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T. S. Eliot has a reputation as a difficult and serious poet. He also wrote very serious essays about other serious authors. However, according to Johannes Kleinstück (T. S. Eliot - mit Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1966) he was also a practical joker who bought exploding cigars and cushions that made funny noises when you sat down on them. (After reading that, it becomes easier to understand how Eliot could later come up with something like Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.)

Kleinstück even claims that he wrote crime novels ("Kriminalromane") that were published under a pseudonym (page 22):

Angeblich hat er auch unter einem Pseudonym Kriminalromane geschrieben und in seiner Tätigkeit als Verlagsdirektor bei Faber & Faber eine große Zahl von "Waschzetteln" ("blurbs"), deren Autorschaft wohl nie geklärt werden kann.

My translation:

Apparently he also wrote crime novels under a pseudonym, and, as director at Faber & Faber, a large number of blurbs whose authorship will probably never be resolved.

Unfortunately, Kleinstück doesn't provide a source for this claim; on the internet, I found that Eliot wrote five rules for "detective conduct" but nothing about novels he is supposed to have written.

So what is the source for the claim that T. S. Eliot wrote crime novels? Since Kleinstück's book was published in the year following Eliot's death, the source should be someone who had known him.

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    Searching on the web, apparently Eliot wrote reviews of crime novels anonymously. See this New Yorker article. Maybe Kleinstück got it wrong somehow. – Peter Shor Mar 18 '19 at 17:42
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    Could Kleinstück have confused Eliot with his contemporary Cecil Day-Lewis, who wrote poetry, was appointed Poet Laureate in 1968, and also wrote mystery novels under the pseudonym ‘Nicholas Blake’, most famously The Beast Must Die (1938). – Gareth Rees Aug 30 '19 at 20:54
  • @GarethRees Thanks for the hint. Unfortunately, the quote in the question is all that Kleinstück says about it. – Tsundoku Aug 30 '19 at 20:58
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The most likely explanation is that Kleinstück got his facts wrong. As Paul Grimstead's article What Makes Great Detective Fiction, According to T. S. Eliot (The New Yorker, 02.02.2016) points out, Eliot wrote several reviews of detective fiction in the literary magazine The Criterion.

The reviews of detective novels he published anonymously in The Criterion, a magazine he had created, include "Homage to Wilkie Collins: An omnibus review of nine mystery novels" and "Recent Detective Ficion: An omnibus review of sixteen detective novels and of Problems of Modern American Crime". Both are available in The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition: Literature, Politics, Belief, 1927–1929 (volume 3 of an eight-volume edition of Eliot's prose).

"Homage to Wilkie Collins: An omnibus review of nine mystery novels" (January 1927) discusses the following novels:

  • The D'Arblay Mystery by R. Austin Freeman (1926),
  • The Footsteps that Stopped by A. Fielding (1926),
  • The House of Sin by Allen Upward (1926),
  • The Diamond in the Hoof by Traill Stevenson (1926),
  • The Dangerfield Talisman by J. J. Connington (1926),
  • The Mysterious Disappearances by G. McLeod Winsor (1926),
  • Footsteps in the Night by C. Fraser-Simson (1926),
  • The Bishops Park Mystery by Donald Dike (1926),
  • The Massingham Butterfly by J. S. Fletcher (1926).

"Recent Detective Ficion: An omnibus review of sixteen detective novels and of Problems of Modern American Crime" (June 1927) discusses the following works:

  • The Benson Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1926),
  • The Crime at Diana's Pool by Victor L. Whitechurch (1927),
  • The Three Taps by Ronald A. Knox (1927),
  • The Verdict of You All by Henry Wade (1926),
  • The Venetian Key by Allen Upward (1926),
  • Mr. Forune Please by H. C. Bailey (1927),
  • The Colfax Book-Plate by Agnes Miller (1927),
  • The Clue in the Glass by W. B. M. Ferguson (1927),
  • The Mortover Grange Mystery by J. S. Fletcher (1926),
  • The Green Rope by J. S. Fletcher (1927),
  • The Mellbridge Mystery by Arthur O. Cooke (1926),
  • The Cathra Mystery by Adam Gordon Macleod (1926),
  • The Devil's Tower by Olivier Ainsworth (Faber & Gwyer, 1927),
  • The Spider's Den by Harrington Strong (1926),
  • Four Knocks on the Door by John Paul Seabrooke (1927),
  • Murder for Profit by William Bolitho (1926),
  • Problems of Modern American Crime by Veronica and Paul King (1926).

(I added the publisher's name to Ainsworth's book because Faber and Gwyer, later Faber & Faber, was Eliot's employer.)

Grimstead quotes one of Eliot's letters to Virginia Woolf:

In a June, 1927, letter to his friend Virginia Woolf he described himself, only half-jokingly, as a “person who specializes in detective stories and ecclesiastical history.”

Based on the above reviews, one understands why Grimstead writes "half-jokingly".

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