Matthias Lane is an archivist at a prestigious university. His archive holds a collection of letters written by T. S. Eliot to Emily Hale. The letters are not be open to the public until the year 2020.
Matthias, a widower, thinks he is content, working amid the comfort of his books. His solitude is shattered, however, by a meeting with Roberta Spire. A graduate student, Roberta asks to see the Hale letters. Her persistence causes some conflict, but as Matthias and Roberta become friends they share an interest in poetry, and much more. Each has a number of unresolved personal and ethical issues, including personal identity, individual responsibility, atonement, conversion, and the complexities of love.
Roberta struggles with her parents’ conversion from the Jewish faith. She believes their action was one of cowardice. Matthias struggles with his own Christian crosses: a father trapped by a bottle of scotch, a mother trapped by dogma, and the tragic suicide of his Jewish wife.
Intertwined among the stories of Roberta and her family, and Matthias and Judith, is the story of T. S. Eliot and his wife Vivienne. That relationship forms the core of Martha Cooley’s THE ARCHIVIST as Matthias and Roberta struggle over what is to be done with the Hale correspondence. Eliot’s letters to Hale may hold the key to his relationship with Vivienne, as well as his reasons for his own conversion. His poetry reveals his personal struggles and punctuates the emotions of all of the characters involved, tying the novel together. This masterful book examines the human condition and the price we pay for the choices we make.