and resource volunteer teachers with the necessary skills and knowledge of good practice, is already reaping dividends.
‘Among the many activities the dioceses have delivered in recent months has been training on emergency preparedness, trauma healing, child protection, gender awareness and personal hygiene. It has provided teaching and study guides and facilitated motorbike repair training, as well as promoting the need to monitor and assess the effectiveness of the training it offers.’
The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:
Lord, give us minds to think
and hearts to love you,
wisdom to know you
and courage to proclaim you.
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