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The family scrapbook

One fine day a few years ago there was a knock on my door and I opened it to a FedEx delivery man.  This is a commonplace event in the US, but in Britain a rare event indeed, and I was intrigued by it.  The plastic envelope gave me no clue except that on the customs declaration it said “scrapbook”.  It seemed a bit bulky for a normal scrapbook, and I opened it carefully and with huge anticipation.

Inside, a leather-bound volume.  It was indeed a scrapbook, but an old one, in poor condition.  The gold-tooled leather binding was scuffed at the corners, and very fragile.  The card which accompanied it was from Ned Crouch, director of the Clarksville Museum at the time of my first visit there.  “This scrapbook really should remain with you” it said.  The flyleaf bore an extravagant signature:  “Maude T Dunn”.  It was the Dunn family photograph album.  Its pages are full of sepia-toned prints of the young family, mostly of the baby Elsie during the first years of her life, with an equal number of shots of railway lines and railway bridges (Seely was, after all, a railway man).

Many of the images are so faded as to be indistinguishable.  In 1883, Eastman Kodak introduced a dry gel paper as a medium on which to capture images from a light-tight box, and the Eastman-Kodak camera brought photography to a larger public.  In 1893, when Maude Dunn was taking pictures of her baby daughter and young husband,  the process had been refined and the Kodak camera was being marketed with the slogan “You push the button, we do the rest”.  Even so, photography was an expensive hobby, and the number of snaps in the scrapbook bears testimony to the relative prosperity of the Dunn family.

Next week, we shall take up the story at the point at which Elsie Dunn and Frederick Creighton Wellman leave Clarksville for the next chapter in their lives.

 

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Bermuda

After a year working at Buzzards Bay, the Scott family were invited to join the Garland-Hales at their estate in Bermuda, and Evelyn again takes up the tale:

            In 1921, the Hale-Garland couple went to Bermuda, and the three Scotts were soon asked to proceed there with travelling expenses paid.  And though Cyril Kay Scott’s duties were lighter in Bermuda than at Buzzard’s Bay, and his remuneration for these less, the first year in Bermuda could well have been termed a genuine success, as he received enough to rent a small cottage called Greysbank, and to keep his family fed, and in his free hours was not able to write and paint to the extent we had hoped for at Cercadinho, where his acute genre study in the novel, Blind Mice, was written on boards spread on improvised saw-horses, and mostly at night, after farm work, by the dim smoky flare of the sertao’s primitive oil lamp, a tin lamp without chimney described in Escapade.

In the summer of 1922, the three Scotts returned to New York City, briefly, but went back to Bermuda; and meanwhile, Mr Hale—an uncle of my daughter-in-law, Paula Pearson Scott—had evolved a plan for a cottage to be built on the property he owned called Ely’s Lodge, at his expense, to become, with fifteen acres of the ground on which it stood, his gift to Cyril Kay Scott and Evelyn Scott, a capital of fifty thousand dollars, which they would be unable to diminish in their lifetime, but would be the inheritance of their son Creighton Seely Scott—affectionately called Jigg by them, also—on their death, and which, while they lived, would yield them approximately a hundred dollars a month each, and so permit them to sustain independence as creative against all commercial attacks.

This excerpt from the letters spreadsheet helps clarify the chronology of what follows.  It is a record of the letters of which I have details and therefore will have gaps, but it demonstrates how Evelyn and Cyril travelled during the three years that followed their arrival in Bermuda.

letters 2

This combined generosity was to have made come true the dream of every author, writer and composer of integrity.  It was, in fact, put into effect to the extent of the building of the cottage of Bermuda’s native stone according to an architectural drawing by Cyril Kay Scott, who had practical architectural advice on some details; and of a letter sent to Cyril Kay Scott and Evelyn Scott by Marie Tudor Garland-Hale’s lawyers, Hale, Nelles and Shorr, saying that their client, Mrs Hale, was making over to us in permanence fifty thousand dollars on which they were to draw, during their lifetimes, the income its investment then netted of two hundred a month.

We were overcome with gratitude.  The cottage, named by Marie Tudor Garland Hale, The Scottage, was completed, and we moved in and found it charming, Ely’s land-locked harbour just beyond our windows, a private pool to bathe from, and our good friends as our nearest neighbours, owning the two estates on both sides of the highroad.  Creighton Seely Scott, also, was delighted by the sea at this door, and his friend, Thomas Merton,[1] for his daily playmate.

However, a rift had presented itself even before the hundred a month each had materialized; as, while in New York City, the summer before, Charles Garland had quoted his mother to me as having said that she expected to settle this money on us, but was doing so primarily because of Cyril Kay Scott, as I would have amounted to little without him, was “lazy” and “entirely selfish”.  In fact the description of me conveyed by Charles Garland as from his mother’s lips was very similar to that in the Cercadinho section of Cyril Kay Scott’s cut, edited, and in parts re-written by out outsider, Life Is Too Short; not then extant even in mss[2], and filled with absurd misstatements as to statements about our lives, characters and relations beginning with the Cercadinho section and continued to the end; and exemplified in a purported attributing to himself, by the author, of the author, of the dolls—two in fact and referred to in that book as published as one—I myself made for Creighton Seely Scott on the ranch, from rag, embroidering one crudely with features, and giving the largest—as large as the child himself then—“hair” of the sepoia that held in place the palm thatch on the ranch house roof—tiled just before the ranch was abandoned, half-paid for.  The dolls were brought back to the USA, and were left packed in one of the several crates we had to leave behind when we left Bermuda, with books, many personal records—books some of my childhood recovered for me by my mother.  Of an inexcusable treatment of Life Is Too Short I will say more in conclusion.

[1]Thomas Merton’s father, Owen, was Evelyn’s lover while they were in Bermuda and later in Southern Europe and North Africa: more on this in the next post.

[2]Cyril’s autobiography, published in 1944.  Evelyn took great exception to some of the statements in it about herself and her relationship with Cyril; there are many references to this in her letters in the late 1940s and after.

Elys Bridge
Contemporary image of Somerset Bridge

I here return to the Hale-Garland rupture, as, during our second year in Bermuda, Swinburne Hale and Marie Garland decided to part; and as I, after the disclosures of Charles Garland as to his mother’s view of me, had, in New York City before going back to Bermuda for the winter of 1922-23, insisted on seeing Marie Tudor Garland—as she soon became, again—with Cyril Kay Scott present, and telling her exactly what her son had said in quoting her to me.  I said I could no longer feel grateful for my share in her part of the benefits we had been about to receive, and I did not want assistance at the expense of self-respect.  Cyril Kay Scott assured her he was with me in my candour and that any self-respecting person would feel as I did.

Marie Tudor Garland wept.  She said she did, frankly, think Cyril Kay Scott a wonderful man.  She did not know, she said, whether she had been unjust to me or not.  But as to the money, which had just begun to be sent to us, it would continue ours, as she had given her “promise” and “never went back on her word”.

Cyril Kay Scott, when she had left the sublet apartment in Patchin Place in which this interview took place, reiterated to me that I was never to doubt his loyalty, but the situation being what it was, I should take the money already arranged for, and especially for Jigg’s sake, put aside  a justifiable hurt to pride.

In the second and last winter in Bermuda, 1922-23, we still saw both Marie Tudor Garland and Swinburne Hale; she as cordial as ever, on the surface to Cyril Kay Scott, but somewhat more formal with me; and Swinburne Hale the same to both of us.  They were then living apart, he in Ely’s Lodge, and she at Parapet.  When we left in either late April or early May, for New York City, we had our personal belongings crated, hoping to be able to have them freighted to us once we found an abiding place elsewhere that would allow us to rent The Scottage in due course when legalities relating to Bermuda law were sorted out, as the Hale-Garland divorce decree was imminent, and, for the time, had all but spoiled the idyllic atmosphere for work The Scottage represented.

To Lola Ridge

[Ely’s Lodge,  Somerset Bridge, Bermuda]
[late 1921]

Lola, Darling:  There isn’t a book shop in Bermuda!  The only place mildly like one is a store called The Tower where you can also buy toys, stationery, and a little hardware.  Bermuda consists of about one hundred diminutive islands.  The entire population is twenty-thousand and twelve thousand of these are blacks.  At least a quarter—maybe a third—of the remaining eight thousand are semi-literate Portuguez immigrants.  There is no system of free education, no divorce, no anything later than eighteen twenty.  The English here are the Governor a number of bone head military officials and the people who run the naval yard.  They are scandalized at mixed bathing, at women who smoke etc.  Art has just passed the chrome stage.  Among the tourists (and there is about two thousand a month during January February and March several hundred during other months) there are mostly rich Jew clothing store families and tired American business men who come to play golf.  The Bermuda public library has Edgeworth, Dickens, Scott, etc etc     Gladys[1] also departed and I told her to be sure and go to see you and not be afraid to show you some poetry. She is being annihilated by a kind mother and a hyper-bourgeois home and it would be a godsend if somebody could get her to run away from it.  Too much to hope I expect.

Say, dearest, I almost forgot, another lost soul we are sending to you.  A little man called Owen Merton[2], about thirty I should judge, a Scotch Welshman from New Zealand who has been for the last year living in Flushing where his wife recently died and left him two children.  He is very hard up, very naïve and genuine, as obscene as Bill Williams, and in all respects an interesting child with real if not stupendous talent.  He has been working fiendishly hard at water color and some of his things are very successful.  He is as poor as the rest of us and has been trying to eke it would with landscape gardening.  It would mean tremendous things to him to be reproduced in Broom as he has been snubbed by some of the people—Daniels Gallery etc.  he is bugs on Cezanne and says very illuminating things about him.  Admires Charles Demuth[3] very much.  Not all of Merton’s stuff would reproduce among modern stuff but a few would.  We want him to show them to you  I would give more than I have to be able to have a jaw with you and Davy.  Just think—a whole year saved up to talk about!  Love and love, Evelyn

[1]Gladys Edgerton (as she was then) was writing novels and poetry.  Evelyn was very strongly supportive of her efforts and used her influence wherever she could, unsuccessfully, to help Gladys get published.  In later years Gladys was a staunch friend of both Evelyn and of Jigg and his family.

[2] This first mention of Owen Merton does not give any hint of the importance of the relationship that will develop between him and Evelyn. Much will be made of this in the next post.

[3]American watercolourist who developed a style of painting known as “Precisionism”.

To Lola Ridge

 [Greysbank, Bermuda]
[January 1922]

Lola, darling:

Lola, we need you two just as much as you need Bermuda.  Cyril is a dear angel and has finished a novel full of beauty.  I have almost finished the SECOND novel[1] since the Narrow House.  So this is a workable place.  But toward mankind in general I have more and more an acidosis of the heart.  My experience of a little notoriety has been to intensify and perfect the Poe-esque conception of the blind hostility of the human race toward anything that disturbs it

I hope the sea trip here won’t make you give up any more of your self.  My dear, I know, despite jokes, what a terrible strain must be journeying to you.  But I see poems and poems everywhere that are made for your pen.  When the weather is good, Lola, the sea here is really unimaginable—the sunlight gets caught in the clear amber shallows in a strange kind of lace like gilded honeycomb—that’s how the light spots are reflected.  Further out a little green glass, then jade, then a violent glassy blue spotted with purple or a lighter streak like Verdi-green spotted with a green almost black.  It is just color rampant.  We have nothing to give you but that and ourselves, but I do think you’d like it for a while.  You can work.

Dearest, please write and tell me when you can come and more about you—more news.  Love to Davy  Evelyn

PS  You and Davy better reserve steamer room on a Royal Mail Boat ($70 round trip) now with understanding that you can transfer sailing if you are delayed.  Kisses to both

Dearest Lola, Please come.  don’t worry about details.  We see our way through by getting you here, you staying as long as you want to and getting you back.  And I think Davy could easily get work here.  I love you both but I’m a rotten correspondent.  I want to see you. We’ve a little good luck since and its half yours.  This is the Brazilian trip that fell through—you must come.  Please, Please, Please.  Love to you both, Cyril

[1]Escapade

To Lola Ridge

Greysbank, Bermuda
January 7, 1922

Dear precious Lola:

Your letter came an hour ago.  I must say AT ONCE how relieved I am.  Listen, sweetest, I hope by next boat to be able to send some definite information—or shall I say orders—as to how you and Davy are to come here.  I am going to get a man here to look up all the passages and tell me when boats sail where from and what we will need to put it over.  Anyhow, March is beastly enough after all for you to want to get away from it and while here it is cold and blustery now, it will be July weather by then.  The thermometer has been registering fifty which sounds mild but with a ceaseless sharp wind off the sea and no means whatever of heating it is much worse than one would think.  I’m saying this maybe to persuade myself that every cloud is silver lined but it does happen to be true.  Now whether you get to New York before I can get you here or not doesn’t matter.  You are to come here anyway.  If possible you and Davy both.  We want Davy terrifically,  I only put that if in because you are not to escape through Davy having a job he can’t leave—if such should be the case—this being something you owe to your health.  I can imagine what a comfort Davy has been to you.  Tell the dear boy that I would rather come to him in trouble than any other man than Cyril and from me nothing more intensive can be said

When I wrote you last we were all in a cottage with Swinburne’s parents who are here.  They are the sort of people who think that the Dictionary was delivered into the hands of Daniel Webster on Mount Ararat or something like that.  Modern art shocks them unless it is in French.  They think ladies don’t use rouge and have various other illusions about the human race.  The time spent there—three weeks in all—was hell.  Afterward we went with Marie and Swinburne into their house which was and still is on the build and overrun by workmen.  Swinburne has been ill—had a curious partial paralysis of the face, they were both very nervous and full of domestic complexes (so were we, I suppose) and inclined subconsciously to consider the fact that they were helping us as an excuse for superficial lacks of consideration.  I nearly blew up.  Hell again.

Well, now we are in a cottage which has five—six with kitchen—fair sized rooms in semi tropical style—that is whitewashed inside and out.  The floors are bare and unpainted and the modern plumbing is represented by a hole in the ground.  But it is-when the weather is warm—very comfortable with a sweet view of an inlet and a tiny far off perspective of seas sweeping a reef.  The yard too is graciously green with a red leaved hedge they call match-me-if-you-can and numerous hibiscus bushes.  It is as quiet as a deserted grave yard—except for Jigeroo (who has had the croup and still joins me in a consumptive chorus of hacks).  Cyril and I write most of the day and usually until about eleven at night and he is accomplishing more than he had time to in years.  I am already at page one hundred and two on novel number three, having done most of it at night when somehow the world lets you alone and there ceases to be even the pull of things.  Then in that abysmal midnight quiet which seems to be in you you can dive into a quiescent sub-conscious and pull up plums by the handful—psychological plums of the first order.     [remainder of letter missing]

To Lola Ridge and Davy Lawson

Greysbank, Bermuda
[January 1922]

Darlings:

Now you may wonder why, if Bermuda only produces Englishmen and bad colds, I am so hellbent that you two whom I most want to save from such things, should come here.  But this is January—the worst of all Bermuda months—the time when the ghost of New York in February is floating out even this far on the Atlantic.  In six weeks the natives inform us it will make good all the promises it gave us when we landed here in opal colored sunshine on waters that looked like a lake of Hudnuts toilet water mingled with best bluing.

         LOVE AND LOVE AND LOVE and thank you for your sweet sweet sin on my behalf.  Evelyn

swinburne hale
Swinburne Hale

To Otto Theis

[Greysbank, Bermuda]
January 27, 1922

Dear Otto:

We are still in the rented cottage, the foundation of our prospective home not yet being above ground.  Either we were mistaken or Swinburne has recanted for the house is not to be ours in any sense of gift.  We are to live in it only as long as we get on with our friends.  Sometimes things are rather strained with us.  Charity is an unsatisfactory solution of the financial problems of one’s life.

I will tell you tell you something to marvel over though.  Cyril is four fifths through with the manuscript of another novel[1] in which he uses an almost perfectly subjective method full of almost idyllic delicacy.  I haven’t read it consecutively but I think it will be the best thing he ever did.  He writes sometimes a dozen pages in a day.  Now Otto take note of this and know that it will never be too late to begin your novel.  He thought he was written out—that all the juice of creation was squeezed dry.

But you must have more than enough of these shop opinions.  Please write and tell us the details of your scene.  We will be interested in everything.

Lots and lots of love from all of us, dear Otto. Evelyn

[1]Siren, published in 1924

To Lola Ridge

 [Greysbank, Bermuda]
January 1922]

My precious dear, what a perfect hell you have been through.  I wish I could give for it something beside cuss words and indignation.  Merton wrote me of meeting you and how beautiful you were. We are expecting Swinburne on Monday and hope to find out what will happen to the property down here and consequently to us.  Bermuda has been very awful since Christmas in some respects.  I am ready to move but except to seeing you and two or three others I wish it were to some place other than New York.  I went to New York with such a romantic feeling of discovering and of course only discovered myself there and that mostly so inappropriate to the environment.  Wish we had money to take you and Davy to France.  God knows if we will get there.  Cyril and I have been thinking that rather than come to Bermuda again we should like Martinique or some other hotter queerer place.

Bermuda is in so many ways exquisite and it scarcely affects me any more.  Yesterday though I had a thrill out of it.  Mary and I canoed outside the islands and saw those wonderful birds again.  I think last year I told you of them—long tails of the full family.  They are as large as small hawks with a long forked tail and are snow white with red beaks and black dashed wings and black underscored eyes.  They fly low over the green water and their breasts are like translucent jade, while the thin edges of their wings pierced by the glare remain a fiery and immaculate white.  The tails are blood rose, like flesh held against a lamp.  They have the most beautiful swallow flight.  In front of us the waste water of a still Atlantic, no land, green and peacock water darkened with shadows, a hot blue sky smutted a little with clouds, and in this stillness that gull mew, far, high up, like the call of a Valkyrie on a mountain top, and those birds passing each other in the amazing stillness, passing and re-passing with the look of delicate and evil angels, strange eyes, black dashed wings, and jade bodies outlined as with a heavenly flame.  Oh, Lola, I wish you and the few other people with lovely insides could have looked at it.

We may be up any time.  We shall have to find some place cheap to live and somewhere to park Jigeroo.  I wrote Gladys that to begin with I would borrow her place.  She says you are working on your poems again.  Lola, you are one of the wonderful people of your time and you MUST write God damn it, I WISH that I was rich.

My love to Davy and to You.  I love you  Evelyn

To Otto Theis

[Greysbank, Bermuda]
[February 19, 1922]

Beloved Otto:  I feel like celebrating when your letters come.  Because you are so much yourself in such a self responsible way I find you suggest to me the same kind of equilibrium.  They have pulled me out of lots of incipient jimmies.  Besides that they are extremely interesting in the facts implied.  You have actually started me reading world news again and I enjoy the Outlook[1]every week it happens to come (convey same to advertising manager to be used when they have some real influence).  Imagine us in Bermuda reading the Outlook avidly, snapshot same.  Read in the Colonies as well as in London and the Provinces.

Merton maybe I described.  Anyway he is five feet seven and slight with a wirey muscular body because for the last five years he has done manual work in order to get enough money to paint periodically.  His face doesn’t look like anything much until there is emotion in it, and then his eyes which are brown and set under his brows are very warm and kind and alive.  He was smooth faced when he came here but is raising a browny blonde moustache which doesn’t grow evenly because he has a scar on his lip.  When he is estranged from his surroundings he looks like a lonesome monkey.  Sometimes he reminds me of Harry Lauder because he chews a pipe in a funny way and thrusts out his rather full under lip.  He was born in New Zealand and studied water color in London and Paris and lived Paris five years with his wife who died of cancer a year and a half ago.  She was an American girl and her family live in Douglastown Long Island.  He has two kids, boys, and one of them is here with us now.[2]  When he was a kid he went in for Tolstoy and it spoiled his paint.  He came to New York had no money and has been a gardener for some rich people who patronized him because they thought it was piquant to have an educated man in that capacity.  The wife of the household tried to flirt.  He adores Cyril in the most sincere way.  And he is himself the most honest to god sincere person I ever saw.  Cyril is quite fond of him.  He is so emotional that he may talk like a damned fool or he may get off remarks in painting which Cyril says are the most profound he ever heard.  He is easily bluffed and the world has put it all over him.  I haven’t any illusions about how long this idyllic situation will last and sometimes I want very much to laugh, it is so absurd, and in view of my disgust with Garland messing, so ironic.  But Cyril and I know an awful lot about each other and what ever happens to the other two I don’t think we are going to lose each other ever.

Goodbye till next encyclopedia from me.  Evelyn

[1]Otto had recently become editor of The Outlook, a popular weekly news magazine published in London which ran until 1928.

[2] This is the first mention of Merton’s son Tom, who was about the same age as Jigg.  The two boys were left to their own devices a good deal of the time;  Jigg later spoke of the period in Bermuda with Tom as the happiest time in his life.

Owen Merton
Owen Merton

To Lola Ridge

 Ely’s Lodge, Bermuda
[August 1922]

Beloved dear,

I was SO beastly disappointed not to see you and Davy again, but Lola if you WOULD have seen those last few days!  Thursday all day packing and shopping, Friday a whole afternoon at the dentists, more packing and shipping.  Friday night and I was so tired I could not go out.  I would have telephoned and asked you to come over but I had no phone.

I can’t write a decent letter yet a while, for we are camping out in Ely’s Lodge and in a frightful mess.  The hurricane carried off half of the fine cedars on the lawn and a part of the roof so that some of the inside must be done over and many of Marie’s lovely belongings are injured.  Our house had just been finished, but the leaky roof has damaged the walls and floors so that all the labor spent there has gone for nothing.  It may be three weeks before we can get into it.  I am trying to fight off the restless suggestion of upset surroundings and live out of doors in the brilliant peace, heat, blue water, and an atmosphere of indolence.

Cyril has brought a cold with him but he is mentally relaxing and I think we both love to come home to rest in each other after our periodic flirtations with chaos.  He is sculpturally perfect and at the same time so warm—finished and yet living, I tried to put in a poem.  Cool and warm, white, and warm at the same time.

And Jigeroo is maturing so I feel absolutely humble with pride in him.  The summer has improved him wonderfully.  I sort of feel all at once face to face with a grown-up mind, lacking the defense of facts but quite equal to any I can supply.

Well, as you will see my spirits, considering that I am unwell, are pale rose that may later mount to crimson—this certainly if you come to see us.

Love you.  Cyril and Jigeroo do too. Evelyn

Maude Thomas to Evelyn

[Clarksville, Tennessee]
March 26, 1923

Dear daughter:

Just a note to tell you that I asked J[1] if he would find out if Seely would help me, and relieve him of the job, but he declined to communicate with S, and said I could write to you to do so, as you were the only person who had any influence on him &c.  He spoke of my being “on the edge of the brink”, and other cheerful things.  I never felt more energetic than I do now, and am anxious to get work, or training for something to do, away from here, if I get out of this deadly atmosphere my health with improve, or my nerves, that’s where the trouble is.  But I can get no assistance from J.  It has been made plain that I am not wanted here, except that I have not been told so, and if it is humanly possible I want to leave before I am invited to.  I cannot blame J for wanting to free himself.  I know that I am a helpless sort of person, and have not taken responsibilities, but you may be sure I will learn to take care of myself, and not worry you if—I can get some financial help, but how can I accomplish any thing without a penny?  It tickled my sense of humour when I found I was so near dissolution.

I understand that Seely has built some apartments, in Washington, also his home, and that he has a life job with a fine salary, and that $30,000 worth of gems were found in the big safe in your grandfather’s house, which he gave to his wife, and the home place is for sale in Nov at $20,000.[2]

With love to you and dear Jigaroo, Mother

PS  Seely’s address is “Interstate Commerce Commission Statistical Department, Washington, DC”

I have been working hard on Portuguese translations, but am waiting on Nettos “O Sertao”, that was ordered from Brazil for me two months ago, and over, and still has not arrived, and later I may find that copyright laws prevent its being published  I thought of selecting one or two things from it to add to the five tales I have finished, and perhaps translating the whole book next.  Copyright, bars the outside translator, most awfully.  As far as I know it has never been translated in America, though Dr Isaac Goldberg has translated one of the tales in it, that The Four Seas Co published.

            J did you the honor to say that you had a “brilliant mind”.

[1]Julian Gracey, Maude’s cousin, with whom she was sent to live after the family returned from Brazil.

[2]After divorcing Maude, Seely married Melissa Whitehead, about whom much will be written in 1947. Later, after Seely died, Evelyn based her quest for her father’s will in part on this information.

In early 1923 Merton returned to the US and to Buzzards Bay to see his older son, Jean Paul, who had been staying with Merton’s in-laws on Long Island. He was conscious of being indebted to Cyril and was trying to find galleries which would exhibit, and sell, his paintings in order to repay this debt.

From Owen Merton

Owen Merton
Landscape Designs Color Schemes for Flower Gardens
57 Hillside Avenue
Flushing, L I

Bay End Farm, Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts
April 19. 1923

My dear Cyril—
From what Gladys said to me in a note I had yesterday I think Evelyn must have been pretty depressed.  I don’t know exactly why except that Swinburne’s visit must not have turned out well.  Look here—I wish I had better news of large sums of money, from here, but I am really doing as well with landscape painting as I had any reason to expect to, this spring—and I did very damned thing I could to try and arrange that sales of pictures will take place.  You know you can’t rush in somewhere, and simply say “give me 100 dollars for this”.  By the end of this month I shall have at least 500 dollars—and what I want to say is, “For Gods sake take it, and get away as soon as you want to.  I know you won’t either of you want to stay in New York.  If you could borrow a little of the money you could stay quietly in France until I am able to come, and I shall certainly get in some more.  I know damned well I can get 2000 dollars if I try hard enough.  I have never been licked yet at any special thing I set out to do, and I can certainly do this.

If my failure to get in a lot of money might away is responsible for some of Evelyn’s depression—cheer her up—because I have not done every damned thing I can yet—and I am really more vigorous and strong after this, than I have ever been after anything.

I want to come down and meet you, and I hope Tom[1] is not complicating things too much by his disobedience.  Damn it, Scott, I will fix things.  Don’t be disappointed with me, if things are not too hopeful on appearances so far.  They really are more hopeful than they seem to be.  Bon courage.

from Merton

[1]Owen’s elder son, who was near Jig’s age and was  living with the Scotts.  Tom and Jig were close playmates

Not long after this the Scott family, plus Owen Merton, decided that they would be better off in Europe.  Southern Europe offered not only a warm climate but the opportunity for Cyril and Owen to develop their painting styles in the landscapes afforded by the medieval towns along the Mediterranean coast.

And so the relationship between Evelyn and Merton developed.

NB:  Evelyn’s letters were often lengthy and were concerned with news of other friends as well as commentary on current artistic trends and accounts of her relationships with her publishers. Quoting these letters in full would be beyond the scope of this blog, and they have been heavily edited.  It is accepted good practice for editors to indicate excisions with diareses – [. . . ] – but the number of these would be distracting and I have therefore omitted them.

 

Back to the USA

The Scott family left Brazil in August of 1919 and returned to the USA and to New York City.  Their passport photo shows Jigg not quite 5, Evelyn aged 26 and Cyril aged 46.

passport image

I have found very few letters from their first years in New York, although I have found empty envelopes amongst the various collections I visited, which provide an incomplete record of where the family lived, sometimes together, sometimes with one or other of a series of Evelyn’s and Cyril’s lovers. The spreadsheet which I created to keep track of the letters, their addressees and recipients illustrates graphically how peripatetic  these years were.

letter ss

During this period Cyril resumed the writing he had started at Cercadinho and his first work of fiction, the novel Blind Mice, was published in 1920.  Although it did not sell well (and is now out of print), Evelyn was hugely excited by this as her letter to their good friend Otto Theis illustrates.

There is very little information about Otto, but he appears to have been an American of German origin, and the first mention of their friendship is Cyril’s dedication in Blind Mice to “Otto Frederic Theis, friend of this book and of its author”.  Otto later moved to London to become editor of The Outlook, a popular weekly news sheet.  Over the years Evelyn wrote frequently and at great length to Otto and, later, to his wife Louise Morgan: they both appear to have offered her considerable practical (and financial) support.

NB:  Evelyn’s letters were often lengthy and were concerned with news of other friends as well as commentary on current artistic trends and accounts of her relationships with her publishers. Quoting these letters in full would be beyond the scope of this blog, and they have been heavily edited.  It is accepted good practice for editors to indicate excisions with diareses – [. . . ] – but the number of these would be distracting and I have therefore omitted them.

To Otto Theis

 [Barrow St, NYC]
April 17 [1920]

Dear Mr Theis:

Cyril is in bed with a return of something—influenza maybe—at any rate pretty sick but—BUT—Doran[1] has accepted his books—DORAN HAS ACCEPTED HIS BOOKS—D&O&R&A&N has A&C&C&E&P&T&E&D his books—Blind Mice at once and the others later.  Now dear unofficial godfather of literary ambitions, I am sure you will rejoice with us that the almost impossible seems to have occurred.  I don’t think Jigeroo has measles any more but he has a complication with his ears that is worrying him a lot and he is as cross as hell and both of us are sick of spending two weeks in a back bedroom but we still love our friends.  I hope you will come to see us SOON.

That Long Island idea is – – – – – – -![2]

Evelyn

            My inexpressible opinion of the plan of sending Jigeroo to Long Island—too deep for words is represented below- – –  [bottom half of page contains a huge explanation point]

[1]George H Doran and Company, at the time one of the major American publishing houses.  In 1927 it merged with Doubleday, Page and Company to become Doubleday Doran.

[2]After the Scotts returned to the US, Jig caught one illness after another; this may have been the reason for considering this.

During those years Evelyn and Cyril also met Lola Ridge who, with her husband Davy Lawson, became staunch friends. Lola was a passionate avant-garde feminist and an influential modernist poet.  (Terese Svoboda considers Lola’s work and correspondence in much greater detail in her recent book, Anything That Burns You.[1])  Evelyn’s relationship with Lola was hugely important to both of them, and each supported the other in a lengthy correspondence which lasted until Lola’s death in 1941.

[1]Svoboda, Terese, Anything That Burns You.  Tucson:  Schaffner Press, 2015

Lola
Lola Ridge

To Lola Ridge

[Barrow Street, NYC]
[Summer 1920]

Dearest Lola:

I wrote to you and now Davy says you get no letter from me.  Isn’t he mistaken?  I did not answer your last letter, dear, because I have had news of your health from Davy every few days and have been so exhausted with Jigeroo (he was with me four days) my teeth, and a feverish attempt to write and to find a place to move to that (though I have thought of a letter every day) my hand would not move when the time came to write.  He says you are better and I hope that means you are at work.  I am selfish and can hardly wait for you to get back.

Did I write you about our (Cyril’s and my) resolution to live apart this winter?  It does not grow out of misunderstanding but the contrary, and I think as always that he is the biggest and best and truest ;person that—well male person anyway—I have ever known.  I love him so and I will hate to hear the nasty things that will undoubtedly be said by the crass minded individuals who observe the outward change in our way of life.  He has a room above Dudley’s[1] and I am trying—as yet without success—to discover an unfurnished room for me.  I want to get this last months rent off my hands and it is difficult.  We have been flat as you may imagine and so many personal readjustments to make that it has depleted our earning capacity.

Do you remember the dark spots on my two front teeth?  I have had them sawed off and two spotless false ones—what fate for a poetess—put in their place.  As a result—it was done without cocaine—my nerves have gone bad and every tooth in my head (I have sixteen cavities, by the way) has ached like fun all week.  In spite of that I am writing novel.  I do not know what the immediate expression of toothache will supply to art—but we will see.

Lola I have been through all the different kinds of emotions I hadn’t experienced already since you left.  I would love to have a compassing talk with you about the inconsistency and cussedness of the human race of which I seem to be a prime representative.

I can not think of anything unpardonable I have done lately except that I have bought me a cloth suit for fifteen dollars which makes me look like a poor but honest working girl.  My black silk suit with holes worn through it could be described with the first adjective but not the second.

It is now after twelve and I am soaked in the sticky atmosphere of Barrow Street on a hot night.  The curtains are dank.  The air is thick so that it squeezes my thoughts out in niggardly fashion—no room to flow.

I will go and jump in the new bath tub for my landlady—the one who has bought the house—has built a tantalizing bathroom in the place where I pay to have a dressing room and for a week I can look at it and develop a strong and resigned nature as I contemplate the bathless winter before me.

Well, dearest, write to me and WRITE.  We love you. Evelyn

PS  Jigeroo is in Greenwich Connecticut where by becoming eternally grateful to a stout lady with a desire to enlarge her personality to the dimensions of her corset he is being boarded at next to nothing on a farm[2] intended to be at the disposal of orphans.

[1]Evelyn’s friend from early years, he later married another of Evelyn’s friends, Gladys Edgerton.  Dudley was employed as an industrial chemist and developed, among other things, DDT.

[2]Creighton  described this “baby farm” in his unpublished memoir Confessions of an American Boy, written in 1960.  He writes:  “The unpredictable supperlessness at the farm, the ostracism every Saturday, the fear of being locked up for saying something Portuguese by mistake, and the lunges Mr. Harper made at my pants buttons when he still thought I was a girl because of my bobbed hair, all combined to bring on melancholia. . .  As soon as I came back to Brooklyn . . . I discovered how keenly I missed the formerly detestable cycle of bacchanalian exhilaration, clammy sentiment and shrill re-awakening from opiates and alcohol. . . At about the time I would have been dosed if I had still been on the farm, I found myself on fire with thirst for the contents of brown bottles—any brown bottles—then gruesomely depressed, and at last dreamily tranquil for a minute or two as I counterfeited in imagination how consoling it had been to give up fighting against the ghastly taste, resign myself to the necessary interval of nausea, and yield up my will to that of the bottle.”

  • * * * * *

In 1920 Cyril found employment with the Guaranty Trust Company, a large financial institution based in New York City, and through this employment became acquainted with members of the Garland-Hale family, well-established and prosperous members of New York society.  While in Brazil Cyril had acquired a number of practical skills, which led to his being offered a position as general handyman for the Garland-Hales at their property in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts.  I have not been able to find any contemporary images of Buzzards Bay, but this modern map gives an idea of why Buzzards Bay, with its waterside properties, would have been attractive to wealthy families.

Buzzards Bay

This  excerpt from Evelyn’s lengthy document of April 1956 is a narrative of the years in Buzzard’s Bay and later Bermuda and of Evelyn’s relationship with Marie Tudor Garland and Swinburne Hale and the various members of that family.  Although she does not mention this, during this period Evelyn was writing and published numerous critical essays and a large number of poems in the so-called “little magazines” as well as her first three novels:  The Narrow House (1921), Narcissus (1922) and Escapade (1923).

            In 1920 Cyril Kay Scott, though writing novels, went to work for the Guaranty Trust Company of New York City; where he, also, gave satisfaction, as expressed in their approval, and especially the approval of Mr Henry Theis[1], who occupied a high position in it.  Cyril Kay Scott resigned because of poor health.  He was, however, assured, before he did so, of a position as superintendent of the estate of Marie Garland[2] and her third husband, Swinburne Hale,[3] the lawyer, at Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts.  The Garland-Hales, though not then long known to us, had speedily become friendly; we had confided our history to them, and being interested in artists and unusual people, they had suggested that work in the country might be the solution.  We went to Buzzard’s Bay in the spring of 1921.  Cyril Kay Scott, in his new position, utilized his experience of farming at Cercadinho, the ranch in Brazil, and, with this, his experience in auditing; and though we were on the Hale-Garland estate only a brief time—less than a year—before the Hale-Garlands invited him to superintend their recently acquired properties in Somerset, Bermuda, Ely’s Lodge and Parapet, Cyril Kay Scott had already reduced the expense of maintaining the Buzzard’s Bay farm by five thousand dollars when compared with the maintenance for the same period under previous superintendents.

To Lola Ridge and Davy Lawson

[Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts]
[April 1921]

Dear Lola and Davy:

We arrived here per schedule on Friday night in the rain (rain not per schedule) and it has been raining almost ever since.  The surroundings are beautiful really—poetical, desolate, only we have all been so sick with colds and throats that the poetry is waiting for appreciation.  The Garland-Hales have been very lovely to us and after I get used to the unlimited bestowal of favors I shall be really glad.  Just now I feel that it is very much more blessed to give than to receive.  However as soon as we take root we can begin to imaging that this lovely cottage is really ours and that the charming little water view we have from it is a gift of the gods and demands no gratitude.

We spent the first three days at Mrs Garland’s large and very beautiful country house surrounded by automobiles and Arcadian millionaire children who go barefoot and wash their own dishes.  Mrs Garland has two picturesque silent sons and one young viking daughter—altogether the most characterful examples of the idle rich I ever saw.  I really like them.  Though of course things will be nicest when we settle down into our own little rut and write.  I think we shall lots.

We love you both terrifically and shall want to know how you are and what you are doing every minute hence.  When my tonsils stop demanding my attention I shall write you a letter of more length and I hope more interest.  This is only to tell you we are thinking of you as nearly continuously as life allows and that we would like to experience the phenomena, as yet unheard of, of a real letter from Davy and are avid for the consumption of any chirographical enormities Lola is willing to perpetrate.  I still insist on hugging Davy even at this distance and we mutually kiss Lola a hundred and eighty times.

Jiggeroo too sends love, Evelyn

To Otto Theis

Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts
May 3, 1921

Otto, dear:

Your letter received the day we arrived.  Contents appreciated and needed.  We have spent three days in over opulence at large country house where millionaires go barefoot and wash the dishes for the good of their souls or the soul of the butler I know not which but are nice and very silent boys and girls very much like Indian princes and princesses.  We have large luxurious room and opulent bath in wonderful comfort and a good deal of taste but not enjoyed because of inevitable feeling of poor relation one has in these circumstances.  It is as cold as Labrador—no spring whatever yet and has rained every day, but we are at last in own cottage and feel it more possible to take roots.  Mrs Garland and S[winburne] H[ale] have really worked terrifically getting this place fixed up in three days and if I did not appreciate it too much I could enjoy it, but even gratitude will pass and they are really exceedingly nice and kind not to mention lavish.  From our veranda we have a charming landscape vignettes of water and pines only slightly obstructed by a neighbors barn.  There is lots of milk and automobiles and Sunday we went to Sagamore and could see the surf and I believe Provincetown only twelve or fifteen miles off.  I do not like to think of being so close to Boston which is only two hours because there is something about sandy soil and large cold houses which was too much like Boston must be.  Anyhow- –

When the weather gets warm this will be a very wonderful place.  Mrs Garland’s estate is enormous and each member of the family has his or her own little cottage tucked somewhere in the woods.  There are several tiny lakes and from all most all the verandas one has some sort of glimpse of black pine trunks against blue water.

Of course I’ve been blue (I would be) and of course have worried Cyril (I always do) and waked up at three am to wonder if I was quite mad. Yet I do think coming here was the only sensible thing left and after all readjustments are made may be wonderful.  I shall not one moment stop hoping and wishing and willing that you may spend your vacation with us.  By that time the Garlands will be in Bermuda and we shall be quite alone and I do believe you would be rested by lovely calm surroundings like these.  Also both of us may be better company by then.

Love from all of us, Evelyn

To Lola Ridge

Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts
June 3, 1921

            Sweet, sweet, sweet girl, hello!  Gee!  IT LOOKED GOOD TO SEE A LETTER FROM YOU WITH AN ADDRESS ON IT!!!!!!!  (I’m hugging myself.)  Well, beloved, life is same as ever (more or less hell) and you are sane as ever (more or less heavenly).  It’s good getting where you can feel the world is mathematically larger—and has new houses and people you hadn’t seen before anyway, even if you know that the same sort of bunco is being cultivated by said people in said establishments, ain’t it?  Darling, what a pity that bed bugs and cooties can’t be trained to eat each other instead of us!  Therein is a parable.  Practically speaking I have been afraid to unpack my clothes since I hit the place for fear some of the denizens of Jones street has stowed away in my trunk.  So far all the bugs are in the woods where they ought to be.  THINK A bugless bed   After all one gets much closer to nature in town than out here.

I have written a bushel on the new novel.[1]  I know it is infinitely subtler than The Narrow House but of course more elusive—bits slip between my fingers and I think it will need more going over and around before it is finished than the other did.  I have now had sixty reviews (and a great many more notices) that I have actually seen and I have been compared to Dorothy Richardson[2] until my naturally benevolent regard of the lady is about to be converted into a desire for her complete extinction in the minds of men and book reviewers.  I never read even one of her novels—just two instalments of her Interim thing in the L[ittle] R[eview].  I must be SOME virtuoso to acquire her so indelibly on such superficial acquaintance.

I don’t know how this extremely personal venture is going to pan out.  Marie Garland is a real person, a dear, whom you would like I think as well as we do. Swinburne is clever but more difficult.  We may be here till next winter as planned or we may be back in New York in a month. God knows—if he does.

Jigeroo is with us and that is a help—though not toward writing.  We have a nice little house, or did I write you about it?

Oh, Lola, if we could have had you two out here a little while how selfishly nice it would have been!  When shall we have our tea and talk together again?

Somebody at Playboy wrote me that James Harvey Robinson[3] gave a lecture almost exclusively on the N H and praising it.  And still I get sore at the world.

Well, darling, lots of hugs and goodbye and good wishes and please write us MORE IN DETAIL ABOUT YOU.

Our best love to Davy. Evelyn

[1]Narcissus, published in 1922.

[2]She is credited with the first novel of the “stream of consciousness” genre

[3]American historian and founder of the New School for Social Research; editor of several historical journals

To Lola Ridge and Davy Lawson

  [Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts]

My sweet children, there is nothing I want, beyond just being able to live, so much as to see you both.  I feel that when I do I shall be wild—jubilant.  It will be a dozen Christmases of the kind that children dream rolled into one.  Hear the condition of our affairs.  I was in New York ten days—at the dentists almost every one.  This much I owe to the Narrow House.  And next week I am going up there again and to a hospital to have my tonsils out.  This much again.  Cyril has been so unwell that Marie and Swinburne have (or did I write to you) offered us a trip (at their expense) to Bermuda for two months.  We will start in a few weeks and I pray with all my heart to return somewhere the time you do.  If you come before Christmas I may not be here but after yes, and YOU MUST STOP HERE.  Darling, if anything happens to prevent this I am going to get you and Davy up here away from New York if need be.  Our future as usual is strange and dim. Passing the winter in part in Bermuda makes us able to get through on very little money even though Cyril has given up his work.  What will happen afterward I don’t know.  Being here has been spending in the way of life saving, and yet as you know dependence, partial dependence and favours, have their draw backs even you your patrons are delicate of perception.  Its been an ordeal at times and a relief at others.  I’ll tell you about it.  Of course this arrangement was understood to be temporary and what happens next is in the lap of the gods.  I feel too that if we can hang on AND ARE BOTH ABLE TO WRITE for two years we will probably be earning a livelihood in the moderate salary way.  Just two years more!  One can’t give up with a possibility so near.

I think sometimes with you Lola that “the curse is on Jigeroo”.  He is a weirdly dualistic little soul.  When he isn’t well he is sweet, and soft and occult in his subtleties and far wiser than Jove, and when he feels all right he is just an impish little boy in the street with no subtleties at all in the way of mischief.  I want him to be strong and oblivious—safe in the crasser outlook.  Yes, I do.  I can’t biologically wish him to go through the initiation that you and I have had.  And yet of course there is profound appeal to my vanity in the nearness and understanding of him when he is not in a state to cope with a fool world.

The N H is out in London now.  Otto Liveright[1] told me that it was being very prominently advertised and you know I had that good Outlook review to start advertising with.  Unfortunately very little of the proceeds if there are any will come to me.

Beloveds, my new novel is DONE and I think it is called Narcissus and if you don’t like it more, ever so much more than you like the N H, I shall be sick.

Now in a comparatively short time I want us all to eat dinner together with lots of red wine (only it will be almost superfluous to me good spirits).  And I want us to walk up that seething pinch beck Fourteenth St and up that long stair where Davy’s studio (unrecognisable in the hands of Dud) will become recognizable again.  It is grey here today.  I see Lola in a painters smock all white (except for smut) and tea with orange peel in green cups.  I love you both.  Evelyn.

[1]Evelyn presumably means Horace Liveright.  Otto Theis was Liveright’s agent in London.

To Lola Ridge

 [Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts]
July 30 [1921]

My own Lola:

Two weeks ago [Mrs Garland] and Swinburne took Cyril and I on a motor trip to Cornish New Hampshire, about fifty miles from where you were in Peterborough.  I enjoyed the thirteen hour motor trip while it was taking place but spent four days in bed up there as a result.  We came home again day before yesterday and I am knocked up again, though not so badly.  There’s no good my trying to pretend I’m as good as knew where any real test of endurance is envolved.  I start in to be as sick as I was in Brazil, though thank heaven it doesn’t last now.

You know New Hampshire so you can imagine the trip—lovely hills, Mount Sutney and Sunapee in the distance, mirage effects of clouds, and on this occasion—a fortnight without rain—a sultry stillness like a sullen obsession possessing all those tired heavy hills.  Marie has a cottage that she bought from Maude Howe (daughter of Julia Ward Howe).[1]  It is fortunately isolated but not particularly attractive in other respects.  The Winston Churchills, Maxfield Parishes, Norman Hapgoods, and other popular celebrities (St Gaudens old home is here) are close about.  Your friends the Mackayes have a place a few miles away.  However we did not visit any of these though Marie is acquainted with all of them.  I just can’t bear prosperous art.  It is far worse than any other type of prosperity.  However, I wish that we might command some of its demoralizations.

I have longed—Cyril has longed—we all both have (as Jigeroo says) to have you and Davy come down.  The humid heat—rains daily—here is agreeable to our tropical constitutions and we go in the bay rather often.  Lewis Gannet[2] just called Cyril on the phone announcing his return from his three months sojourn in France, Germany, Austria and Russia.  He and Mary are now over at Quinsett, Mass, with Margaret DeSilver.[3]  Margaret has motored over here several times and brought four or five wives of the pillars of New Republican liberalism with her.

I have finished the first draft of my next novel,[4] but Cyril hasn’t had an opportunity to do half the work expected.  However, it would have been infinitely worse in every way if we had stayed in New York.

When you get something done, dear child, won’t you please send us a copy or something to read.  Lola, I love you—Cyril loves you—we love Davy, and we are anxious for news of you continually.  Dearest, dearest, I want to get somewhere, have influence enough to choke your genius down more throats than have swallowed it yet.  I wonder if I ever can!  It’s not a very wicked vanity, is it!

            Kisses and kisses from us both, and hugs (and might I kiss you once, Davy) for Davy. Evelyn

[1]Author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic”.

[2]Gannet was an American journalist and editor. Evelyn and Cyril first met him when they rented a flat from him on their return from Brazil.

[3]Evelyn and Cyril also met Margaret DeSilver when they returned to New York in 1920.  She remained a loyal and firm friend throughout Evelyn’s life.

[4]Narcissus, published in 1922

                      * * * * *

Next week we learn of the years in Bermuda, and the increasingly difficult relationship between the Scotts and the Garland-Hales  And we are introduced to Owen Merton and his relationship with Evelyn.

 

Escapade . . . and a child is born

In 1956 Elsie prepared a lengthy account of her early life, to be given to her son on her death, and I have used this as the foundation for  this account of her early years.  Last week I shared with you photos from the album her mother kept during her babyhood which I hope helped you to visualise, literally, where Elsie Dunn came from, including images of her mother Maude Thomas Dunn and her father Seely Dunn.

We have been introduced to Dr Frederick Creighton Wellman, the dashing older, twice-married friend of her father’s who was about to travel to Brazil and who wished not to travel alone.  His wife in Kansas had refused to accompany him, and young Elsie was passionate and more than willing to escape from what she found the stultifying atmosphere of conventional Southern society.  What follows is her description of the start of their adventure which she later wrote about in her autobiographical novel Escapade.

I have not found any letters from their years in Brazil. Evelyn did, however provide a lengthy, if slightly fictionalised, account of those years in her autobiographical novel, Escapade.    This work, published in 1923 and still in print, was a literary sensation, attracting opprobrium and praise in equal measure—but more on that later.  Similarly, Cyril wrote extensively of his time in Brazil in his autobiography, Life Is Too Short.

[NB:  Escapade is easily available via Amazon or AbeBooks, and a translation by Graca Salgado into Portuguese will be published later this year by Versal Publishing in Rio de Janeiro.  Life Is Too Short (Lippincott, 1943) is now out of print and copies are difficult to fnd.  If a copy can be found it is an engaging account of Cyril’s six careers prior to its publication.]

We now take up Elsie’s account.

* * * * *

Dr Wellman and myself left New Orleans on December 26th, 1913.  But we did not leave together.  I told my parents I would like to spend the Christmas holidays at Pass Christian, where I had spent two summers with the maiden ladies, the Misses Sutter, aunts of the late Fanny Heaslip Lea[1], Mrs Agee, the magazine writer.  Heart-strings were torn on my side, too, when I said goodbye to my mother.  My father took me to the train and bought my ticket to Pass Christian.  Dr Wellman—knowing he would be struck from the medical register, as he was, though, later, he was professionally forgiven in several quarters—had taken an earlier train to Gulfport.  He boarded my train there, and we both alighted at Pass Christian, and took a streetcar to Biloxi.  From Biloxi we went to Mobile, and at Mobile we spent the night, I as literally virginal as ever, and having bought my own ticket, though I had just the money needed for a vacation and the Boston Club dues handed over to me by Dr Wellman.

At Mobile we bought tickets for New York, via Washington, DC.  All went well as to our arrangements, but one of the Tulane professors, we discovered, at Washington, had been on the train.  We changed at Washington, and as we alighted on the platform, we encountered him and I was introduced as Miss Foster, a friend.

We went to New York and were in New York several days; at first at a hotel I think I have since identified as the Prince George, but before we sailed, as we had to begin to count our money, at a rooming-house somewhere in the forties.  I wrote to my parents from New York City, telling them what we were doing but saying I could not give our destination as yet, though I would write again soon.  We called on my childhood friend, Ruth Whitfield, of  Clarksville, Tenn and New Orleans; who was then at a Catholic boarding-house for office-workers on 14th St.  She was called to the telephone as we sat in the parlour, and when she returned to us, said she had talked to my father, but had not said we were there and we had just asked her to say nothing until we were aboard our steamer.

I discovered, later, that the second Mrs Wellman had found out that I, too, was not to be located, when a young doctor who was working on mosquitoes under Dr Wellman and who was one of her friends and sometimes took her out, had phoned me at my home to ask whether he could take me to a Christmas dance; my mother had said I was at the Sutters’ in Pass Christian; he had phoned Pass Christian and put the Sutters in a flutter.  They had phoned my parents.  By that time, Edna Willis, as she was at first, had read Dr Wellman’s letter, and had decided for herself—as far as we know—that we had eloped.  She first insulted my distracted mother by phone, by insulting me; then called in the newspapers.[2]  Of the newspaper scandal we knew nothing until we reached Brazil.  My grandfather, temperate by nature, and with unusual poise of manner, went to the editor of one of them to try by every means to put a stop to sensation that was entirely libel except in respect to the elopement itself.

Dr Wellman and I had not yet decided what name to take, though we had discussed the inadvisability of travelling under the names ours hitherto, and I had definitely decided to drop Elsie and become Evelyn, not merely for practical reasons, but because I had a strong dislike of my baptismal name.  At the steam-ship office we asked first for tickets to Rio, direct, but there was no boat sailing for sometime; and we were offered, as a bargain, tickets to Southampton, a stay of seven or eight weeks in England, and the tickets from Southampton to Rio as one fare; and as Dr Wellman was fond of England, was a graduate of London University’s College of Tropical Diseases and Preventitive [sic] Medicine—he had gone there when fully trained medically in the USA—and was indebted to Sir Patrick Manson for his appointment as medical director or supervisor for the Portuguese Crown when laying out the first railway in Loanda[3], he was eager to show me London, and there we went first, en route to Brazil.  This was January 1914.

No Passports were required in January 1914 either for England or Brazil.  We sailed for Southampton from Hoboken—where my father was to be stationed when in the US Army in the war—on the President Grant, of the Hamburg American Line.  We had called ourselves, for a few days, in New York, Mr and Mrs Watt; but we did not like this impromptu name, and when the steamer-tickets were being signed for in New York, Dr Wellman was drawn aside by me with the plea not to be Mr and Mrs Watt any longer.  I suggested Scott as better.  Cyril came as a matter of association, though we did not consciously remember Cyril Scott the composer until it was too late to retract.  The Kay was inserted then by Cyril Kay Scott himself, for ever after our afternoon of decision in Audubon Park, I had called him Kay, after the Kay of Hans Anderson’s Snow Queen.

The President Grant was more than half empty; such passengers as there were beside ourselves, mostly German.  It impressed me deeply with the sting of bitter winds, salty rails, etc; for it was my first crossing.  But the deck-space was ample, though we were second-class.  Plymouth, or rather the Cornish coast, offered me my first view of surf, as there is no surf on the Gulf Coast.  My first glimpse of London was of Trafalgar Square in rain, as Cyril Kay Scott and Evelyn Dunn Scott emerged from the tube in coming from the station, where we left our baggage for collection.  We found a bed-sitting-room in Torrington Square, not far from the boarding-house in which Cyril, before his change of name, had resided for a time with his first wife and their son, Paul I Wellman, the novelist, near the College of Tropical and Preventitive Medicine and the British Museum.

We began to sign our names as above in New York City and have continued to do so ever since.  My twenty-first birthday was celebrated in mid-ocean; and on ship-board we discussed alternately possible marriage should the second-wife divorce her husband, or, if she refused to for some interminable time in spite, whether or not we could defend our relationship with a Common Law Marriage in Brazil.  We were resolved on a life-long association as we were, whether we were approved of or not, and were then of half a mind—indeed it was taken for granted at first—that we would never return from Brazil to those who had no sense of real values.

In London, we went to Richmond Park and Cyril Kay Scott carved the initials CKS and EDS intertwined within a heart on a tree that may yet be standing.  We went to Kew Gardens and on some pretext asked for the catalogue of their botanical specimens, and I read with much pride the listing of several Wellmanii.  I had read in New Orleans as much as I could of some two hundred medical and botanical monographs by Fredrick Creighton Wellman.

In London, we went to Covent Garden to hear Tristan and Isolde and Siegfried.  We saw Granville Barker’s production of The Wild Duck and of The Death of Tintaigille—spelling seems correct!  We ate at very cheap places, and I never had enough, nor did Cyril Kay Scott probably, though he never said so, in various languages.

It was plain to me that his disassociation from his children had been the most painful aspect of his life; and to myself—no doubt “Freudianly”—as a reader of Shaw, Russell and Ellen Key, that justified continuing to take the attitude of the married even as to children; and Creighton’s—registered first Seely, after my father—Seely Scott—at the American Consulate in Recife, when an infant—Creighton’s birth, October 25th, 1914, in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, followed naturally.  We ourselves were very happy in our relationship of that time.  I dare to speak for Cyril Kay Scott, for his attitude throughout to me was perfect.

We sailed from Southampton for Rio, on the Blucher, of the Hamburg American Line, sometime in March.  We had as yet no presage of the approaching war that was to intern this ship but the Germans aboard, unlike the amiable Germans of the President Grant, were an aggressive and unpleasant lot.  There were heavy storms, one in the Bay of Biscay, went over the bridge in great waves.  I saw Lisbon on a day at shore, even then more the old Lisbon Dr Fredrick Creighton Wellman had known when working for the Portuguese Crown and presented with a decoration—the Order of Jesus, I think it was called, by Queen Amalie, than the Lisbon seen later by my son and his, myself and my present husband William John Metcalfe, when we were travelling together years afterward.

Cyril Kay Scott and myself arrived in Rio with no arrangements for our livelihood beyond one with Janson, the naturalist, behind the British Museum—or in front of it—who had agreed to handle insect specimens for us if we were able to obtain those in demand.  Our arrival in Rio, in hot weather, in the season of the temperate zone’s spring, is alluded to, and described in part in my Escapade.

Cyril Kay Scott went at once to the American Embassy Consulate and we registered there as Cyril Kay Scott and Evelyn D Scott.  We had been told of names changed by documented usage in the USA, and of Common Law Marriages established by consistent agreement between the man and woman to their status as that of man and wife in Common Law.  But we were not well-informed as yet and merely did what seemed to us logical in view of our resolve to remain united, and to exact from others respect for our status.

[NB:  I have researched common-law marriages and have not been able to find any reference to their having legal status at that time in any of the jurisdictions that might have applied to Evelyn and Cyril:  Louisiana, Tennessee, Kansas or Brazil.  Nevertheless, it was widely believed that these relationships had legal validity, and Evelyn clearly believed it to be so.]

The end-papers of Life Is Too Short comprise maps showing Cyril’s travels around Africa (before he took up his post at Tulane University) and South America.  This map of his South American travels may be helpful in following the narrative of their 5 years in Brazil.

More images0002

We were in Brazil from the spring of 1914, to August 1919.  I think our landing was in April, but it may have been May 1st.  We of course signed everything that required signing by the names which were legally becoming ours.  Cyril Kay Scott, for instance, was bonded by the Singer Sewing Machine Company, when he went to work for them as an unknown new employee, first a bookkeeper, then travelling auditor.  He was with them over two years.  In Escapade I tried to telescope events to preserve a story form.  Time intervals in it are possibly less exact than here, though the facts in it were actually the facts, and when the war broke we began to be troubled indeed by the fact that we were there without Passports and that the time-period we had gathered to be essential in American Law both for changes of name and Common Law Marriages was possibly far from sufficient yet.

I wrote to my parents from London three or four times, but it was not until my mother was invited by myself and Cyril Kay Scott to visit us in Natal and see Creighton—Seely as yet but Creighton added when we returned to the USA in 1919—that we had the full account of what my parents and grandparents had been put through in persecution and horror; reporters besieging them, and when they would not be interviewed, inventing lies defamatory to our characters.

Evelyn was pregnant when they arrived in Brazil.  The couple had very little money and they lived first in a poor district of Natal, to the north of Rio.  Evelyn sketched their home in the “baby book” she kept of their child’s first year: vivid evidence of their straitened circumstances.

Baby book

 

The birth of their child was difficult and left Evelyn with gynaecological problems which troubled her for the rest of her life.  The baby boy, however, was healthy.  He was named Creighton (after Cyril’s original middle name) Seely (after Evelyn’s father) Scott.  The baby was soon known as “Jigg”: as a baby he played in the garden of their home with the family’s maid-of-all-work/nursemaid, Stephania, and became infested with a locally common insect. chigger.  From this he acquired the nickname “Chiggeroo”, often shorted to “Jigg”, and he was known as Jigg for the rest of his life.

Jigg aged 2.JPG

My mother landed in Brazil at Recife, Cyril Kay Scott had gone there from Natal to meet her, and it was then, when she, too, registered herself—Mrs Seely Dunn of New Orleans—that the birth of our son was registered.

Before proceeding North from Rio for the Singer Company, we had rented a room for a few weeks at the home, in Cascadura, of two American Vice-Consuls, Mr Heubner and Mr Momsen, and as they were decent agreeable young men, it was the suppressed private wish of us both to be frank—but of course at that stage we did not dare trust to comprehension, though we may have had some later.

When I did not recover from the aftermath of my son’s birth, I went with my first husband, to the Presbyterian Mission Hospital in the interior of Pernambuco for a needed repair operation, and was operated on by the Mission Head, Dr Butler, who had come there from South Carolina, and was a student of the Mayos.  We were, again, of course, Mr and Mrs Cyril Kay Scott; and our names so registered and sometimes signed by both must have been scattered over all the North of Brazil between Rio and Natal.  As for Cyril Kay Scott himself, he was constantly engaged in work that required his signature.  When, even after being operated on, my health remained bad, and he decided to resign from Singer employment and invest in a ranch he had heard of in the interior of Bahia, about a hundred miles from Minas Geraes, he, so that he could be with me and Creighton all the time, he had the thousand acres of Government land we eventually acquired to the extent of having it surveyed and paying something down, registered as his in the name of Cyril Kay Scott.

Cercadinho was about 6 miles from the town of Lamarao, in the heart of Bahia province to the southwest of Rio.  The area was isolated, rural, and poor, as illustrated by this undated photo of the railway station.  Both Evelyn and Cyril describe it in their respective books, and Jigg later referred to it as “a healed volcanic pustule, the ridge walling it around notched where a river drained weepings from the surrounding bluffs plushy with hanging forest”.  The enterprise was not a success, and the family endured increasing poverty as their crops failed and the livestock died from lack of food.

Lamarao station.JPG

When the ranch life proved too precarious a livelihood for a man with a semi-invalid wife, a child and a mother-in-law to support–for my mother never went back, or rather did not until we did, return to the USA—Cyril Kay Scott obtained employment with the E J Lavino Company, owners of manganese and copper mines in Brazil, who had opened an office at Villa Nova da Rainha; a town about thirty-five miles from the ranch; and there, again, he was Cyril Kay Scott, and re-affirmed his change of name with every business signature.

He was first employed as an office assistant by Mr William Staver, who directed the mining of Lavino in that part of Brazil.  Mr Staver, already dissatisfied, but liking Mr Scott and finding him unusually competent—though he was just beginning to learn the ins and outs of mining—resigned after less than a year and recommended Cyril Kay Scott as his successor.  Cyril Kay Scott was, in due course, promoted to an office in Sao Salvador, Bahia’s chief and coastal city, and had charge of all the manganese mined by E J Lavino, which, either just before, or just after this promotion, merged with W R Grace and became the International Ore Corporation.  As their representative, his signature of Cyril Kay Scott must have become well-known, not only in Bahia and Rio, but in the USA, as manganese mining was an asset in winning the 1914-18 war.

From the ranch, Cercadinho—a very beautiful place—I had written to Miss Jane Addams,[4] whom I had seen only once in my life, at the Era Club in New Orleans, where the Gordon sisters presided—and asked her to help us to ascertain whether or not Cyril Kay Scott’s second wife had divorced him.  I had written to other people the same question, and could get no reply.  My father, in my mother’s absence, had divorced her on grounds of desertion, and she communicated with no one in New Orleans, except her old friend Mrs Richard Hyams and her daughter, Mary Ianthe Hyams, who, shortly, left there, as Mr Richard Hyams died.  The Hyams did not know what had been done by the second Mrs Wellman; but Miss Addams was good enough to have a Hull House lawyer inquire into the situation; and had written us, or me, that the second Mrs Wellman had threatened to invoke the Mann Act[5], to have her former husband extradited, etc and though it was also said—to quote the lawyer—that the second Mrs Wellman was, since, herself contemplating a re-marriage and had sued for divorce, it was, it seemed, in some other state than Louisiana, and while the facts were uncorroborated, we were advised to take nothing for granted.

In 1919, the doctor of the Presbyterian Mission of Sao Salvador, having agreed with Cyril Kay Scott himself that Evelyn Dunn Scott was unlikely ever to recover her health in a tropical climate in a place where medical and surgical facilities were still very poor, signed a certificate to the effect that she must go back to the USA for medical reasons.  This certificate was presented by Cyril Kay Scott at the American Embassy Consulate in Rio, where he was now known as the chief representative of the International Ore Corporation, and an emergency Passport was issued to the three original Scotts, Cyril Kay, Evelyn Dunn, and Seely Scott.  We returned to New York in August on a Lamport and Holt boat, I think it was the Van Dyke—it was not the Vestris.

  • * * * * *

[1]American novelist and poet.  She studied at the Sophie Newcomb School at the same time as Evelyn.

[2]An article from the New Orleans Picayune is reproduced below.  It has not been possible to locate any other  newspaper items about this “scandal”

[3]Now known as Luanda, the capital of Angola

[4]Jane Addams founded the first social settlement, Hull House, in Chicago.  As both women were in public life, it is likely that she and Mrs Wellman had shared contacts.

[5]The Mann Act of 1910 made it a Federal crime to transport a woman over a state line for “immoral purposes”.

  • * * * * *

From New Orleans Picayune, January 13, 1914

DR WELLMAN QUITS TULANE MEDICAL
Resigns as Tropical Medicine School Head, Giving Ill Health As Reason
IS STRANGELY ABSENT
Unusual Manner of Withdrawal Starts Rumours, But Regret General

Sickness is given as the cause of Dr Creighton Wellman’s resignation, as head of the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,of the Medical College of Tulane University, but added to Dr Wellman’s sudden resignation is the fact that he is rather strangely absent from the city, and last night the rumours which had been whispered in certain circles became loud of voice, and it was said that the eminent scientist, in leaving, had neglected to settle certain debts owed to gentlemen of this profession and others.

THE OFFICIAL NOTICE

The official notice of the doctor’s departure, given by Tulane University, last night, read as follows:

“Owing to protracted illness, Dr Creighton Wellman has found it impossible to continue longer the arduous duties of his position in Tulane University.  He has, accordingly, tendered his resignation, which has been accepted with much regret.

“Dr Wellman has contributed services of great value to the university, through his aid and counsel in the organization of the school of hygiene and tropical medicine, in the establishment of an infirmary for sick students and in many other activities.

“His department will, for the present, be conducted by Dean Dyer of the School of Medicine.”

Dr Robert Sharp, present of the [missing text] Dr Wellman.  Dr Dyer stated that there would positively be no interruption in the school and that the lectures and laboratory work would be continued as usual.

RUMORS OF FRICTION

One of the rumours heard was to the effect that Dr Howard King, prominent because of his work and research in tropical diseases, had resigned from Tulane because of friction with Dr Wellman, friction which had brought abut open hostility from the medical teaching staff.  Dr King was seen after much difficulty at his residence in St Andrew Street, by a Picayune representative last night and interrogated as to his connection with Dr Wellman.  Dr King very emphatically refused to throw light upon the affair, and when asked if Dr Wellman had borrowed any money of him, said, with some show of heat, “That’s nobody’s business.”  The doctor’s refusal to say anything further was peremptorily, even surlily, put.

Another rumour that some had heard last night was that Dr Wellman had contracted several debts with personal friends in the profession Christmas Eve day.  He told a few acquaintances that he was going for a little rest, and even mentioned that he would visit Covington to hunt bears. As bears are never seen in Covington or its vicinity outside of a circus tent, the statement was taken as being facetiously put.  Dr Wellman, it is said, has been in failing health for some time past, and was granted a leave of absence by Tulane shortly before Christmas.  He stated at the time he would be in need of a rest, and would be back in a few weeks, ready for the late winter’s work preceding preparations for the student examinations in the spring.  It was not known that Dr Wellman was in the East until the letter containing his resignation was received.

Dr Wellman and his wife reside at Mrs Gomilla’s fashionable apartment house, Prytania and Philip Street, and a call by a newspaper man at the house late last night established the fact that while Dr Wellman was absent from the city, his wife was still here.  The lady who answered the summons at the door said, however, that Mrs Wellman was not at home.

WIFE STILL HERE

Dr Wellman is from Kansas City and a graduate of the University of Kansas Medical School.  He had two years’ valuable experience in Portuguese East Africa, where he studied beri-beri and the sleeping sickness, and returning to the states became well known as an entomologist.  He was in charge of the school of tropical medicine at the University of California, and came to Tulane from that university in 1910.  He was a brilliant speaker, and with Mrs Wellman, who is an accomplished musician, was popular in society.  He was at work on a textbook, took the lead in teaching hygiene in the Normal School, and was very active in every department of medical education.

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A momentous meeting

Last week I left you at the threshold of Elsie’s first meeting with Dr Wellman, 40 years her senior, twice married, with four grown children—a recipe for either the dullest of dull evenings, or the start of a tumultuous (and adulterous) affair leading to who could possibly foretell what.

Let us see what happened next to the young Elsie Dunn and take up last week’s narrative.

            It was in a period when my father’s always fluctuating finances were at a temporary ebb, and he had not, I suppose, as had happened in a previous instance, asked for help from my grandfather; who was still in very good circumstances, but as I recall it had grown dubious of new ventures; which, indeed, after the Car Company, my father, as far as I know, never undertook again.  My mother was sympathetic, and we had temporarily dispensed with the cook; not difficult as my father was seldom at home then, and was depressed by my mother’s presence when he was.  I, however, agreed to cook the dinner for Dr Wellman; whom my father justly said was the one and only man of real intellectual stature whom he had encountered since he became an adult and went into business.

The evening has been written of in Life Is Too Short; the early portions of that fine book having been, apparently, less cut, over-edited, and re-written by someone external to it, than the middle portions.

I am breaking into Elsie’s narrative at this point as Life Is Too Short, Dr Wellman’s autobiography, became the focus of her angry attention some 30 years later.  More on the reasons for this in due course.

 I was enchanted to discover an adult human being to whom, though I was of the opposite sex, I could really talk about the literature, philosophy, painting and music that were beginning to be my life.  His second wife proved a vicious enemy, but I also enjoyed her piano-playing, at that time.  She had been a professional and was a pupil of Leschetitzky, her name was Edna Willis.  Dr Wellman had met her abroad, after his divorce from his first wife, Lydia Isley, to whom he was married fourteen years, and who had gone to West Africa with him as a missionary, when he had one there as mission doctor to an American mission at Benguella.

Dr Wellman and his first wife and fallen into bitter disagreement as science began, more and more, to affect his religious views.  After their divorce, she had refused to permit him to see their four children, Paul I, Fredrick Lovejoy, Alice and Manly Wade Wellman.  Their mother, I have gathered, was a very good woman according to her lights, but to deflect from orthodoxy seemed to her of the “Devil”; and she honestly feared the influence of science on the views of her children.

The second wife was a sophisticated woman; and that Dr Wellman made the mistake he did in respect to their congeniality, is very explicable when one realizes how many are the marriages based on the human predilection for antidotes for unhappiness in an antithesis.  She was not shocked by scepticism in religious matters, but she had no sympathy for him in his unhappiness over his children; and even as he had found little tenderness in her make-up, she had been disappointed in her worldly ambition for wealth when, after marrying a scientist of international reputation in several fields, she discovered he was almost poor, and that his monetary resources did not extend beyond a good salary and what he received for medical monographs and articles on medical and botanical topics.

Perhaps Elsie Dunn and Fredrick Creighton Wellman fell in love on sight, for I can still remember the comforted and elated feeling with which I went to bed that night, after our guests had partaken of the Sally Lunn mentioned in Life Is Too Short and gone home.  I thought continually of Dr Wellman from that time on until we eloped.  My father and mother were equally taken with him; both having often complained sincerely, in their disparate ways, of the lack of cultural response to cultural interests among most of the people they had met.  Edna Willis Wellman, as she then was, became, eventually, so ruthless an enemy that I could not think of her existence for years without the most bitter and righteous resentment.  But it was the first time but one I had ever had the pleasure of listening to a technically fine pianist who played some of the things I myself asked for, and that, too, I enjoyed, with no feeling of rivalry as imminent.

Dr Wellman—or Cyril Kay Scott as he became and is to me—is innately one of the most innocent-minded of men, I think.  His character is that I have referred to, one in which emotions felt simply are deep, not easily changing, and intellect, nonetheless, is of the fine type that engenders no inner conflicts.

Before I ever saw him or talked to him alone, along before in fact, he and his second wife had discussed separation and even eventual divorce.  She had told him she did not love him; but, as such discussions do in people without his detachment, she had accused him, in the usual way, of “wrecking” her life, and had spitefully declared that she would divorce him, not then, but when it should become “convenient” to her.  She had reminded him of his first divorce, and—knowing the orthodoxy then still prevalent in New Orleans and among the medical fraternity—she had spitefully assured him that she had the “whip hand”, and would settle the matter of divorce on her “own terms”, at her leisure.

It was not a situation any man with self-respect could have been expected to endure.  I think Dr Wellman would have left her, and, perhaps, returned to Africa or some other remote place, even had he not met me.  But he was at once interested in me as a “phenomenon” in that era in the South, a young woman not quite twenty-one, usually considered pretty, and entirely serious in outlook.

I was, having left off both college and art school, at loose ends; and on that first evening had admitted that my education was scientifically non-existent, as I had recoiled from every science course offered because these impinged on time given to imaginative literature, painting and music.  Dr Wellman saw my father sometimes, and my expressed wish to have at least a little more knowledge of science was mentioned.  My father, too, had, by that time, decided I was too indifferent to science and it would do me no harm to learn more.  The course at the Dramatic Academy was still pending when Dr Wellman wrote to me the first letter I ever had from him, and asked me whether I would like to take a course in laboratory technique in the laboratory where he and his assistants were engaged in some experiments.  I have already forgotten what they were trying to prove, and remember vividly only my first look at some beautifully-coloured mosquitoes through a microscope.

I was almost mawkishly “kind to animals”, and I was repelled by experiments proceeding nearby—some Dr Wellman’s own—on monkeys and small mammals.  But this time, once enrolled as Dr Wellman’s student, I had no doubt I had fallen in love.

I was very deeply and grossly insulted on his behalf as well as my own by the sort of rumour that spread about New Orleans and Memphis once we had eloped, and which concerned our relations before our elopement.  We took occasional walks together after “school hours”, but we had never so much as kissed until an afternoon when Dr Wellman asked me to stroll with him in Audubon Park, and when we were far enough from St Charles Avenue to be unlikely to encounter other people, told me of his first marriage, and his second, and said he could not go on as he was but must get back into some simpler environment where he could re-assemble a life in emotional wreckage on the basis of the detachment he felt being shattered by continual friction with a woman whose animus, apparently, was such as would stop at nothing.

It was then that he abruptly said at the end of the confession of unhappiness, that I would probably think him fantastic, or, if I did not, other people would, but that ever since he had first met me he had thought of what the primitive surroundings of his missionary days might be like with a companion such as I was.  I was startled.  I had already told him that I was not happy at home, that my parents loved me, but not each other, although my mother was impeccably loyal to my father in every outward sense.  I thought later she loved him, but her love was not requited.  I had also told Dr Wellman that my grandfather, as was true, was daily becoming more eccentric, that my grandfather had given up his career to her, and that, as a man whose life-long preoccupation had been business, he was miserable in being idle; and that notwithstanding an otherwise selfless view of me, his only grandchild, he distressed himself all the time because I did not love my grandmother as he did—something that had been beyond my father, too.

Dr Wellman then asked me whether I would like to cut loose as he would doubtless eventually do from the miseries that beset us both among people, also, miserable, whose miseries we could not mend.  He said he had thought it all out before mentioning it, and that we might go to Brazil, where the Portuguese he knew well, was spoken, and where, among strangers, we could make our own lives.  He said frankly he had little money, and he knew I had none, but if I agreed I was not to worry for he would take the responsibility for everything involved.  We discussed the Amazon—for I agreed at once—and other places in Brazil; and when we parted before evening, he had said he would resign from the Boston Club, of which he was a member in high standing, and would pay his dues to me, as he second wife had access to his bank account, and was watchful of expenditures.  He also decided then to sell a very fine high-power microscope that was his personal property and to bank what he received for it—he sold it for a thousand dollars—and keep it safe until we left.

Dr Wellman and I exchanged our first kiss at the end of this conversation at Audubon Park.  It was to me, as I think it was to him, like the sealing of a pact we had made to fight together for some purer joy in life.  We agreed that we could not meet often, again, until we were ready to elope; as to be seen together might attract attention to our interest in each other.  It was also decided between us, although this was at his suggestion, that the most feasible time for leaving New Orleans would be at Christmas, when college was closed and everyone was on vacation.  He, later, wrote his second wife a letter she was at liberty to show anyone in which he said whatever was pertinent to “bear hunting” somewhere in the South.  He also wrote to her as we were leaving telling her he had decided to cut the Gordian knot, and saying—as was the truth—that he was taking nothing with him but a suitcase containing a few clothes, and that the money in the bank still untouched and anything that might accrue as due him was hers, but that she was not to say anything about what he was doing until he was far from New Orleans, because once the newspapers got hold of the facts, there would be scandal; unjust to my parents and grandparents I add—Dr Wellman did not mention either me or them.

I was most distressed about my mother, and I tried to confide in her, thinking to make her see the future as a temporary separation.  But I got no further than saying Dr Wellman and myself were in love, and I would gladly marry him whenever this became feasible, and he felt the same; for at that point my mother rushed for the revolver my father had given me when wishing me to learn to shoot, and threaten to kill herself.

This experience, used in combination with the fictions in The Narrow House, resulted in a temporary congealing of emotion toward her.  I had thought some revision of our plan might be made in adaptation to her wishes, as she continually lamented the fact that I was continually lamented the fact that I was considered brilliant and had no opportunity to meet any men fit to “tie my shoestring”.  I felt, after that, that I must leave home no matter what, to bring my mother to her normal senses.

Dr Wellman and myself left New Orleans on December 26th, 1913.

The Story Begins

Evelyn Scott was born Elsie Dunn (her change of name is explained later) on 17th January 1893 in Clarksville, Tennessee to Maude Thomas, from an established Southern family, and Seely Dunn, a Yankee railwayman.  Her earliest years were spent in the home of her mother’s Gracey cousins:  the photo shows it at its height in the 1870s.

In 1956, she prepared a long document, addressed to her son, stipulating that it be preserved with her will and handed to him at her death.  It is presented here as it summarises, in Evelyn’s own words, the years which precede the earliest of the letters which have been preserved.

* * * * *

“I was born Elsie Dunn and so baptised at Trinity Episcopal Church, Clarksville, Tennessee, where the parish registry contains both the record of my baptism when an infant, and of the marriage of my father and mother, Maud Thomas and Seely Dunn, then of Clarksville.  The date of my birth was Jan 17th, 1893.  The date of the marriage of my parents was Feb 4th, 1892.  My father was then twenty-one and was division superintendent of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, his headquarters Clarksville.  He was written up at the time in the Railway Age as the youngest division superintendent of any railroad in the world.

” When I was 3 years old, my father was promoted and became division superintendent of the L and NRR at Russellville, Kentucky.  I lived in Russellville with my parents until I was nearly 7.  We then moved to Evansville, Indiana, where I first attended School, a public school, and my father there, also, was Division Superintendent of the L and N, the job larger than his two previous ones, as Evansville was the office for a larger division. Not long after McKinley’s assassination, my father resigned in high standing from his position with the L and N, and we moved to St Louis, Missouri, where my mother and I resided while he went to Oklahoma and supervised the building of a new railroad, the Blackwell, Enid and Southwestern, of which, on its completion, he became Vice-President for the short time before it was sold, as had been originally hoped, to the Frisco System.

“He had become interested in railway building and promotion, and from Saint Louis, where we were between three and four years, and where I attended the Marquette Public School, earlier the home of my grandparents, Mr and Mrs Oliver Milo Dunn; my grandfather having been Superintendent of the L and N R R in my father’s earlier days.  My father, while in Memphis in this period, was interested, with several men of greater wealth than he himself had amassed, in building a railroad to be a link between Memphis and Pensacola.  I cannot remember whether it was to be called the Memphis, Pensacola and Gulf, or whether it was to rival that road, which may have already been built.  A Colonel Pond was one of the promoters and my father and he quarrelled and the promotion scheme fell through; though my father, a few years later, took up a segment of the same general idea in connection with the promotion of a small road between New Orleans and Grand Isle, an island in the Gulf once famous as a summer resort.

“I, with my parents, were in Memphis more than a year, and I went to the Public School there, too, and completed the eighth grade.  The school was near a Miss Sally Gentry’s where we boarded most of the time, but we were, also, briefly, boarding with a Mrs King.  I did not like Memphis and I cannot remember even the name of the street in which we lived.

“From Memphis, I moved with my parents to New Orleans, then back to Memphis for a short period, and back to New Orleans, again.  My father, I should add, was of Yankee birth, born in Toledo, Ohio, but his parents had come South for the L and N R R when my father was a child, and had lived successively in Pulaski, Tennessee, Mobile, Alabama, Memphis; my father having attended, in Mobile, the Mobile Military Academy.

“My grandfather Dunn—Oliver Milo Dunn—was, when we first moved to New Orleans, General Superintendent of the Southern Lines of the Illinois Central Railway; a position his for many, many years—about thirty-five years, as I remember it.  He was born in Terre Haut, Indiana; his mother was English.  Elizabeth Troubridge was her name.  The Dunns had come to the USA somewhat earlier, and were from Manchester—I now speak of my great-grandparents on the Dunn side.  My grandmother, on the paternal side, had been Harriet Seely, commonly called Hattie.  She was born near New York City, in New Jersey.  I think the place may be the one still known as Seely’s Mills, a hamlet.  My grandmother Hattie Seely Dunn was of older American stock.  Her mother was Harriet Marcy before her marriage, and when, in Evansville, my father belonged to the Sons of the American Revolution, the near kinship of the Marcy of the various forts, who had been minister to Spain for the USA and a Cabinet Minister under President Buchanan, was often referred to.  My grandmother’s family on the Seely side was one well-known in New York and Massachusetts, many of the Seelys wealthy in the era of my childhood.  However, I cannot remember, and have always lacked the money to have the family-tree re-traced, whether the Hutchinson killed at Bunker Hill from whom she was directly descended was a Marcy or a Seely.  I do recollect, nonetheless, that he was a near relative—nephew?  Younger brother?  Of the last British Governor of Massachusetts.

“I lived in New Orleans with my parents continuously, with the exception of the few months of return to Memphis, from the time I was 12 years old until I lacked three weeks of 21.  In New Orleans, my father held several positions connected with railroads and railroad building.  He was, for a time, General Manager of the International Car Company; founded by a millionaire and his son, to manufacture railway cars.  Doubtless several had invested in it, and I am sure my grandfather must have, though perhaps to a limited extent.  It did well at the outset, and my father added to its possibilities by inventing and patenting a new sort of self-closing freight-car door.  But my father fell out with the chief investor’s son, whom he thought too inexperienced to be as autocratic as he was as either President or Vice-President—he was much younger than my father—and the Car Company, after a couple of years, failed.

“My father, while my mother and I stayed in New Orleans, also went to Spanish Honduras to supervise the building of the railroad from Porto Bello into the interior.  I think this was actually after he had been State Head of the Interstate Commerce Commission his office in New Orleans.  The Honduras road was a success, like the Blackwell, Enid and Southwestern.

“It was when my father was living temporarily at Porto Bello that Dr Fredrick Creighton Wellman, then the Dean of the College of Tropical Diseases and Preventative Medicine of Tulane University—the first college of Preventative Medicine in the USA—went, during a vacation to Honduras to diagnose a plant disease that had attacked banana, and met my father.  My grandfather Dunn, at that time, was a Director of the United Fruit Company, and as it shipped many bananas, this led to the introduction.  My father admired him, and had reason to.

“In New Orleans, in my adolescence, my grandfather Dunn was reckoned a millionaire.  He had made his own way, having begun, like a maternal great-uncle, as a printer’s devil on a country newspaper, and from that progressed to railway telegrapher, I think, though as my father was a train-despatcher at Paris, Tennessee, as his first job, I may be inexact about my grand-father’s railway beginnings.  My father attended Tulane University, but he and his mother had never gotten on well, and he left the University before his graduation because he preferred to be entirely on his own, and in New Orleans this was not possible, as my grandfather disapproved of his impatience with my grandmother; who was, indeed, a “difficult” woman.

“In New Orleans I attended Newcomb Preparatory School, Newcomb Art School, and Newcomb College.  I was the youngest student ever to matriculate at the college, having then been fifteen.  My father did his best to try to persuade me to be inducted into the formal society of the day, but I developed very early, the typical society misses bored me and aroused a contempt that may have been in part defensive.  I could not take everything lightly, as they seemed to.  My parents were an ill-matched pair, and I had become aware of their incompatibility when I was seven years old.  They did not admit it to me, but it was obvious.  My grandfather belonged to the Pickwick Club, and my father to the Louisiana Club.  I was sometimes, in my teens, taken to Mardi Gras balls at the French Opera House, but my mother had entirely retreated from that social life among the wealthy and would-be wealthy and I soon hated what I saw.  I had been writing at intervals since I was 7 and was the winner of a prize given by Little Folks’ Magazine for a story entitled “Helen’s Wonderful Dream”. In New Orleans, after one unhappy infatuation in Clarksville on visits during my fifteenth and sixteenth years, I put aside even boys for books, paintings, Saturdays and Sundays at the French Opera House, Philharmonic Concerts and every concert I could hear

“I write this as if in the third person because I am trying to document a few facts, but the first creeps in, and probably doesn’t matter.  Anyhow I am attempting factual explicitness intended as the record of why myself, when Elsie Dunn, eloped with Fredrick Creighton Wellman.  I did not attempt this in Escapade [her fictionalised account of the years in Brazil and the birth of her only son].

“I was restless in an unhappy household.  My father, when compelled to realize it, tended, I think, to blame my mother altogether.  I was the Secretary of the Woman Suffrage Party, already, at seventeen.  I had written a number of immature stories, had sold two—under the pseudonym Hiram Hagenbeck, the name given by my father to my fox-terrier, and one had appeared—or maybe two—in the New Orleans Picayune.  I had also sold a story about Creoles to the John TrotwoodMoore Magazine but before its publication the magazine failed.  My father was bewildered by my views, which then included some on philosophy, and an inclination to become a socialist stemming from reading Shaw and seeing Shaw first played, and a general conviction that the world’s ways were wrong—as of course they often are and always will be.

“My parents were, I thought, wretched; and my grandfather Dunn, who had always been a voluntary martyr to an adored and compassionated wife, was, also, I could see, not happy, after having voluntarily resigned his position with the Illinois Central in consequence of a quarrel between my grandmother and Mrs Stuyvesant Fish, during one of Mrs Fish’s visits to New Orleans.  My grandmother could be outrageously arrogant, and she mistook something Mrs Fish said as insulting.  And at this point, my grandfather, after some years of entirely amiable relations with the Fishes, took my grandmother’s “side” and decided to retire.

“My father, thinking me about to be victimized by my grandfather’s devotion to his mother—my grandmother had essayed to have me at her beck and call—offered to allow me to attend the Sergeant Dramatic Academy in New York; and I was on the verge of doing so—as I had stopped college in disgust at the limitations of the Victorian view of literature—when my father invited Dr Fredrick Creighton Wellman and his second wife to dinner.”

* * * * *

Next week, Evelyn’s own account of that first meeting, and what it led to.

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Decisions, decisions

Eventually I accumulated, from various sources, over 2000 of my grandmother’s letters. The first thing I did, necessary in this age of electronic publication, was to digitise them by transcribing each one, retaining as much as possible the unique characteristics of each one.  I ended up with 11 large binders containing the transcribed letters.

This is when the scale of the task I had set myself really hit me.

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I had to find a way of retaining the unique visual characteristics of each letter:  these often conveyed as much, if not more, of her meaning than did the words. This included preserving her spidery handwritten insertions and  idiosyncratic spellings, vocabulary and punctuation, and doing this required a number of sometimes difficult decisions.

Evelyn’s letters fall roughly into two groups.  The first were written in  the 1920s and 30s when she was travelling around the Mediterranean and Europe and life was relatively stable.  These letters, almost always typed, were lengthy and their appearance unremarkable.

The second group were written from the early 1940s onwards.  The most striking and revealing feature of these letters, and the hardest to preserve when transcribing, is their appearance.  Much of the collection is carbon copies, with the imperfections inherent in that, often typed on a machine badly in need of a service: these letters are characterised by missing or raised characters and a left-hand margin that can only be described as “wonky”.  Perhaps to save paper, Evelyn typed right up to the right-hand margin, with words sometimes missing a final letter or two.  When a page was completely filled, she often turned the sheet 90 degrees and typed (or hand wrote) the length of  the left hand margin.  In addition, many letters, both carbons and originals, have insertions and annotations in her characteristically spiky handwriting, often using a blotchy fountain pen.  The overall effect is of a frenetic emotion-laden energy, which often conveys as much or more meaning as the words themselves.

Because it is the appearance of Evelyn’s letters that is so revealing I established some conventions are an attempt to preserve as much of this as possible:

Where her text is typed, I have typed it.  Her handwritten insertions and annotations are transcribed as close to the passage they refer to as possible, and are shown in a different font which is intended to represent the spikiness of her writing.  Emphasis in CAPITALS is preserved, but her underlining in typed passages is shown in italics, and preserved in handwritten passages as underlining.

A distinctive feature of Evelyn’s letters is her handwritten additions to the typed letters and these fall into two categories.  Insertions were made at the time of writing and generally comprise material she missed out of the main text. Annotations are quite different.  In 1951 and 1952,  a particularly florid period, Evelyn went through carbons of letters she had sent and the originals of letters she had received, annotating them to reflect her view of their authors and their contents.  These insertions are inserted in a distinctive font as close as possible to the point of insertion in the original letter.

Each of Evelyn’s letters contains a large number of “mistakes”.   Many of these are clearly typing errors, some due to problems with her typewriter (as during the period when the “u” key was not working):  where this appears to be the case I have corrected these errors.

However, there are a number of words which she consistently misspelled:  e.g. cemetary (cemetery), quantitive (quantitative), publically (publicly), occulist (oculist), etc.  These misspellings are an integral part of her style, and when a word is consistently spelled wrong I have preserved that spelling.    Consistent misspellings also involve the names of many of those closest to her.  Further afield, she repeatedly misspells Chihuahua, where her marriage to Cyril was dissolved, as “Chichuaua”.   All these misspellings are preserved as she wrote them.

Although Evelyn was born and educated in the United States, she spent many years in England and was later married to an Englishman.  Inevitably, her spelling is a mixture of British and American usage, sometimes in the same sentence:  I have preserved this.

In her later letters, Evelyn’s punctuation was often anything but conventional.  Exclamation marks appeared frequently, and could be seen as an index of her mental state, with serial exclamation marks a feature of her more frantic letters.  Capitalisation was generous, if not always according to convention.  And, everywhere, in profusion, commas.  All of these are preserved as she wrote them.

But the biggest decision of all was how to extract her personal story from the wealth of information she shared with her friends.  I had to narrow down the contents of 11 thick lever arch files to a manageable size.  This meant sometimes being ruthless, weeding out the inconsequential while preserving the essential elements of both her narrative and her style.  Some would call this “editing”.  I am not sure what I would call it.

. . . . . .

It is time now to start reading her early letters.

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A Life in Letters

Prologue

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I found the fuzzy photo in a drawer. It was a house that could have come out of Gone With the Wind: classical proportions, a white columned portico rising the height of the house, large trees framing the whole. “That”, my father said, “is the Gracey mansion, the house in Tennessee where your grandmother grew up”.  I was perhaps seven or eight years old. and transfixed by the idea of a grandmother floating around in hoop skirts sipping mint juleps.

Later, when I was pestering my parents for more independence, my father gave me the talk that most parents must give their children at around that time.  There were the usual cautions about road safety and not taking sweets from strangers, and eventually he came to personal safety and what to do if I were lost or felt threatened by anyone.  “Don’t go to a policeman”, he said, “find a nice lady with white hair and tell her where you live and ask her to take you home”.  It was many years before I understood my father’s reasons for this advice.

I remember, too, the distinctive typed envelopes that arrived, sometimes several times a week.  My mother would go tense, my father would storm out of the room, and the envelopes would be put to one side.  “Why don’t you ever open them?”  I would ask.  “Who are they from?”  My mother would murmur something indistinguishable and change the subject.  I eventually realised they were from my “Southern” grandmother.

Other children I knew had grandparents who were a part of their lives; I had very little contact with mine.  I knew my grandfathers were still alive:  we had visited one in North Carolina and the other in upstate New York.  I wrote regular childish letters to my maternal grandmother in far-away New Mexico.  But my father refused to talk about his mother.  He did, however, tell us some things that were part of his own story:  that his mother had eloped to Brazil with my grandfather who was 20 years her senior and married with four grown children; that to avoid scandal they had changed their names from Elsie Dunn and Frederick Wellman to Evelyn Scott and Cyril Kay Scott; that my father was born in Brazil where they lived until returning to the United States when he was five; that after their return his parents had had a number of affairs and that he had lived sometimes with one, sometimes the other; that he had spent much of his childhood in Bermuda, the south of France and North Africa; that in his teens, after his parents parted, he spent most of his time with his father in Santa Fe and Denver; that she had later married a British writer named Jack Metcalfe, of whom my father was quite fond..  But nothing specifically about his mother.

I also knew that my grandmother had published a number of books which had, at the time, attracted both controversy and admiration.  Her “autobiographical” novel, Escapade, was a barely-fictionalised account of the years in Brazil when my father was born.  But I had not read anything she had written, anything that would tell me who she was..

I needed to find out more.

The posts that follow chronicle my voyage to discover my grandmother. They also tell her own account of her life, in her own words.

The Story in Brief

ES age 14Evelyn Scott was a ground-breaking American author of the 1920s and 30s whose novels sparked controversy and elicited admiration in equal measure.  By the time her first novel was published in 1921 when she was 27, she had published 12 poems in the so-called “little magazines”, a volume of poetry, eight pieces of criticism, again in the little magazines, and had a play performed.  In the following 15 years she published a further 12 novels and an autobiography, as well as three “juveniles”;  her last published novel appeared in 1941.  Throughout this period and until 1951, she was also publishing numerous poems and critical articles and the occasional short story.  She worked on two further novels into the late 1950s, but they were never published.

Scott’s writing is described as modernist and she is considered one of America’s pioneer feminist writers. Her novels sold relatively well at the time of publication, but also attracted a certain hostility because of their themes of  female sexuality and ideas that would now be called feminist.  Biographers have summarised her life by describing Scott as  a “gifted and original poet, novelist and critic, an important though under-rated figure in American literature, who sadly declined into mental illness in her latter years and died in poverty”.

I culled this information from a number of sources:  Google, biographies and the very sparse details my father shared with me.  It is, however, little more than a skeleton much in need of fleshing out.  The woman who seemed to haunt my family is hard to discern from  these details.

I had no idea at the time where this search would lead me, nor what I would discover.

 

Discovering my grandmother

Years passed. . . .

One day in 1985, my husband pointed out a book review in The Sunday Times.  It was for a volume entitled Pretty Good For A Woman, by a journalist and second-hand book dealer from Yorkshire named David Arthur Callard, and the dust-jacket bore a photo of my grandmother aged about 25.  It was the first photo I had ever seen of her.

I bought the book and devoured it,  By this time my father was 20 years dead and I was estranged from my mother, who was in any case showing the first signs of the dementia which eventually killed her.  Callard’s book contained the same photo of the Gracey mansion I had seen all those years years ago. He told the story of a gifted young woman, a writer whose work was widely acclaimed, who had numerous lovers and loyal friends, who was frustrated by her inability to find the son and grandchildren whom she so wanted to see, and who died in obscure poverty in a shabby residential hotel in New York’s upper West Side.  I was beginning to understand some of the events of my childhood.

More years passed . . .

I picked Callard’s book up again, and realised that there was no real reason not to go to Clarksville to see what I could learn there.  I contacted the local museum to say I was thinking of coming to see my grandmother’s birthplace, and did they have any information about the Gracey mansion?  They did and I would be very welcome.

I flew into Newark.  I knew from Callard’s book that Evelyn was buried in a cemetery very near the airport, and as soon as I had collected my bags and hire car I headed there.  The cemetery office was very helpful.  “Just follow this man on the little tractor.  He will show you where the grave is.”  The tractor wound round to the far side of the cemetery, and the man unhooked a shovel from the back.  For a horrified moment I wondered if he was going to dig Evelyn up, but he used the shovel to clear grass away from the little metal plaque identifying the plot.  Evelyn was buried in an unmarked grave.

The museum at Clarksville made me very welcome and rolled out the red carpet.  I was given access to all the information they had on Evelyn Scott, I met people who had studied her life and her work, I was taken to see the Evelyn Scott “sights”.  For me, the saddest of these was the site of the Gracey mansion:  long since torn down as derelict, it had been replaced by two very shabby-looking apartment blocks.  The maple trees that had graced the front of the house were still there, however, and I picked up some maple wings to bring home and propagate.  They never sprouted.

While in Clarksville I was told that a large quantity of Evelyn’s personal papers, including letters, were in the library of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where they had been deposited by Robert Welker, a former resident of Clarksville who had written his PhD on Evelyn’s work.  It was suggested that I would find it interesting to visit Welker and hear his account of both his friendship with Evelyn and how he came to have so many of her papers, and I was soon on the Interstate heading for his home in Alabama.  Welker, the personification of a Southern gentleman, made me welcome, gave me lunch and told me about meeting Evelyn, about his friendship with her and about her last days.  And about how he came to have her papers. It was clear he had been devoted to her as a writer and as a friend, and she to him.

After that, I really could not leave Tennessee without looking at these papers, and two days later I was in the library of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, surrounded by piles of boxes and feeling more than a little overwhelmed.  I had no real idea what I was looking for, so decided to limit my perusal of the letters to those which mentioned any member of my immediate family by name.  I only had a few days before heading back to the UK, and I raced through these boxes, stopping from time to time to read a letter that caught my eye.  There was one  “a-ha” moment after another as I understood for the first time the reasons for so many events of my childhood.

It was a very emotional experience.  The collection was mainly carbon copies of letters written during the 1940s and 50s which were unlike any letters I had ever seen before.  By far their most striking feature was their appearance.  Her typing was erratic (the result of an over-used and worn-out typewriter) and she made maximum use of the paper, filling each sheet to the right edge and the very bottom, then turning it 90 degrees and typing or writing across the wide left-hand margin.  In addition, many letters contained insertions or annotations in her spidery angular handwriting, the anger and agitation clear in a visual frenzy.  I could feel the emotional energy she transferred to the page.

These annotations often recorded the fact that a letter had not been answered.  She beseeched my parents to let her know how they and her grandchildren were.  She wrote lengthy age-inappropriate letters to me and my two brothers (we were all under six), urging us to urge our parents to write to her.  Needless to say, we never saw these.  Letters to friends begging them to call on us and report on her family were went unanswered.  Reading these, I imagined a grieving grandmother craving contact with her grandchildren:  as a new grandmother myself, I could share her distress at not seeing them.

I fed piles of dollar bills into the photocopier as I copied what I thought interesting and relevant to bring home to study at leisure.

Back home I studied my harvest and began to understand the woman who was my grandmother.  I felt, in turn and in varying degrees, sympathy, sadness, anger, irritation and disbelief.  My grandmother was clearly unhappy, frustrated because no one would answer her letters, agitated, obsessive, paranoid.  I began to understand, too, why the arrival of a letter from her would create the response it did in my parents.

This was the first time, ever, that I had been so close to information about my grandmother. Callard’s biography was a portrait of a strong-willed, gifted woman and an account of an unconventional life, but I hadn’t been able relate to it.  During my childhood my parents had rarely spoken of her.  What they did communicate was an almost subliminal sense that my grandmother was a force for evil.  These letters revealed a complex and desperately unhappy woman who was at a loss to know how to connect with her son and her grandchildren.

Because of family and personal pressures, I did nothing more with these letters for several years, but during that time I had at the back of my mind a remark that had been made on my last day in Knoxville:  “You know, we have had a number of people here, looking at her papers and writing about her literary development.  But nobody has done anything with her family story.  It’s a fascinating one, and you are the ideal person to tell it.  You should consider doing it.”

Then, in the summer of 2007, my mother died.  I had been estranged from her for some years and I went to her home in Nova Scotia with very mixed and intense emotions.  As I went through her papers, I discovered a large collection relating to Evelyn.  There were numerous letters from her to my parents (some unopened!) and a lengthy document Evelyn wrote in 1951 explaining their desperate financial straits in London which I read with horrid fascination.  There was also a collection of letters from my father, written a few years before he died in 1965, begging, begging former friends for help in finding employment as he was destitute and unable to get any work, even as the local  milkman.  It was this last collection which was completely new to me, and it shocked me.  It was clear from her earlier letters that Evelyn’s constant harassing of her son’s employers for information about his whereabouts had affected his reputation to the extent that he had become unemployable.  My father’s letters were the catalyst to my decision to collect and edit her letters.  I was motivated at first, I admit, by a filial impulse to revenge.  Revenge is not a pretty emotion, nor a constructive one, but it was the spur I needed to start this project.  As I worked I began to rise above the “family-ness” of their content and to become absorbed in the documentation of the disintegration of a once-gifted mind.

I knew that I was missing letters from the first half of her life, the years spent in Bermuda and France and North Africa.  The story would not be complete without them, and so I spent a month at the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin, working my way through collections of her papers and those of her husband Jack Metcalfe and of Cyril, my grandfather.  The next year I returned to Knoxville and spent a fortnight in the basement of the university library, photocopying at break-neck speed the large number of  letters I had skimmed on my earlier visit.  The following year I did the same at Smith College in Massachusetts and at Yale University.  Scholars who were interested in Evelyn’s work forwarded more letters to me, and my collection grew and became more comprehensive.

The early letters could not have been more different from those I had first seen.  During those years she and Cyril had had very little money.  Their poverty led them to seek cheap rooms in warm climes where they would not have heating bills, and they ended up in a number of small towns in the south of France and north Africa.  Evelyn wrote numerous lengthy letters to her friends back home, describing these places in astonishingly beautiful language.  The letters were lyrical and full of detail.  Two words could evoke a landscape in vivid colour.  She was hugely intolerant of of the people amongst whom they found themselves, but that did not prevent her from describing them in  vivid, if negative, terms.

These letters were warm and affectionate and full of concern for her friends and their circumstances.  She valued artistic integrity above all else, so it was perhaps not surprising that her closest friends were writers.  Nor was it surprising that they, like her, struggled to find publishers and earn a living from their work.  Letters were filled with commiseration, with practical advice, with serious critiques of work in progress.  Few of the letters from these friends have survived, but it is clear from hers to them that these friendships were affectionate and deep, so much so that they survived her gradual deterioration into obsessiveness and paranoia.

None of this matched the impression of her conveyed by my parents.  And I would have learned none of this but for the chance spotting of a review in The Sunday Times.

I knew what I had to do.

 

 

 

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