London: Faber and Faber, 1952. First edition. Small quarto (9 inches tall), original mauve cloth, spine blocked in pale blue and silver, original dust jacket. Faint offsetting to endpapers, inner jacket flap price-clipped. A near-fine copy. Item #1097
"A CHRISTIAN MARTYRDOM IS NEVER AN ACCIDENT. SAINTS ARE NOT MADE BY ACCIDENT"
First illustrated edition of T.S. Eliot's stage play of the Martyrdom of Thomas Becket—adapted as a motion picture by George Hoellering with a screenplay incorporating new scenes by Eliot. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was assassinated in 1170 by the knights of King Henry II, as the king sought to consolidate royal power and reduce the authority of the papacy. Canonized almost immediately, St. Thomas's Feast Day on December 29th is celebrated by Catholics and Anglicans alike. In the 1930s, T.S. Eliot was commissioned by the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral to write a play for the stage at the annual Canterbury Festival. The result was Murder in the Cathedral which premiered in 1935 at the Chapter House, Canterbury with Robert Speaight as the Archbishop.
The cinematic adaptation featured Father John Groser, an Anglican priest, as Becket (and including Eliot himself as the voice of "the Fourth Tempter"). "Every detail of the picture was designed with the greatest care for historical fidelity." Accordingly, the text is illustrated throughout with a frontispiece (captioned, "The Wooden Crucifix in the Archbishop's Hall"), five additional color plates, and numerous black-and-white sketches in the text by Peter Pendrey. A List of Illustrations precedes a separate appendix containing 48 pages of monochrome photographs, including stills from the film, by Angus McBean. The Interlude ("The Archbishop preaches in the Cathedral on Christmas Morning, 1170") at the center of the film depicts Becket's final sermon at Midnight Mass, as the Archbishop faces his impending death: "Dear children, I do not think I shall ever preach to you again; and...it is possible that in a short time you shall have yet another martyr, and that one perhaps not the last." With separate prefaces by both Eliot and Hoellering describing a close collaboration between author and director. "I should like Murder in the Cathedral to be regarded as an experiment in a new type of film, where dialogue is at last given an equal place to picture, and where the audience is called upon to listen as well as to look" (George Hoellering).