During research for my biography of Richmal Crompton, I came across a copy of a letter from September 1948 by T.S. Eliot, written when he was a publisher. He comments that a biographer of an author “should study the writings, with a modicum at least of literary appreciation, for the light they throw on the man.” He later adds, “I am not asking that a biographer should make the character of his subject more agreeable than he finds it to be, but that he should not leave us unable to reconcile the character he depicts, with the literary works which we know.” There is a typed rather than a handwritten signature, so I have taken it on trust that the original letter was written by the poet T.S. Eliot. The source of the letter is credible. So far, I have not been able to find the original letter and would be delighted to know where I could find it.
Whatever one might say about its provenance, finding this document was a memorable moment in my work on the biography. It spoke directly to me and I have thought about it often when I have been writing. This is exactly what I want to do, to throw some light on a writer and her work by offering some new material about her life and, I hope, a modicum of literary appreciation when I discuss her writing. For some of Richmal Crompton’s fans it has not always been easy to reconcile William Brown and the glories of her stories about him with the woman they think they know, especially if they thought she was a man. If my biography does little else, it should reveal a woman and a writer who has the intellect, empathy, and imagination to create William, other comic stories and novels, and more serious works.