Vivienne Haigh-Wood married TS Eliot in June 1915 against the wishes of her family. Their marriage was disastrous from the start, and dominated by her ill-health. It became clear that each had misread the other’s hopes and ambitions: Vivienne longed to escape the social conventions that Eliot enthusiastically embraced as he was elevated to the literary Establishment.

However, their shared belief in his future as a poet held them together and their co-dependence provided rich creative inspiration even as their marriage was falling apart. Eliot later wrote: “To her, the marriage brought no happiness. To me, it brought the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land.”

Vivienne’s fears that Eliot’s success was taking him away from her put huge pressure on their relationship as her behaviour became more erratic. Eliot was already considering a separation when he was offered a one-year fellowship at Harvard in 1932. On his return to London he was shielded from any contact with Vivienne by his Bloomsbury friends. Vivienne’s family arranged for her committal to an asylum. She remained there until her death in 1947. Eliot never visited her.

This new work of music theatre tells the story of Vivienne’s life in a staged cycle of six songs. Stephen McNeff’s music alludes to music hall (a favorite of both Eliots) and other contemporaneous song. Andy Rashleigh’s dazzling lyrics are based on templates provided by TS Eliot’s verse. Vivienne is the latest work in a series that Clare McCaldin has created with Stephen McNeff, which also includes A Voice of One Delight.

notes from the asylum cdVivienne has been recorded by the performers from the original production, Clare McCaldin and Libby Burgess. The CD Notes from the Asylum is available from Champs Hill Records.

Performance history