26. A cottage by the sea

Evelyn and Jack left Yaddo for the last time in April 1934, Jack returning to London and Evelyn staying on in the US, staying first with her friends Gladys and Dudley Grant in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, and then with friends at various addresses in New York City. Very few letters of the period before Evelyn returned to England in 1935 to rejoin Jack have been preserved, and the narrative, with its themes of physical and mental ill health, resumes as Jack and Evelyn prepare to return to Suffolk.

 * * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[c/o Grant], Scotch Plains, New Jersey
July 13, 1934

Blessed, your letter is stamped June 22nd.  Well, I gave only the lighter reasons for my failure to acknowledge it on my postcard to Davy. The chief reason is another accumulation of a crisis in my perpetually critical personal affairs—not men, sweet one, nor book—money, health, things happening out west1.  I have simply been too harassed to write.  Am this morning commencing to circulate among the most possible another petition to borrow money for a two week trip to the west in September of October.  I thought to make enough by writing short stuff and (optimism) selling it in the three or four months in this place, but, alas, I fear me my mental state precludes such a solution.  I have attempted five short stories since I arrived and only one has got itself completed in any form approaching saleableness.  So in desperation I am going to try to get the fare more parasitically.

Jack writes from London in a cheerful tone about his treatment at the London School of Tropical Medicine2 which seems to be doing him far more good at once than the methods used here.  However, he is running up a large bill with a Harley Street specialist as well as a hospital bill for something called “Suda” baths, so when the Aunt Mary will is finally settled, as we hope it may be in about six months, he is certainly going to need the dab he will get out of it.  Yet we are infinitely lucky to have the dab in sight, I know.  The damndest irony is that Jack has been made trustee and has every month to sign checks for his Aunt Evie (aunt in law—widow of the parson) who is the beneficiary of the income we had hoped would be his.  Ha, Ha!

 evelyn

1  Cyril was in Santa Fe with Jig at the time.
2  
While working in the tropics some years earlier, Jack had contracted amoebic dysentery.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge and David Lawson

Scotch Plains, New Jersey
September 29 [1934]

Lola and Davy dear:

I have been planning to get to Jack the middle of next month (leave then) but can’t go without that annoying object, cash, and [my publisher] is (CONFIDENTIAL) demanding $2500 for my release on the option clause on his contract.  I can’t write another book without financial support from a publisher and no publisher will give it and pay Smith and Smith himself (tho I loathe him and want to quit at any cost) won’t advance a penny himself.  I’ve got just enough left of the advance on Buts1 to pay the passage but nothing to live on.  Jack needs small ready cash for doctors bills and subsistence.  In short, while I never quite keep up with you and all that, darlings, I do my best to, as you can see.

I’ve had to go in town to the dentist and am going to stay two or three nights as Lenore’s guest this coming week.  Every day will be dentistry, but I’d make a hell of an effort to see you all for a little while if it is possible and darling Lola not very ill again.

Heaps love always, my darlings—hoping all is at least as well with you as when last heard from, evelyn

Evelyn’s acronym for Breathe Upon These Slain

* * * * *

Some time during the ensuing months Jack received his expected legacy.  The amount is not mentioned, but it was enough to buy a modest cottage in the small coastal village of Walberswick, in Suffolk.  Jove Cottage still exists, much as it was then, with nothing between it and the North Sea but marshland, fully exposed to bitter winds from Scandinavia.

DSCF3812
Jove Cottage today [photo: DSF]

Evelyn returned to England in the spring of 1935 to rejoin Jack at Jove Cottage. There don’t appear to be any surviving letters describing the reasons Jack chose to buy in this location, or her journey to England, or her first impressions of Walberswick.  The following sequence is interesting not only for its chronicle of Jack’s deteriorating mental health, but also for her descriptions of domesticity.


* * * * *

To David Lawson

Jove Cottage, Lodge Road
Walberswick, Suffolk
June 22 [1935]

Davy dear, you and your lovely flowers seem still both very near and far off.  I’m quite homesick as a matter of fact, though hoping to become readjusted and get over it.  But I am afraid I am very American.

We are making efforts to reinstall ourselves in our new abode but every conceivable power seems against it so far and we are sitting amidst innumerable boxes in the Bell Hotel, the local pub.  How long we shall remain in this suspension I don’t know.  It’s worrying about work, chiefly.

Jack is so-so, in some ways better than I hoped in some not so good.  The cottage itself looks rather sweet, with tiny rooms that are, however, adequate in number, a very steep roof with brown tiles, a white-washed brick outside and peacock blue window frames.  It is on the edge of town and has a rather sweet peep at the somewhat distant sea.  At present poppies are all over the fields and cheer the view considerably.  But the question of light (fireplaces really aren’t six inches broad) furniture and fixings as Woolworth in Britain is a more limited establishment than the same in USA.

As I have to type in my lap in a very dark room I’m not eloquent on letters but I send this ahead anyhow because I shall so very much want to receive them.  I’m just praying everyone will give me more than my own deserve as, during the next two or three weeks, I probably shan’t have any opportunity to write decently.

It is precisely a week since I landed and not one day has it failed to rain—that’s something else to get used to.  NO summer at all this year is the present prophecy.

Davy dear, the lovely roses were kept fresh in a vase in the cabin for a while and did once appear on the table upstairs.  And you and Lola are my dear, dear, dear, dear, dears forever and ever.  Always and always—and with Jack’s love, too,

evelyn

* * * * *

walberswick
Walberswick village, c 1930 [www.oldukphotos.com]

To MRG1

Walberswick, Suffolk
July 4, 1935

Dearest Mary:  July 4th and nobody knows it!  In fact I scarcely know what day it is at all.  But the day your note came was the red letter one for me, because I find myself rather low and homesick after my long sojourn in USA and mail a very reassuring celebration.  Especially mail like that from you.  One of the defects of temperaments given to immediate responses to scene is a tendency to interpret the future in terms of whatever moment it is, and I haven’t written a lick since the first week in May, when never was writing more imperatively needed.  Part of this is exigencies of any move, but a further extended part has been our effort to furnish this place cheaply from auction sale junk which looks presentable only if painted.  I haven’t taken my hands off a paint brush except briefly for two weeks and there is a lot more to come—painted two whole bedroom suites including a cursed wardrobe, and there are more living room cupboards and book shelves.  It occurs to me that women—or my sort—function much like insects in regard to houses. Obviously I should sit down on a packing box and write no matter what; but somehow, since this is presumed to be more than a transient habitation, I can’t rest without trying to give it, however, simply, a shipshape appearance of some sort.  Poor Jack (who was very bad when I came but is I think and hope improving) simply had left no reserve for furnitures, bedding, kitchen utensils—and British Woolworth’s sell few of these things.  It is most annoying to find that in England only the best is to be had and one pays six shillings for a bread box when a quarter one at home would do just as well—except that they don’t exist over here.

We have been everywhere in Suffolk looking for bargains and probably spent more in gasoline than we saved.  I don’t think either of us is very bright in a business way!  And now we are confronted with the how of paying rates and taxes, both on the car needed off the railway in the country and on the house damnation!  We’ve talked about selling at once, but it seems so lilly and as J says he would have to drop at least a thousand dollars on what he’s spent on such hurry-up things.  So I hope we can persuade ourselves not to worry for a while and enjoy the advantages.  The house is quite sweet—small rooms, but quite a number for its size, and J had it placed with the kitchen to the road and the living and bedrooms to the rear from which he have a sweet continuous glimpse of the sea.  It’s all done very nicely plain, with a brick floor in the best room and rafters and unpainted woodwork.  And J got four carpets for other rooms for practically nothing.

There are lots of psychological problems I scarcely dare write about.  Not people.  Just J’s need to be analysed which is very various and acute and much worse during last year3.  But better not refer to his in writing to me as he might read and be upset.

He sends his love and I send barrels.  Evelyn.

1 There is extensive correspondence between Evelyn and “MRG”, but apart from knowing her first name is Mary, it has not been possible to identify her.
Alfred Edgar Coppard, English short story writer and poet, who was a neighbour of Jack and Evelyn in Walberswick. They later became friends.
3 An early reference to Jack’s later breakdown and his continuing fragile mental health.

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Walberswick, Suffolk
August 4 [1935]

My sweet old whirlwind, what a week again!  Jack and I plan to come and put up on you all as soon as we get the car back, as it now seems we will in a fortnight or a little more, but we’ll give you ample warning as I realize it isn’t going to be any cinch for you to house so many even for a night.  And meanwhile don’t forget you DID say you could come up some Sat and go back Sunday even when not vacationing.  The “guest room” for one is done and we are scouting for a bed for the so-called maid’s room which will be two ample before long I hope.

I woke up with the most prime example of a Sunday headache and all my letters to do—Mother, Jig, and Charlotte every week but also about 25 more—so this is a scrap.  This morning a whole flock of pheasants in the—sic—“garden” and rabbits eating the wild daisies.  One shouldn’t get hectic in such a place.  However, except for likable Coppards, I suspect Walberswick is as foul a little village as every other little village, all the poison cunningly disguised by thatched roofs.

We wanna see you both SO.  LOVE!
evelyn

PS  Did I write Jig reputed by non-family to have brought back water colours that would make Winslow Homer jealous—from Dominica?

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Walberswick, Suffolk
August 12 [1935]

All would be well with me except for time pressures.  This is a pretty house, an unimportant landscape full of nice detail—heather quite up to its most sentimental apologists.  So like the softest brightest poem of grief up and down everywhere—then the bracken going golden already and, after rain, bitter smelling divinely.  It’s been five weeks since I walked to the sea and the line of it is before my window daily.  That’s because I am working too hard, also perhaps dislike of the village which I have imagined a nastier community than I have proof of.  So when we do walk a few times we go away from town, of which we are the last house.  Barley and oats make fields full of moonlight of sunlight now the crop is dry, and this with a windmill and the water clear silver or metal blue behind.  And sometimes I feel as if I’d been born into a world where people weren’t and remembered through Karma the last warmer existence.  I never shall have a root here more than an inch below surface.  All my temperament against wanting one.  Makes me so apologetic to Jack.

Please write me if you can but don’t if it takes heart beats that belong somewhere besides letter. Jack’s love with mine toujours, evelyn

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Walberswick, Suffolk
October 20, 1935

Sweetheart your understanding of Jack is movingly precious to us both.  He has the most huge capacity for suffering I ever saw, and that is all that defeats us in life even as it contributes to art.  The war cloud has done things to him too.  We don’t feel safe or able to plan.  We can’t write.  I try.   If he gets any money, we want Jig here.  I’m very worried all the time by Jig’s complete isolation, his temperamental resistance to contacts.  Next to Jack he is the most congenially suffering person—and so much my fault, early wounds, maladjustment, no sense of coherence in his background.  I made a mistake being so away from him—let superficial advocates of Freud persuade me it was bound to be good.  And really in twelve years he has had two productive years and both those he spent with us.  That isn’t because he doesn’t love Cyril—he does deeply and they have very deep rapports.  But I went away, and the psychic uncertainly in Jig traces to it most.  Also I wanted Jig here selfishly because of responsibility with Jack ill so much, much isolation and somebody to go to France with me for F[rench] R[evolution] material if I ever get there.

We want to rent this house but not yet able.  It would be lovely in summer months to people at ease in their minds but harder to rent in winter—bleak.  Gales over the marshes from the sea.  Chimneys shriek, walls rock and the dour neutrality of troubled English skies looks like the worst reflection of one’s own dead moods.

It was a lovely day when I left there—sunset and snow and pinons and a young winter moon.  I feel almost an exalting nostalgia when I remember.  Yes, it got me despite everything.  Here never does so much.  The Coppards especially Mrs have helped Walberswick for me but I don’t love it.  Only at times the commons with the raspberry rust of dead bracken, the pine trees and the marshes, are smally lonely in a sort of poignant way.

I signed the contract for the short book on Tennessee1 for McBride because must have money from somewhere when leave here, but shall be very disturbed if return to USA without french r[evolution] material after all.  Arms of both of us around our Lola.  Darling Cyril won’t tell when he has troubles so I never know.

God bless darling dear beautiful own lola from us, evelyn.

1Background in Tennessee, published in 1937.

 old w'wick

To MRG

Walberswick, Suffolk
November 10, 1935

I’ve been and still am laid low by a small rectal fissure, but an air pillow and care may ward off the depressing experience a nursing home is to me even when the occasion is trivial.  The real danger of it is that being physically a bit low inclining one to apathy and I seem able to work only in fits and starts—which is why the mss promised for Sept 15th may not be completed until after Christmas.  Once it is placed I am going home, because, no use talking, when I hear of Jig’s having bronchitis etc, I know that home is where the child is, no matter how often Freud proves motherhood to be the root of all evil.

Oh, Mary, Mary if you only could see the house!  I mean how inexpressibly more than a house it would become if some aura from the body presence of beloved people could be shed here!  The walls have been distempered now and all the furniture painting, to the so-called little maid’s room is over with—maid’s room my real triumph as its combine furnishings before painting cost exactly twelve dollars (including rug—tho we have no bedding yet).  Most frightful junk not even selected, just cast in an odd lot at auction.  But bright yellow and grey enamel with golden-brown trimmings, the rug blue and a very bright light blue mirror and candle stick with orange curtains look really sweet.  We’ve had half a dozen too expensive and tiring duty week-end guests, and not one person either of us cares two hoots for has ever crossed the threshold.  And soon it will we aspire to hope become the property of renters anyhow.  I’m too, too, too American after all to really ever want a home forever here..  Poor Jack—I wonder if he feels the same in US, and do we demand equally of the foreigner that he “spit in his own face”?  Or is that Ellis Island behaviour not current elsewhere?

We see the sea all the time–a rather remote troubled line which is very occasionally a bright blue.  We visit it rarely, and not for a month when we took our last walk down the lane, through the marshes and saw swans between the dykes.  The heather went, and the bracket is as rusty as old tomatoes, but looks fine in a sunset after rain.  Shooting at Blyborough Lodge finished the quail and pheasants who from being our tame backyard pests have become creatures who clack mournfully and rarely in some distant hedgerow.  Jack’s love and mine much, e

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Walberswick, Suffolk
December 29 [1935]

Yes, we have had a hectic three seasons, but at present are calmer if not more settled as to futures.  I feel so touched by your understanding of Jack.  He is so kinky and so sweet both, so difficult to get to those who don’t give to comprehension with that unrestricted generosity you do.  His insides I feel may never be really first rate, but if—as for all of us—he could only make something from writing all the outgoing elements in his nature would have their real chance.

Jig had bronchitis and doctor thought even if money available he’d better not.  The houses are so cold and the climate so dreadful I expect it was sound advice, but great disappointment all around.  I worry a lot about all that, but can’t be helped.  Cyril has a makeshift job of some sort (please don’t tell it’s make shift) and what distresses me there is his prospect of old age and nothing.  However we all face parallels. . .  His book on art was so really profound I don’t see the usual editor understanding a word of it.

We went to the Coppards on Xmas day.  Do you remember Adam and Eve and Pinch Me in The Dial?  He has a very subtle intuition.  But he is also in hard waters financially and they are rather morbid there not seeing anything ahead with two kids.  Our most cheery Xmas visitor was the local chimney sweep who gave us parsnip wine and yarned about when he was in India in the Punjab.  He is very Kiplingesque.  He said of his whippet bitch:  She’s so intelligent it’s like lookin’ in a dictionary to look in her face.

Lovely I’ll be full of selfish aches of want when I arrive in NY and no you.  So I hope so hope this beautiful font of great profundity is flowing there, so we can all be glad even for our selfish selves of your absences.  Jack’s most love with all, all and forever mine, evelyn

* * * * *

In the summer of 1936, Evelyn returned to New York, leaving Jack in England.  There are significant gaps in the correspondence, but the remaining letters hint at Evelyn’s future mental and physical health as well as providing excruciating detail about Jack’s breakdown and Evelyn’s threat to leave him.

A theme of future letters, hinted at here, is Jack’s immigration status.  At that time US immigration laws required that prospective immigrants prove their eligibility by producing relevant documents and by remaining in the US for minimum periods.  In addition, Evelyn’s “common law” marriage to Cyril becomes, for the first of many times, a problem in its lack of the necessary documentation.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

care Scott, 359 West 22nd Street, NYC
[early 1936]

My own my lovey my dear:  Next best to seeing yourself truly was seeing Davy who substantiates the link.  I love you. . .  whole letter full.

I don’t like New York again.  I mean the tastelessness of the people, the complete absence of any integrity, the casual view of brutality, have me down again.  But I shall have my nerves rubbed down and like it once more with time I’m sure.

I had flu on arrival, was in bed off and on for three weeks, and had to review my novel (not yet done) which has delayed my trip to Tennessee embarrassingly, as I am living on my travel money before I start.  You see I signed up with McBrides for a short book on the state—they have no connection with novel—and other money I get will have to be by immediate sale of novel elsewhere.  Nothing decided as to publisher for novel, nor can there be until the book is done.

Cyril is living uptown with Alice1, whose husband has died, while I am keeping house with Jig which is a great joy.  Jig is working for PWA2 and recently has done what I think some very fine painting for himself.  I see little of Cyril who works too hard.  Poor Jack has esophagitis (chronic esophagus irritation causing spasmodic contraction when swallowing) had his septic tonsils out under misapprehension it would help and other trouble worse in consequence.  I am deeply distressed by his being in Walberswick alone.  After two weeks hospital still sick with no help.  His novel Sally out soon but I daren’t hope it will make money fine as it is.

I’m working well five thirty every day and no holidays, so this isn’t much of a letter; but I hope it reaches the loveliest human sooner or later.  I’m simply an ache of expectancy to see what has come out of Mexico, which has better health behind it.   Love, evelyn

1 Alice Wellman, his only daughter, at the time a well-known concert pianist.
2
Jig was working for the Works Public Administration (WPA), an agency of Roosevelt’s New Deal which gave support to artists by employing them on public projects.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

[c/o Scott, 359 West 22nd St, NYC]
[mid 1936]

Otto, old darling!  I have meant for weeks to write and thank you for sort of ministering to Jack.  Wynne Coppard1 has been writing me ever so pressingly abut psycho-analysis and if J has any money at all it will be the greatest act of friendship to encourage him, as while there is no advance proof of a cure, it is the only hope, apparently, for an existence not ridden by the cancer  bugbear (which in turn produces the drink one, though the cancer probably stands for the real complication).

These seven months (imagine!) have been grisly like most seven months during the last twenty years, but little distractions (by the way I howled in an unholy way which belied my sympathy when I heard Jack had a mutilated bottom too) like hospitals and work enough to kill will be nothing if this war business can only be lived down.  Jack wants me to come over immediately, and I want to and don’t.

I’m writing about New York, and the more I contemplate the place the more sinister it seems.  Insidiously so.  My friends who are here continuously don’t see why I feel it is.  Because it is so exciting.  So full of opportunities for mob hilarity and mob murder.  The Communists are much more cagey now and are gaining ground—though what ground it is I’m not sure.  Anyhow, my janitress, who is a “Limey” by ancestry, Brooklyn by all but birth, hints about the class struggle; and the Holland Dutch Jewess in the delicatessen speaks meaningfully of Andrew Mellon. The “Chelsea” communist centre gets out a newspaper calculated to appeal to Ladies Home Journal addicts—housing homeiness.

Otto, darling, can you suggest Jack might better come over here than get me caught in England in a war with mother minus any checks and Jig jobless:  I’m coming, end of October, if he hasn’t.  But he thinks Mussolini and Hitler will have run amok before then.

Awfully perturbed—that is to say normal—for me.

Heaps of love, evelyn

1 Wife of Alfred Coppard, neighbours of Jack and Evelyn in Walberswick.

 * * * *

To Otto Theis

[c/o Scott, 359 W 22nd Street, NYC
[Summer 1936]

Dearest Otto, old dear, gee, I feel grateful for the soothing sane feeling you always manage to convey.  Hearing from you about anything at all does me good, and hearing from you in connection with Jack does me good even though I don’t know what the hell and all to do about him.  The cancer of the spine1 is going strong according to his last letter, which I read between lines, as he is getting most temperate in statements, being, I think afraid I won’t show up or something.  But he sent me the address of his solicitor and has made a few light references to a “dying man”, deprecating the idea, but, actually, I suspect pretty well in its grip.  I am so sorry for him I could die myself if it would help—though contradictorally I’m sorry for myself, too, as my particular congenital brand of near christianity makes it almost impossible for me to know how to handle his fear problems with anything but emoting in response—and that of course isn’t therapeutic.   Between you and me strictly, Wynne wrote me I was going to be in for it if I returned to Walberswick alone this winter again—I mean she felt the cancer would be worse than ever and I would have a thin time handling (she speaking medically).  She tried to get Jack to an analyst in London, but he couldn’t afford even the clinic rates (he couldn’t in one sense, he is very hard up, but I expect he welcomed the rationalization of resistance); so she wanted me to get him over here where my few medical acquaintances might cooperate with me in psychiatric measures about the business. . .  I’ve done my damndest and I can’t budge him.  He professes sincerely (as far as he knows) to want to shift the focus of living here, but the fact that the house is there and rent free and we are both very poor justifies stalling about the expensive tourist entrance for six months (he not feeling desperate about him in my terms).   Jack’s previous expired application was pre-matrimonial—I didn’t come into it.  Now, ye gods (and what about penalizing “virtue”) since we are married the petition has to be mine, not his.  In order to pull it off I have to prove my marriage to Cyril (yeah—“fact”), produce divorce papers, subsequent marriage, etc.  I can supply everything but me lines preceeding my divorce, and there you are!  Wonderful irony that Jack can’t enter because I can’t prove I married Cyril don’t you think?

All this to tell you why I want very much to get J here and why I can’t. I mean I should be ready to go there at once if my book were done and there was heaps of cash.  I simply must have a found trip fare as well as arrangements made here, because if I get caught as last year with no money in that Walberswick isolation not knowing what to do for him I shall end by developing galloping cancer of my own. . . (it’s getting me, been smoking like a chimney and suddenly discovered what I thought a strange lump—cancer of mouth undoubtedly—telephoned May, without mentioning cancer, and she said go to Memorial Hospital and have them look, so I died overnight, went there the next day, and was told I had a bad case of smokers mouth but the cancer was just a congenital excrescence—like syphilitic shinbones or Hutchinsons teeth2 I suppose; very small and insignificant and unnoticed before.  With all this, I could wish Jack was nearer you than he is, because Otto dear, I simply can’t depend on his report of himself, and I get pretty piseyed trying to figure it out.

Jig and I are in suspense over WPA threat to fire 1400 non-relief people from painting project.  His job may only last until Nov 4th, and I don’t want to leave till I see either.  But he’s making chaos of the kitchen trying out technique of old masters studied through allusions in librarys (ies) and constant visits to Metropolitan.  I have about thirty letters to do and here I run on.  But I’m so grateful, and, as so often, rather drowning clutching at salvation.  Awful gossip about us here.  Suppose one shouldn’t care, but [Jack’s] failure to come over has stated some terrible tales—Mrs Ames leading, so very uncomplimentary to me.  Problem is to care about all the good things and not care about the rotten ones, instead of, as I do, caring indiscriminately about everything. Now you are much nearer my ideal in this respect. I don’t dare think about the war—but I do.  Love completely wholly to you and Louise,

evelyn

This reference to a diagnosis of cancer of the spine is puzzling. Three years later Jack, who was a Royal Air Force reservist, was called up to active duty: it is highly unlikely this would have happened with any cancer diagnosis. He didn’t see active service but was assigned instead to administrative duties; there is no suggestion either that he suffered from cancer in later life.
2
Hutchinson’s teeth are thought to be a sign of congenital syphilis. There is no suggestion anywhere in the letters or in the family history that any of Evelyn’s parents or grandparents was syphilitic.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

[c/o Scott, 359 West 22nd Street, NYC]
[October 1936]

Otto dear:

I enclose a note you may be able to give Jack before he sails.  I sent one to Bingham Hotel, Southampton Buildings, WC1, where he will presumably be until October 21st when he sails on the Montrose for Montreal.

The sale of the house,1 or its mortgage and proposed sale, was on impulse but it was best considering his terrible state of mind.  Wynne writes me he is in the most serious state she has ever know him to be and that it is acutely dangerous, I must do something.  I have no money but I’ll go to Montreal as soon as he sends some, at least to see him, hoping I can get him to enter here Tourist and return to Canada later.  He speaks in note today of buying a house in Canada as soon as he lands.  If you see him Otto please suggest not.  I’m terrified.  He has the idea he must save his money and it is so little only a house will hold it.  But that is quite mad and really as there is no reason on god’s earth for staying in Canada any longer than we can help, he’ll have to sell again and lose again.  I want him in New York where conceivably May Mayers2 will help me to get a psychiatrist for him. Meanwhile I’m on next to last chap of last draft of novel, and Tenn book not even begun and McBride already restive.  I’ll be the dotty one too soon.  Life always has another little trick up her sleeve worse than the last.  Wouldn’t it be funny to have something to be happy about!

Afraid those cheerful words go for all of us!  god bless and thank you.  Love to Louse.

Jove Cottage
May Mayers was not only a physician but a loyal friend

* * * * *

To Maude Dunn

[c/o  102 Greenwich Avenue, NYC]
November 29, 1936

Darling mother:  I hope the fact that my cheque to you can’t go until end of next week when I expect Scribners to have paid me some advance money won’t upset you.   It is coming all right.  I have my hands full as you can imagine, with Jack sick (and mental and nervous ailments take more of the nurse than most physical things).  Jig is trying to find a cheap place but at present we are all crowded together rather miserably.  Also there is a prospect of the complete collapse of the art project as enemies of Roosevelt are taking advantage of his absence in South America to shut the thing up if they can. The administration has received its heaviest criticism on the score of the wastefulness of the WPA and the most stringent technicalities are now being applied for a display of economy.  On the art projects one of every three is to be fired.  The directors (of whom Cyril is one) have refused to obey the order.  As they had no responsibility for hiring people they say they won’t fire them.  Either they are allowed to say who stays and who goes or they strike. The best artists were not on relief (the ruling is those not previously on relief have to go) yet all need jobs, and to run the project as an art project with only the dud ones left is a joke.  So tomorrow Monday, 68 directors and supervisors will refuse to obey the order to fire people.  Then Mrs MacMahon, the head of all the projects, will fire them (the directors) for insubordination.  That will bring matters to a head and the art projects will either have to be reorganized on different lines or will close up.  So Cyril and Jig may be jobless again or may not.  The whole thing will get publicity in London papers undoubtedly.  But you can see there never was such a piling on of crises in the personal sense,.

Yes, it is a breakdown easily explained and I’m sure he will recover.  You can tell Graceys he had a nervous collapse and is in a state of dangerous melancholia but not crazy, as he isn’t—I mean he talks rationally except that the worry mania is not off his mind more than half an hour at a time.

Love, love, love, Evelyn

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

[c/o Abrams, 66 Perry Street, NYC]
[December 1936]

I have not written before because things have been too, too dreadful.  Getting [Jack] into America was no cinch as my divorce1 and finances had to be scrutinized.  We are probably here only because our gratis lawyer knew the head of immigration.  Nothing illegal was done but it was all rushed through without any advantage taken of the occasion to quibble, particularly about my lack of cash.  All that lasting over three weeks was strain enough, but since arrival Jack has had a complete breakdown.  The difficulty of getting psychiatric treatment for a man whose mania is anxiety about money, so that he is almost afraid to buy a meal, has been ghastly.  Mental troubles are exclusive millionaire luxuries.  Poor people evidently just go plumb crazy and a shut up.  However a friend introduced us to a child analyst who has in turn written to the head of Cornell Psychiatric, who in turn may make some rate I can pay if Jack won’t. But the whole atmosphere of a small flat containing someone off their rocker, Jig by turns (in daily expectation of the collapse of the art project) and me trying to write has been morbid beyond expression.  Also Jack’s obsession is another house, to be bought with his mortgage money, and what was left from a precipitate sale of Jove Cottage (he now expects never to get that because of king crisis), and there has been the additional factor of train journeys here and there to find very cheap house we can move to next month.  But I want to delay until terms of his treatment are arranged.

I blew up myself two days ago and yesterday Jack made a mighty effort and visited [Davy] to show he could mix with people.  It was a good sign as far as it went.  I haven’t been able to have a soul come here and practically unable to go out myself as I find him a wreck when I return.  He never sleeps, cries all night etc.  So he did all the first part of Walberswick but he was drinking heavily then and now isn’t.  Still if we don’t die he can be cured, and in England he never would have been because I have to take the initiative and had no medical connections and only formal other ones.  If he could make money by a book, any money beyond the advance, it would probably do more than all the psychiatry in the world.

What Jack needs to think is he did the right thing in sacrificing Jove Cottage.  He dreams of it all the time with awful guilt—sure it meant perfect security.  He wants to think England sure of a war. I was horrified when he sold it tho relieved he cabled he was coming here because last year scared me so I was gritting me teeth to face isolation with someone whose mental health was so precarious.

Again loads love.  Jack sends his, too. He’s perfectly lucid but obsessed and chisophrenic.  How spell. evelyn

Evelyn and Cyril were never married. What she firmly believed to have been a “common-law” marriage had no status in law: there was no provision for common-law marriages in any of the jurisdictions which they might have been able to claim: Tennessee, Louisiana or Kansas (where Cyril’s existing marriage would have been an obstacle)

.* * * * *


To Otto Theis and Louise Morgan

[c/o 102 Greenwich Avenue, NYC]
January 11, 1937

Dearest Otto and Louise:

Jack has been in the Payne Whitney Psychiatric1 for a month and is scheduled for at least two months more before he will be considered a going concern.  The obsession is the loss of the house; and while he is definitely medically speaking no lunatic, the situation for the moment is as if he were.  It is such a long accumulated story, and I am so tired that I won’t attempt a resume of the “case” in full; but the matter of survival, and the constant fluctuation of plans between England and America play a part.  Jack is not the type to sacrifice his work for my support and neither am I capable of giving up my work to support him, if I could do so.  Then there is my mother.  Maybe we would have found a way out had our sexual attitudes been truly complimentary.  But while we are fond enough of each other for the alternative to carry considerable pain, there seems no question in the doctor’s mind any more than mine that it would be simplest if we were to separate.  Jack doesn’t know this.  He is still in a turbid, chaotic state.  He may not know it until a while after he leaves the hospital and America; because his feeling more me combines extreme dependence and extreme resentment in which such bewilderingly overlapping measures he himself cannot deal with his emotions at all.

So don’t tell what I feel is already decided: that he is to return to England as soon as able, and that I will not follow as he now expects.  So much of the neurosis concerns money, and his affairs are so precarious, the doctors consider it would be therapeutic if he got any sort of job for a while, though preferably one through literary connections.  He has lost nothing as to competence once he regains poise; and I believe, if the worst time can be got through, he is going to be far better off than for some years because the situation and his whole life will be clearer, less confused—invitation to chistophrenic behaviour less.  But I dread when I must write him the letter to say I am not coming back; and I beg and pray everybody who cares at all in friendship for either of us to stand by him and do what can be to make the terrific readjustment which will be demanded easier, so as not to throw him again into this utter defeat and collapse.  He could leave the hospital now if it were not for the certainty of suicide if he did.  Getting him to stay is made hard by his money terror, as the money expended for treatment is his, and I have none.   I don’t dare make the break in this country because he will not have recovered for long enough to bear it.  He cries continually that he cannot live alone.

So please, please, please do what you can for him.  You can imagine after Merton’s tumour2 how this hits, though thank god it is a different bag of tricks, being curable.

dearest love, evelyn

1 A psychiatric clinic in New York City.
2
Owen Merton had suffered from a brain tumour which caused his eventual death.

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

c/o W O Tuttle, Esq
Corn Exchange Bank Trust Co7th Avenue and 14th Street
New York City
January 27, 1937

My Dear Louise.

May I, out of depths of the worst misery, recall a promise you once made me?  Evelyn has separated from me today.  I am (tho’ above address is for your reply) in a Psychiatric Clinic.  I have already lost my house, and now, when I was already so low, Evelyn has taken this time to decide we are “incompatible”.  I have pleaded with her in vain.  My fault was that the Atlantic between us gave me such jitters that I lost the house and came over here almost a wreck.  As a result I suppose my company was too depressing to bear, and now, while I am here in a Psychiatric Clinic she delivers this, to me, almost death-blow.  I cannot realise it yet.  I still hope the breach may one day be healed, but I don’t know.  I am coming back to England pretty well knocked.  I have to stay here in hospital for another month anyhow, but expect to sail for England about March 5th to 10th, arriving by 17th or so.

I’m not sure if E realises what she has done either to herself or to me.  I admit she is desperately overwrought, worried and fagged.  For the last six or seven months I have had blow after blow, and this is the last and worst.  I literally don’t know yet what it will do to me.

For pity’s sake do what you both can for me when I come.

Much love to all
John

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

Albert Hotel, 65 University Place
New York City (for some weeks)
February 18, 1937

Darling Otto, your blessed old letter doesn’t sound much more cheerful than I feel, but does me good just the same.  Poor you—except that you are so courageous us other poor critters keep turning to you so matter what you yourself face at times and say so little about!  After lying to Jack for weeks about England and the future, I found it made me so physically ill I couldn’t go on.  The three hourly, thrice weekly visits were grillings.  He went back on his promise to “go to England ahead of me” and said he would not leave until I did.  I wrote to the doctor, enclosing a frank statement to Jack I proposed the doctor should give him when he was well enough.  The doctor had Jack up before the “tribunal”—of doctors—who pronounced him fitter, and agreed with my suggestion it was better to deliver a blow while Jack was in the hospital then to wait until he was out and not protected against himself.  Jack was therefore given the letter before I was told and I arrived at the hospital to be informed by the doctor Jack knew my plans, had taken them badly, and was determined to leave the hospital that night.  The doctors felt if he did he would kill himself, and insisted I come upstairs and talk to him.  So there were 2½ hours hell, Jack hysterical.  I haven’t seen him since—12 days ago; but I agree to pay a few weeks if he would stay there until he got better.  I hope he will, though I scarcely know how to meet the bill.  He has to get back, Otto—the doctors think he simply can’t function here with his distrust and dislike of the country.  I am much distressed by your confirmation of the gossip I suspected.  I’m sure it is fantastically exaggerated, for I discovered in Walberswick the auld English have vile tongues.  I think Jack has told me most of what he did—bar maids, a few dives, night clubs, too much drink.  But the period was brief, I don’t think he indulged any perversities, and the great acquaintance with low life vernacular came largely from reading.  I know the books consulted and skimmed them myself.

However, the damage is the same and I shall feel pretty hellish from a distance until I know he is reestablished.  His effort to appear a rake, is entirely compensation for what has really been a very secluded narrow life—a sense of sexual inferiority among the bull-necked boastful type of males who object to him because he has such a childish streak.  Anything on god’s earth you and Louise can do—and oh, oh, oh if I could ever help you as you have me so often, Otto darling—will be so so gratefully received.

I forgot to say Jack tried to swallow the thermometer—bite off the mercury—three days after the separation was suggested.  The suicidal state may last.  But beyond that I think he is very capable of jobs and that.  The shock of my decision may stimulate recovery.  Whenever he has held a job he has been good and approved.  The last was 1928—nine years ago—Montreal and Wanstall the head of the school was enthusiastically glad to see him this year.

I wrote to Jack’s Uncle Jim and Aunt Millie and received cabled excuses for not helping—they are in a funk for fear they’ll be held responsible.  Oh these cold nice people

I feel low—though the statement about separation relieved a rather suicidy state of my own.  But at my age—44 last month—starting all over!  Very well for a man, or at least possible.  But a sex-suppressed, emotionally frustrate dame of the “dangerous age”, who still has too much hang over of romanticism to sell her fading charm to a gent of 90 with money (there are a couple near that), and who can’t sublimate in activities for the public weal, and who is too proud (too vain) to accept consolation from younger men who may rightly condescend toward a derelict, and who haven’t either the stoicism or the mysticism for  an adequate life alone—well, I don’t quite know what will become of her.

I think of all the brave people I know—like you—and say if they can come through trials as bad surely I can.  But at present all appears rather grey and desolate, not to mention the money fears which are intense, which you know so well.  For a female, these late starts are almost degrading—offering of wilted salad leaves with a sour cherry on top and rancid dressing and trying to pretend the banquet is fresh.  However, ca passe.  Matter of fact Jig at 22 is as lonesome as I am, poor lamb, and that is another self reproach for me–!  Every way I look, skeletons have bones or victims of starvation I have somehow helped produce.  But I realize those who have work—expression—which you were born to and ought to have, ditto L—are luck in the meagre measure of luck in this world.  I love you, Evelyn

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