In June 1925, Evelyn returned to the US on board SS Rousillon . It appears she may have been accompanied by Merton, but the gaps in the correspondence make it difficult to establish who was with whom when. Once in the United States she stayed for varying periods with loyal friends, notably Lola Ridge and Gladys Grant. There is no indication of what took her to Westport, Connecticut in July, unless it was that she found that lodgings there were cheaper than in Manhattan. But what is clear is her inner turmoil after Owen’s departure from Collioure.
NB: These letters are heavily edited. They are often repetitive. Portions refer to Evelyn’s previous relationships and how they compare to her relationship with Merton. There are also lengthy, not entirely relevant, passages about her relationship with Cyril. And, considering her reputation as a novelist, poet and essayist, there are numerous long confused passages of almost random references to her feelings about Owen and Cyril.
* * * * *
To Otto Theis
June 8 
I have made a mess of my affairs again. My private opinion is that Merton’s collapse is due as much and more to the artificialities that have hedged in his personal life as it was due to worries about money. He simply can not be anything but spontaneous and obviously honest.
I am enclosing a letter to him1 which I want you to deliver simply because you will be able to judge whether or not he is in anything like a condition for serious discussion, which I can not judge at this distance. I can’t take any of his friends into my confidence. I want you to read the letter, however boring and annoying the process, for Merton knows that you are the only person with whom I have always been quite frank and it may be a relief to him to talk to you. I shall write him that, as soon as he is well enough to be about, he will please go to see you to talk over some plans, and you can go somewhere to lunch or tea and have the letter presented. If you don’t want to do this, Otto, it will be alright. But I am asking it knowing I impose a difficult thing on you. Judging by what happened to Merton physically, this is really a matter of life and death. I think it best he should not have come back here with an emotional elan and have a shock. It might produce the same result as before. I think it would be better to get the edge of the shock over while he is among doctors and friends. If you disagree please tell me.
If you will read the letter you will have something of an idea of how things stand. I really love Merton very much, but I love Sug more I know or I could not dream of hurting Merton this much. But I won’t discuss it for I am in an utter inward mess—almost as bad as four years ago—and worse because it’s all happened before with no solution. Merton is as thoroughly sweet and genuine a person as ever lived and I have three years, nearly, of knowing him to test my opinion by. He really as been a constant pleasure to me.
If you don’t want, when Merton is better, to deliver this letter, or if you prefer to mail it to him, alright, only please be sure he is better. But if you will let him talk to you I think it might do him good. He is really very self-respecting and self-responsible—not an artistic monster—and I don’t think he will impose on you very much. He may regard this quite sensibly or he may want to rush down here, but anyway it will, it seems to me, be good that he has some forewarning of what Sug and I have discussed.
PS An hour later: perhaps it Isn’t fair to you as Sug’s friend to ask you to do this, so will you keep up on Merton’s health and mail him the letter when he is much better? That needn’t envolve you. I wish you’d read the letter though. Merton will never be nasty to Sug and he might need a friend very much who was also our friend.
1This letter has not survived.
* * * * *
To Lola Ridge
[c/o Grant, 31, W 14th Street, NYC]
July 7 
Darling darling Lola:
I hope you are better. I am just as obsessed as ever and will be until I hear from or at least of Owen. I don’t know how mad I am, but I must pretend to hope for the present to save myself from literal almost physiological insanity.1 My depression has been the secret fear of losing him. His depression has probably been largely the spectacle of my depression. The reason I have been afraid is that I recalled the kind of brutal insanity which possessed him after Ruth’s death2 and I was afraid that trouble would, as it has, drive him into the same state again. If he has been afraid of my dying like Ruth, that is nonsense. I shall be quite well with time and something to start with. And if he is too ill to bear me as a practical responsibility I will handle myself, given his psychic cooperation in doing it. don’t threaten him with disaster for Gods sake, yet make him see that which I know, that his own sensitivity can not survive sanely the present method. I want to help him anyway on earth. If he really hates me then of course the help must be for me to disappear for him. I must find out. [Remainder of letter missing]
1Although the “insanity” referred to here is actually the pain Evelyn was experiencing from the break-up with Merton, this sentence is prescient. In about 10 years’ time, her letters would be showing signs of the paranoia and obsessions which took over her life and so badly affected the lives of those around her.
2Owen’s wife, Ruth Jenkins, had died of cancer.
* * * * *
To Owen Merton
[c/o Grant, 31 W 14th St, NYC]
July 10 
Please remember nothing is changed. I am going up to Ellen’s to Nantucket Saturday. I hope you will feel like telling me how you are. I feel so calm somehow and as if I knew this gesture was only a phase though I suppose you will do your best to convince me it is a fact, and it does hurt very much. Remember the problem of the kids2 is not solved by giving me up. It remains IDENTICALLY the same, and the Jenkins arguments are all unconsciously warped about that. I have a lot of plans up my sleeve to get money for you and whether you want me with the money or not I am going to pull ’em as hard as I can. Remember I am ready to compromise with the Jenkins as soon as you want me. They will be ready too if you ever do. Dear don’t think my hopefulness a compulsion. Tell me you don’t love me and you know I don’t want a coerced lover, but I don’t see why I must be subjected to ignorance of your condition, darling, need I be? I am going to work like bloody hell to set you free to paint and then you can live in Douglaston and refuse to speak to me if you like. I mean it. You can. And I bet you a dollar I succeed. The Jenkins would come around too if you took the bull by the horns and married me and that is the only reason I have wanted you to. I have learned by experience that the world sure can cock you up if you are outside the pale. Well by marrying you get inside. I wouldn’t try to keep you if you turned agin me, but I would be in such a position I couldn’t be kept from seeing you if you were ill etc. I have always known this, and when I spoke of deception I really uttered timidly my terror of just exactly what has occurred and what could not occur if things were so convention could not exclude me.
The only difference I make in your life is that I am an obstacle to a natural desire to keep any woman out. Giving me up because it is your duty sounds like insanity even to people who realize completely the problem of the children in its most tangible sense. I simply couldn’t complicate it. And you poopooed Elsa3 sharing the responsibility of the kids. That is not foolish at all.
Bless you and let me kiss you forever because it is until death do us part for me. I can’t give myself utterly and change.
Goodbye dearest Muttsie, but I hope you will write.
[This letter was never opened by Merton]
1 Michael Theis, Louise and Otto’s son.
2 Evelyn is referring to Owen’s two children and his dispute with the Jenkins about their upbringing.
3 Cyril and Jigg were at this time living in Switzerland with Cyril’s current lover, Elsa Pfenniger.
* * * * *
To Louise Morgan
c/o Grant, 31 W 14th St, NYC
July 11, 1925
I have been very ill. Owen is ill and in anguish of mind. The Jenkins have landed on him with threats and reproaches and rubbing in of obligations and he has been told how the children cry for him, little John does. The Jenkins have now set out to separate Owen and me and may succeed. They won’t allow me to speak, write, or even indirectly communicate with him. They won’t let me know of his health and God knows what they tell him of me, and I have no legal recourse.
I have been under drugs myself and am pretty ill. If we had had money and had defied them it wouldn’t have happened. I feel as if my world had smashed—but most a perfect agony of anxiety about him. Forgive him you two he has a terrible lot. I’ll have to tell Suggie, but must think out how to make it easiest for him about me. I am pretty ill and bust for cash. Evelyn
* * * * *
I considered carefully whether to include the next letter, from Evelyn to Merton via Otto, an anguished paean of guilt and passion of some 4,300 words. In the end I decided not to, and instead have concentrated on a sequence of shorter letters, the next one of which appears to have been written about the time Evelyn and Owen were together sailing to New York.
* * * * *
To Louise Morgan
July 17 
I have been through hell since I saw you. Owen was an angel all the way here, but as we neared New York he sank into the most morbid state I ever saw, looking at me in a kind of anguished way and repeating, Yes, you are beautiful. Yes, I love you. I love you very much, and so on, so irrelevantly and with so little joy in making love I had the horrors again. I asked him if he was anticipating trouble with the Jenkins1 and he would not answer. When we were on deck he used to look at me and walk away, and seemed trying to hide some horrible depression he didn’t dare express. He wasn’t never away from my side for a moment. I was seasick and he seemed to think I was going to die. Just before we arrived he insisted on repacking all the bags, gave me in mine all the letters I have written him, and some letters he wrote to his mother when he was a boy that I had asked to see. Then he put the ring I had given him in my bag too. Valid excuses of precaution were given for all of this.
On the morning we left the boat he made me stay on board while he did my bags for me in the customs. Mr Jenkins had come to meet him and was frankly mad because he was delayed by Owen’s attentions to me. When I spoke to him he was rather rude. That gave me a premonitory fear. As Owen said remember we are going to be separated but we are very close and together. And I said, yes, forever.
Then Owen said, Those steady eyes, as if he were trying to remember something, and about to break down.
I didn’t see him until the next day. Hell had broken loose. Little Tom crying all day when his father spoke of France, Mrs Jenkins telling him she had guessed this and he was sacrificing his children for a wicked woman. Pa Jenkins had a bad something and would go off if he knew Owen had committed adultery, and so on. In short it was me or the kids. Take your bloody kids and go to hell—if he don’t stop you by interfering legally for your own good—or but that low down whore ruiner of homes in her place. Owen went off his head in the interview I wrote you about. With no money he couldn’t move and kids with their rejoicing over him had broken him down anyway. He took the step he threatened in Beziers, for ever since I tried to commit suicide the conviction of the hopelessness of money has become a mania with him. He left me, by telegram, not a word to say where he was. Just—to Gladys—I don’t think Evelyn and I should meet again, schemes won’t work, please don’t write.
Then he disappeared. The Jenkins put a block on communication and he concurred. He couldn’t stick it otherwise. Today Harold Jenkins sent me a note he had written by Owen in a wabbly hand saying, I am sorry you have been made to feel responsible for my affairs, for of course the break in my relation with Evelyn Scott was my own decision. I did it to avert a worse calamity later as no possible plan could be made to work. I have behaved inhumanly again but it was because there was no way out, etc.
Result of this experience I have been in bed two weeks taking the stuff they give to DT patients, and with the doctor threatening to put me in an asylum where I could be watched. But I guess I’m coming thru. I don’t know quite. I love Owen just as much, and understand the terror that has been growing in his mind because it was what did make me take poison and made me so anguished in London—there really is no cure to the money and children with the Jenkins attitude of stop at nothing to kill me confronting us. So I quit and start somewhere else for the present. If Owen pulls out and wants me later and I ain’t took I am his because I never loved Sug more nor anybody else as much, and with money to relieve worry we had everything in common to make us happy and the happiest sex I ever knew. But so it goes.
Owen is a good kid and I loved him because he was so naïve in being sweet as well as brutal—Otto will kick me—but they go together. And I wouldn’t lose my own kids either, so that’s that. Anyway looking back London seems like the garden of paradise.
Love and au revoir, I hope Evelyn
1 Merton’s in-laws, who were looking after his two children.
* * * * *
To Otto Theis and Louise Morgan
c/o Grant, 7 East 14th Street, NYC
July 19 
My sweet old Louises and Ottos:
The course of true love certainly has been a hellish one in this case, and I am so obsessed and depressed and ill that I have to write about it or talk about it, and someone writing about it to you is most relief.
You see a three years struggle on my part to break with Sug before a world, a three years struggle on Owen’s part to subdue jealousy and just hang on to respond to whatever decision I made, and a three years struggle on the part of dearest Suggie to discover whether or not he must resign forever the hope he has held on to—well all that did what you saw physically. But we would all have survived if there had been rest of external problems to allow us to recuperate. When I tried to kill myself in Beziers1 I was in the frame of mind Owen is now—only I am afraid, this being his second despair, he has gone further than I did inwardly, and perhaps to an irrevocable point of rejecting me.
When Cyril and I went away [to Brazil] we just dodged all that end of it and had only a terrible practical problem to confront—till mother2 came. But Owen, because of the children, his own weakened health, and a temperament really not gratified by ruthlessness, has had something that, at the moment, is much harder to confront.
Shall I be able to keep her or shan’t I, must have been in his mind as an undercurrent every moment since March. His despairing attitude on the boat was of course anticipation of this break. The Jenkins had simply made up their minds that he must stay on Long Island with them and of course the justice of their demand was ethically obvious. Here we have kept the children in health and happiness while you were selfishly (and wickedly) living with the wife of another man. She is ill from worry, you are ill. She has sacrificed a fine man to her selfishness as you admit. She has no thought of her own child and she demands that you have no thought of yours. We are ready to nurse you back to health and provide for you and your children until you are well enough to earn for them yourself. No use making any temporary resolutions. Pop has bad health. He may die in a few years. Then where will you be. You have the responsibility of the children anyway. You can’t escape it. You are not the kind of a man who could. Tom is only happy with you. He hates France. He did not like Mrs Scott. Mr Scott did not like Tom. Yet you have proposed that Tom spend part of his time with Mr Scott and his new wife. The only financial support you can possibly get is thru us and you will not get that unless you once and for all renounce that woman. We will not reproach you and it will all be as if it had never been, but you and your children—and the woman too—will be saved from ruin. In a few years you will forget all this and we want you to marry sensibly a healthy strong competent woman for your children who thinks of you and them and not herself. (This last has probably not yet been sprung on Owen but it is what Mrs Jenkins told Dr Mayer.3)
Take a sick sensitive man already half insane with worry and land upon him a primitive and cunning old lady in love with him (Mrs Jenkins) two children weeping because father may leave them again, and the implacable fact that you haven’t got a cent and you and the woman are ill, and see what happens. It just did.
His present intention is to give up the struggle and stay on Long Island with the kids until he gets well. My opinion is that no matter what his effort to accept Mrs Jenkins solution, he won’t be able to stand it, and will end by going off with Tom, maybe to be a day laborer, maybe to take Tom to England. But he will still be bound to the Jenkins by John Paul4.
As a painter, Long Island will kill him, so my opinion is that, painting having always been his strongest motive in life, the things that overpower him now will not keep him there always for the suicide of his talents.
For Owen himself the Jenkins home, the Jenkins manner, the Jenkins imposition will destroy his self-respect and kill him. If I am ever to see him again he has got to get away from them—with Tom. If I am never to see him again and he is going on to paint pictures I think ought to be painted, he must be helped to leave America which is to him a place a hell and oppression because of what he has been thru here. I am not going to pursue him, except from a distance, and not at all, once I am convinced by something other than despair, that he has a happier life in some other circumstance. But I do want to help him—to help myself by regaining him, or to help myself by escaping from the hallucinations I have all the time of his face in suffering, and all he has confided in me of the effect of the Jenkins, America, and lack of money on his mind.
Please save Owen from the curse of America and money. Maybe I love him too much and he is, without knowing it, frightened of the too naked and intense exposure of longing for him. But I will keep absolutely out of it unless I am asked to come back. I have simply shared his horror of what might happen—what has happened—until I share involuntarily every torture he is going through and will go through. Please help him.
1 Evelyn had taken an overdose of codeine linctus.
2 A reference to Maude Dunn’s arrival in Brazil shortly after Jigg’s birth.
3 Dr May Mayers, general practitioner specialising in public health working in NYC. She was a loyal friend and provided medical advice to Evelyn throughout her life.
4 Owen’s younger son, who was living with the Jenkins on Long Island at this time.
* * * * *
There are many more letters in the same vein. As the Jenkins forbade communication between Owen and Evelyn, she wrote to him care of Otto and/or Louise, sealing the letters in inner envelopes which were not opened until the 1980s. Meanwhile, Evelyn was staying with, among other friends, Gladys Grant.
* * * * *
To Lola Ridge
August 16, 1925
When Evelyn has so much to forgive me will you please not be too hard on me for not opening letters from you or for not replying to them. It is hopeless to try and explain why one feels one must do certain things to anyone else—and I have the worst conscience in the world anyway now, only may I say that in doing a great wrong—I am avoiding doing a much greater one. I wish I could have seen you—only now that everything is changed I don’t feel I should see anyone.
I can’t say anything Lola, that is why I did not write to you before.
* * * * *
To Otto Theis
31 West 14th Street, NYC
August 27, 1925
For Evelyn—and you and Louise, too—I’m so afraid! If she gets another shock and goes to pieces as she did here, I don’t know how she is going to stand it. At the same time it is terrifically hard on anyone and everyone around here. She has no thought for or mercy for anyone else1. Please don’t think by saying this that I mean it as harsh criticism. Evelyn was in an abnormal state and could not be held responsible. Also we could not blame her for anything in such a terrible situation.
I am not outlining the facts as you undoubtedly know them and I don’t want to be an alarmist. At the same time Evelyn’s mind still harps on the one thing—Merton, Merton, money for Merton, letters to Merton, etc. If that string breaks, I’m afraid she’ll break too. And both Merton and she are so twisted up with resentments, complexes, emotional difficulties, in their relations with each other that I am in serious doubt if it can ever be patched up. Intellectually Evelyn see this, too. but she won’t and dare not realize it emotionally. Tom, who is with Merton, is one difficulty, Cyril another. Merton has come out with jealous resentment and hatred of him and God knows whether Merton can even stand Evelyn’s remaining Cyril’s friend. This is understandable after the situation in southern France and Algeria which Ellen Kennan sketched to us. Ellen has little in common with Merton but she said he bore almost more than any man could—responsibilities for all the practical things to the minutest details, constant encouragement and patient criticism for Cyril’s painting, acknowledged love of Evelyn but never daring to show affection and Evelyn sleeping in the room with Cyril every night, etc, etc. Cyril accepting everything and doing nothing—(I can’t blame him either after what he has been through. The whole thing was too awful for everybody.) Of course this last is entirely confidential. Even Evelyn doesn’t know I know it.
Evelyn is with John Crawford and Becky Edelson2 now. She is there because they have an extra room and she simply can not stay alone. She was with us, as you know, for the first two weeks. That time was a nightmare for all of us. Merton’s interview and abrupt leave taking—futile attempts to reach him by telephone—his brutal telegram to me for Evelyn—her complete hysteria complicated by her taking all the sleeping tablets in a bottle—(This was not a suicidal attempt. I had given her a large dose and it had not taken effect at once, so when I was out of the room she took the rest. The result was almost like a stroke. She lost control of her limbs, her mouth, etc. Her legs, arms, everything gave way and she could talk only with guttural swollen syllables.) Then literally she nearly went mad. She tried to dress and go to Douglaston and had to be restrained by force. She begged piteously for something to kill herself with. Later, when strong, she beat her head on the piano and took the dull grape fruit knife to bed with her. (Fortunately I had hidden all the other sharp knives.) She had to be watched every minute and was quiet only when given dope at night (until about 4 AM or when planning some way to reach Merton). The minutes she had started something, she wanted results and started something else. She would not wait and her various plans marred each other. She turned against her various friends and a few times grew suspicious that we were not mailing her letters, sending her telegrams, telephoning her messages, etc. That worried me more than anything as I was afraid of persecution mania.3 The doctor, May Mayers, a friend of Dudley’s, was a marvel. She held Evelyn’s confidence until just before we had to leave. Then Evelyn turned against her, too. But during the worst time the doctor was the one person who could calm her and reason with her. And May was a wonder about coming whenever I grew desperate. She even went out to Douglaston and spent three hours talking to Mrs Jenkins. Lola, too, did everything in the world to help, and Martin Lewis4 went out to Douglaston although he disapproved of the whole thing.
All this happened in our one back room. Evelyn’s bed was right there and she was crying or moaning most of the time. It took time to get her quieted at night even when she was given medicine. Then she woke about four and began crying or smoking. The result was that Dudley nearly broke down, too. He was worn out to start with and we were to start on vacation the Friday after Evelyn arrived. It was utterly impossible to leave her, then, so he managed to put off his vacation one week. But that finished him. By Friday of the following week he got the worst attack of nervous indigestion I ever saw. I had to send for the doctor for him and had two patients on my hands in the same room. All this time I was supposed to be feeding Evelyn egg nogs, cooked cereals and cream, vegetables, etc—all on one gas burner and with practically no cooking experience! You can imagine that I was ready for vacation, too. (Fortunately I was extremely well to start with.)
I had made up my mind, selfishly and cruelly perhaps, that even if Evelyn had to go to a sanatorium, we had to get away! It was literally a choice, for me, between sacrificing ourselves futilely for Evelyn, and saving Dudley’s health and perhaps our future. Evelyn was better and realizing how hard it was for us. She was beginning to get response to her telegrams. Her father came up from Washington5 and she made him take her to a hotel—where however she didn’t stay. Saturday morning we heard Evelyn was going to Lola’s who was in no fit state to nurse her. Dudley got up, sick as he was, and went to interview Mr Dunn who promised to get Evelyn an apartment. Then, in spite of everything and to our utter amazement, we actually found ourselves on the boat for New Bedford. We went to Sconset on Nantucket Island where we stayed with a good friend. Dudley was all in and I was nearly as bad. It took us ten days or so to recover and I managed to persuade Dudley to take an extra week. It is a marvellous place to rest and build up. We came back much better to find Evelyn better, too. She had her tonsils out and recovered marvellously. Becky and John have taken good care of her and John actually succeeded in getting the first word through to Merton. The rest, and probably this, you know or Evelyn will tell you. I don’t know why I have bothered you with all these past troubles unless to justify myself to you. I don’t want you to think that I ran off leaving Evelyn in the lurch too cruelly or that she and I have had any falling out. We are better friends than ever, if possible.
Please forgive this letter and writing.
Very sincerely yours
1 In his unpublished memoir, Confessions of an American Boy, Jig describes his mother as being “completely self-absorbed”. Although the break-up with Merton would have made this self-absorption understandable, her later letters repeatedly demonstrate this trait.
2 Becky Edelson was then living with and later married John Crawford, the friend with whom Evelyn had been staying.
3 Another hint of what was later to become more markedly paranoid.
4 It has not been possible to identify Martin Lewis.
5 This may have been the last time Evelyn saw Seely; this meeting is later referred to repeatedly in her search for information about her father’s death and his will.
* * * * *
To Lola Ridge
c/o Theis, London, EC4
September 10 
Sweetest goodest dearest Lola dear, I hope by the time this gets to New York you will have gone up to visit Ellen.
Well, I have seen Owen and we have talked, and things are still suspended, though I see his side so plainly. You see Martin and dear ol Davy and so on are unjust to him only through disbelieving in his inevitable naivete. He is SO simple. Quite cunning sometimes about plotting how he is going to keep himself from exposing his simplicity, but very very forever simple, because he can’t help it. So the poor child states the case thus:
If Tom is to live with him, he and I, living together, would need to marry at once. If we married at once there would be no help whatever either from Jenkins or people there. If I were Owen’s wife he would not want Cyril to support me. Therefore: he, Owen, must put himself in a position of worldly power if we are ever to solve anything. evelyn
* * * * *
To Lola Ridge
My dear Lola,
I have wanted to write you a letter, but it is so bewilderingly difficult to know just how to say what I want to. Even to say how grateful I am that you were so good to Evelyn when she was in New York, sounds something I should not say. Only I do bless you for being, Lola—you are too good and fine, and made of the truest Spanish steel. You see, I don’t feel I ought to explain—what I want to write to you now is, that I know what is the right thing to do, no matter how cruelly incomprehensible it appears to other people, and I know that when the time comes to show what a real friendship for Evelyn means, that I shall be able to do it. I don’t know whether there is any use in saying this, only I do want to say again how I appreciate what you are, and what you were at what cost—in July and August in New York.
I won’t say any more—I seem unable to say anything. Can I send Davy my best wishes.
Yours very truly, Merton
* * * * *
After a brief visit to New York in 1925, Owen, accompanied by Tom, returned to Europe for the last time. He built a house in Saint-Antonin, in southwestern France, and travelled and painted widely in southern France. He also played the piano in the Saint-Antonin cinema and was president of the local rugby club. He died in January 1931 of a brain tumour.