T. S. Eliot's widow helps create £1.125 million English lectureship

Joanna Tang 27 May 2011

A £1.125 million teaching fund for English has been set up thanks to a generous donation from the widow of T. S. Eliot. Valerie Eliot set up the fund at Newnham College, where she has been an honorary fellow at Newnham for 20 years.

Her husband, poet T. S. Eliot, was closely connected to the founders of the English Tripos at Cambridge during his lifetime and influenced the distinctive nature of the Tripos through his work. The donation comes from Old Possum’s Practical Trust, a literary and artistic charity set up by Valerie Eliot with the help of funds from the record-breaking Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical Cats, which is based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a collection of poems by T. S. Eliot.

In welcoming the donation, Newnham College Principal Dame Patricia Hodgson drew attention to the college’s “tradition of first class English teaching”, which has produced alumni such as poet Sylvia Plath and writer A. S. Byatt. Valerie Eliot commented, “I am very pleased to be able to assist in ensuring this tradition will continue and it seems entirely appropriate that it has been made possible as a result of my husband T. S. Eliot’s work.”

Hannah Strachan, an English undergraduate at Newnham, expressed her hopes for the benefit of the fund on English teaching at Newnham, saying, “I think that it’s a very generous sum and hope that the college will use it in an appropriate way so that all English students can benefit from it”, whilst Dana Ma, another student at Newnham, commented, “The general opinion is that it’s a great gift to Newnham and will be really helpful to our teaching of literature at the college.”

Dame Hodgson noted the importance of the gesture in current circumstances, saying, “It is a most marvelous example of the generosity of an individual supporting opportunities for young people at a time when public funding is not available, especially for those who want to study the arts.”

Joanna Tang