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

* * * * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

23. Back and forth

After a short stay with friends in New York, Evelyn and Jack returned to Yaddo, always a source of succour and intellectual stimulation.  But life was not good during this period and, apart from the spell at Yaddo, both Evelyn and Jack faced difficulties.

To Maude Dunn

66 Perry Street, NYC
Monday [June 22, 1931]

Darling Mother:

That racket business happens to half the foreigners that land.  When I landed two years ago I let Jack go on ahead in a taxi and came behind with remainder of luggage.  When I gave the porter a bill and asked him to change it he RAN OFF with the bill.  I suppose nothing is done because in the first place the real foreigners don’t know what to do and in the second people are afraid.  I thought of writing a letter to the Times and then got scared of revenge.  The police are too crooked to appeal to and most people would rather have a small sum stolen and let it go than go into court in a hopeless attempt to arrest.  There are no policemen near any of the piers, which makes it seem an absolutely put up job.

I talked to Ruth Whitfield1 and she says the same thing happens with business freight shipments.  They send their own men to hand stuff to ships or take stuff from the ship’s employees and the freight is grabbed by intermediaries who demand exorbitant fees for simply taking it out of the had of the ship people and putting it in the hands of the cartage people.  Nothing is too bad to be believed about petty graft in America.  Our big cities are simply criminal ruled.  Jack’s foreign accent makes him more liable of course as the great object of these games is to grab people who are new to America and not give them a chance to find out what’s what.  I wish you might have heard the way I heard a customs inspector speak to a woman with a German accent.  And then I overheard a nigger porter who actually had the Cunard label on his shirt talking to some foreign man as if he were dirt and ordering him about not giving him any say so as to the handling of his own baggage.  It’s no wonder new arrivals get a horrible idea of USA.

My dear, I don’t know whether Jig ever got your parcels or not.  I have been three months trying to find out if he got a cable I sent him to General Delivery in March.  Jig is in love2 and he seems as hard hit as I was with Tyler Miller and perfectly irresponsible for the time as regards anything else.  Remembering my own lapses of the past I can’t criticize but I certainly regret he has appeared so unappreciative.  Of course when I actually see him I can find out but I don’t believe I’ll ever get anything out of letters.

I forgot to say that Lady Alexandra Metcalfe did marry a distant cousin of Jack’s.  Her husband was aide to Prince of Wales for years.  Either his father or his grandfather was aide to Queen Victoria.  Aunt Mary has a picture of this cousin whatever his name was in the uniform as Queen Vic’s aide.  Jack is what is called “highly connected” but the hell of a lot of good it does us!  However, if he had money and ran where his cousins do I would not have met him.  It’s usually the poor branch of a family that turns out the most interesting people.

Love and love and love,
elsie

1Evelyn’s childhood friend from Clarksville.

2The object of his affections was Selma Hite, seven years his senior and his father’s secretary. They eloped shortly after this letter was written.

 

Yaddo rose garden
Modern view of the rose garden and fountain at Yaddo. [Mapio.net]

 To Otto Theis and Louise Morgan

Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, New York
September 14, 1931

Dear Peoples,

I trust the old address will find you.  How is life?  Bless you all three, and I hope the news is good.

Having failed to get any sort of possible job in this country, I am returning to England in November.  I hope to get a small sum from the Royal Lit Soc Fund,1 and to supplement this by occasional reviewing.   I must get cheap digs, somewhere, and, if I have rather more money than I now expect, join the Savile.2  Evelyn wants to see Jigaroo again, so she will go to Santa Fe for a few months and then come over to England and join me in London.  I imagine she’ll come over in Feb or March.

The news of Merton’s death has rather laid her out for the time being and I, of course, have had to pretend to be as surprised at it as she.  That is to say, I have not told her that I already knew of it from you, and it is rather important that she should not know that I did know of it all this time.  So will you please remember this in any letters to either of us?

This place, “Yaddo”, is excellent for work and I’ve written lots.  Evelyn’s book A Calendar of Sin, comes out with Cape-Smith in October over here.  We stay here at Yaddo till end of October, then go to New York for a week or two while I’m arranging my passage to England and my re-entry permit, etc, etc.  I fancy I’ll be in London in the latter half of November.

Well, much love to you all three, and I’m looking forward enormously to seeing lots of you in town.  Evelyn, if she knew I was writing, would of course send love hugs and kisses.

Yours ever,
John

The Royal Society of Literature describes itself as “the senior literary organisation in Britain”. Among other things, it awards grants to writers.
The Savile Club, one of London’s “gentlemen’s clubs”. Jack would have wanted to belong to a club: male members of his family would have joined clubs as a matter of course. The Savile Club was particularly favoured by literary figures and Jack would have seen membership as a valuable opportunity for networking.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[Yaddo]
October 4, [1931]

My dear lovely little big guiding flame:  I wonder where you are.  I had your letter from Nice a week ago and three days ago Jack heard from Otto who said you had written him from Corsica.  Will you be back in Nice and will the Poste Restante be called on?  I won’t ask you what is going to happen next, but I suppose even you don’t know.  So I has as well turn to our news.  It sends rather like a railway guide.

Next Wed, Oct 7, Jack goes to NY for his sailing permit.  He will stay two days at Margaret De Silver’s1.  Then he returns here.  On the 12th, I go down to have a party at Lenore Marshall’s.  I don’t know whether the social strategy envolved will net anything or not but I feel I can’t refuse it.  That will be for two days, also, and I will come back to “Yaddo”.  On the 28th Yaddo closes and we return to NY, to stay with Margaret until Jack’s boat leaves and I am off for Santa Fe.  Unless Calendar of Sin sells—at five dollars—I will only be able to remain in Santa Fe a few weeks, but during that time Jig has got to come down to see me.  He is feeling, I’m afraid, a little neglected. His love affair is a lyric and thank god has absorbed emotions that might have indigested, but just the same he isn’t quite able to envisage financial pressure and he thinks I am staying away a mighty long time.  Then I shall return to NY job hunting or waiting for heaven to open and manna to descend from somewhere.  If ever there were people born not to hold jobs it’s you and me and yet you have done so.  So I would actually like to prove to myself I could, provided it was not, as it is often liable to be, a life commitment.

Yes, it’s rotten in one way to have Jack return to London; but it is his only hope if he is ever to get on.  Constancy to me has made a real failure of his prospects up to date and I learned from Merton what the threat to ones art can do to ones emotions.  So while it is a risk in the personal, sexual sense, everything is a risk and from the choice of evils this seems to be preferred.  I think we will survive it.  Other men exist in my horizon and maybe other women will appear on Jack’s.  Maybe they will occupy the whole space.  There’s no way of saying.  But we have got our deep affection and there is Jack’s British devotion to the established to match with my growing and ever growing fear of fresh beginnings.  Anyhow, it has to be gone through Saith and left to the gods.

Yaddo has been a heavenly interlude, how heavenly I realize afresh as the time for making ends meet again draws near.  There have been nice people here.  Mrs Ames has been very fine to us.  I feel such complex things in my gratitude for it that I would rather talk them than write them.

Did I write you that Merton died in June of a tumor on the brain?  It explains many things, Lola dear.  I was awfully broken up for a few days because when you love people completely once you love them always and this is not incompatible with resignation and a real preference for not being with them in the flesh any more.  He left Cyril forty pictures and Cyril is preparing a Denver show for them.  Poor Merton.  All the purity that fumbled and compromised in life remained true in his work and I wish he had lived to reap the reward I think someone will have from it.

Bless my lovely and may I hear more and the happiest of her soon.
With all the love of me and Jack, evelyn

Margaret DeSilver, a New York socialite, was a staunch friend, supporting both Evelyn and Jack in numerous ways through difficult times.

 * * * * *

Meanwhile, Cyril had left Santa Fe and gone to Denver where he had been  invited become the Director of the Denver Art Museum, now a major cultural institution. The Museum’s history dates back to 1893, when a group of artists founded the Denver Artist’s Club  to sponsor lectures and exhibitions. In 1916 the Artist’s Club was renamed the Denver Art Association.  It later became the Denver Art Museum and in 1932 the city of Denver gave some galleries in the museum in the just-finished City and County Building, and it was at this time that Cyril was invited to join as Director. It is not clear how much this invitation was based on his painting or how much on his achievements as a teacher of painting:  perhaps on both equally.  Selma Hite became his secretary when he took up the post.

Denver City and County bldg 1932
Denver City and County building 1932 [Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection]

To David Lawson

Denver, Colorado
January 19, 1932

Beloved Davy:

Well, Davy, my dear, the flu and all kept me abed until mid December, and I had just got my stride in work and settled to it when Jig, arriving for Xmas, told me (I asked him outright for it was stated in Santa Fe) that he and Selma had run away and gotten married last June.  This, for the present, is confidential with you and Lola (and I shall tell Gladys) though of course it will soon be out.  Jig had not told his father or me; but Selma had appendicitis soon after and wanted to see Jig, and she told the nuns, who told her aunt, and her aunt, of course, told the town.  And these infants believed they were keeping a secret.  Selma was twenty-three and Jig sixteen, so the marriage could be annulled if anything were to be gained by that.  We talked it over, and as Cyril was coming to Santa Fe in February, I decided to have the family conclave then when we could all be together.

Jig returned here after Xmas, but on Jan 7th first Selma then Jig long distanced and in quavering voices told me Cyril had been in bed a week with flu, had developed pneumonia and the doctor believed that his heart would not last out the ordeal.  I had just rented my house, paid in advance, and I would have come up here in a car and left my duds behind if there had been a car available; but the round trip is fifty dollars, so there was nothing for it but to pull up stakes.  I did and came here on the 10th.  Cyril has rallied a little, but the doctor still doesn’t guarantee a recovery and insists that Cyril must go to sea level as soon as he can travel to rest his heart (this is 5000 ft, Santa Fe 7100).

I hadn’t wanted to spring problems at this point but before knew of the illness I had written Cyril how important it was for him to get to Santa Fe as soon as possible for a serious discussion of Jig’s affairs.  So he immediately asked what I meant.  I then told him.  I have a feeling that Cyril’s illness last summer, which happened in June, combined with my failure to come to Santa Fe then, as I had promised (because of money and the “Yaddo” invitation) hastened the matrimonial Escapade.  Anyhow, Cyril has just weathered publicity given his divorce1 before this hundred per cent public, and nobody knows how the elopement and secret marriage of his young son and his secretary will be regarded by the mammas and papas whose sons got to the University of Denver.  There is a possibility, though I still hope not a probability, that the announcement may cost Cyril his job.  In his state, with Jig’s inexperience and ill-preparedness to make a living, and Selma (though I think she can hold down minor office jobs and she wants to work) everything is in the air; and of course anxiety as to Cyril’s recovery is the most serious problem.  He has gotten a good foothold here—just got 10,000 grant for the school from Carnegie institute, etc—and it will be rather too horrible if he gets knocked out by this.  It’s all ironical, as usual.  The family romanticism, always conflicting with the need to make a living.  Of course I hate seeing it happen because I judge from many opinions unaffected as mine might be by a maternal bias, that Jig has a very definite and extraordinary painter’s talent; and it is all he is interested in or shows a real aptitude for.  And how the hell can he, at seventeen, support a wife and make a career, or even support himself with a wife.  But there’s no use crying about it and one simply has to wait on fate.  As soon as Cyril is strong enough for company, we’ll make the announcement.  Selma is a sweet and attractive girl, though the degree of her practicality is I’m afraid, exampled in her marrying a kid of this age.  Aren’t we all brilliant that way!

The dearest love of all of us.  Jig was saying Sunday, my birthday, what a “grand chap” Davy was.  And please give all our devotion to Lola.

With heaps of love from
evelyn

From Phyllis Crawford, his third wife.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Forest Hill, London
April 24 [1932]

[Now back in England], where I found Jack in poor shape as HE had spent most of his money to join the Savile Club on the advice of several as to the political value of doing so.  The I think rather foolish dear had made all HIS economies on food and such things and grown very lethargic and unable to work—done frighteningly little for the five months time he has been here.  I set in to cure this state of mind with beefsteak and fresh vegetables, and three days has made some improvement already.  Now I’m wondering if Jig is behaving himself, though, I am glad to say, Selma seems to have a valuable sense of practical values and I believe I can trust her to see he doesn’t mope and starve without reason.  And I trust somebody or other will be doing the same for Cyril.  I feel I’ve grown very hard-boiled and untemperamental compared with what I used to be.  But the people I care for most don’t seem scared enough of what they may do to themselves.

Mauretania
RMS Mauretania, then the largest ship in the world [www.curbsideclassic.com]
I wished for your sea legs.  The Mauritania had a gale and a rough sea every day but one and the air simply resounded with retchings.  I Didn’t become actively sick but fell into a poisoned lethargy, nearly having my teeth shaken out by the vibration.  It is the worst tourist.England looked pretty in a blurred dream of the usual rain (which has continued sporadically) and the flat out here isn’t bad.  Two fair sized rooms, a small kitchen and an antique bath.  It will be the first time I have done my own work in England and may be no economy as my sense of values when buying has not been developed on this side.  However the privacy is more grateful than the advantage of lodgings for the present.  It takes an hour and a quarter to get practically anywhere, so we haven’t yet investigated friends and relatives.  A trip to Bosham and Aunt Mary may come very soon.

Jig and Selma are, I think, at 127 East 34th, though I forgot to write it down and am sending my letter to them care of Margaret.  Would Davy, being good to us in so many ways already, be further good and let the kids have the blankets out of the trunk I left on his hands?  I forgot to tell them they could and fear they may have bought blankets already.

I love you, I love Davy, Jack loves you both.  Dear, dear, dear
evelyn

PS  I’m keeping the Irish sweeps ticket preciously.  In the fantastic event of winning anything, Davy and me are going to divide it.  Why mightn’t a miracle like that happen now and then!

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Forest Hill, London
May 20, 1932

Lola, blessed, not answering your letter yet (came about an hour ago) but thank you for telling me the truth about your health.  If only I could put a magic kiss on each lung.    However, IF there were any guarantee that you could take care of yourself, I would still expect, after what I have witnessed in Santa Fe in the way of recoveries made by people apparently much TBer than you, my darling, miracles ahead.  That’s what gets my goat—all our goats of course—about impecuniousness.  And IF I possibly win anything with our gamble, you must not object to sharing it.  You understand surely that money come by that way, so to speak, costs nothing.  So you can have fun with it, without concern.  Oh, dear if it weren’t such a frail chance!

Thank you for having Jig and Selma.  I do think Jig is a real painter, though, as Cyril says, in the making yet.  Selma has a lot of good qualities and I certainly don’t complain about her as a daughter in law in most ways.  Anyhow, as long as she and Jig are OK by each other what the hell.

I’m writing soon and loving you all the time.  Jack too.  He’s pretty low mostly.  I think it’s money and lack of success.  Disappointing year over here.  Snobbery in England makes a hopeless case for the little known and impecunious.  He hurts himself so much some times it’s hard to stand.  But I have acquired wither fatalism or optimism I don’t know which and am confident about everybody as long as starvation and death are held off.

devotions of us, darling
evelyn

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Forest Hill, London
June 19, 1932

Beloved dear:

Jack and I have just returned from four days at Bosham, with Aunt Mary, who, poor soul, seems to me to be really failing in health, and thus, by foreshadowing her actual demise, rebuking us somewhat for our hard-hearted thoughts.  Preliminary to each visit there I get in a state of rebellion and animosity against the hypocrisy of keeping my opinions and habits under my hat.  However, I realise, too, there would be no possibility of Aunt Mary’s comprehending even the least significant of one’s opinions.  Eighteen-eighty was her last date and is going to remain so, and any more said merely fuddles her poor old head and without registering anything more definite than fear.

Bosham

She was very nice to us and the beauty of the weather, with a temperature of eighty, and the fields full of buttercups, obliterated to some extent my usual impression of life in a mausoleum.  Bosham always upsets digestion with too much starch and too frequent tea, but even that could be taken lightly because of the flowers.  Aunt Mary bestowed upon me a very old locket worn by her mother in memory of four dead daughters—all died in childhood.  One of them, Eveline, being confused with me.  Aunt Mary, instead of calling me Eve-lyn, in proper British style, invariably addressing me as E-ve-line.  The locket, which looks old and thin, contains a braided design of the intermingled locks of the four little girls:  In mo of Clara, Flora, Eveline, Rosa is graven on the back.  It was worn by Aunt Mary’s mother, one Charlotte Brindley, whose portrait, in a voluminous costume of wide stripes, with a phenomenal brooch and a cap with strings, hangs in the bedroom we occupy.

On the return journey we were advised at Chichester to take the wrong train and found ourselves en route to Brighton, instead of London, via Horsham.  As we had to wait at Brighton to re-establish ourselves on the correct route, we decided to skip a train and see the town where Jack used to live as a youth and where his mother died.  It was a gorgeous day, and the front with the elaborate parade and glinting glass and tin roofed pier and the plethora of humanity on the beaches, made the most colourful cockney England I have yet seen.  Under the arches of the parade terraces are numberless shops—souvenirs, fish, balloons, bars etc.  There is a miniature electric railway, covering the shore to a place called Black Rock, and we took a ride in it, and had a peep into numerous bathing huts where people were dressing or undressing or having tea.  At the station at which we descended a cockney adventurer with a banjo had set up his hat for pennies, and four girls, probably from factories in the White Chapel neighbourhood,1 Got out of the train and danced together in the street in a heavy but hilarious manner, joining in the chorus of the gentleman with the banjo.  It is the first time I ever saw Londoners dance in the street as the French do, though Jack says I would see it frequently if I had any habit of the East End.

We also saw a wonderful newly caught sea monster, very slashed about and bloody, exposed on a block of wood for the populace to guess what it was.  I couldn’t and am still wondering.  It was bulky like a porpoise but longer, with very little eyes set far back from its snout.  Would Davy know what it was?

Sweet dear, I have gone through life looking for people will pride, as the people I could best love; and I have met but four people—no five—with the pride that must be in a whole person.  You know who they are.  This is a lonesome world.  It is an ugly world, and I would be for any species of revolution which would not rob me of art.  Without art, I think all of us would wither and die.

Darling, darling, darling,
evelyn

1 Whitechapel; a district in east London then characterised by numerous small workshops.  Brighton was a popular destination for days out.

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To Louise Morgan

[Forest Hill, London]
August 7 [1932]

Darling kid:   I have been in bed ever since I got back, sweetie.  In Paris all my insides got on a rampage and I had systemic poisoning and inflammation of the bladder.  The French doctor scared me to death—it’s part of their business I think—and when I got back here still very low we had a specialist, one Mr Palmer out, and he charged five guineas damn him, but it was worth it to relieve our minds.  None of those dumb bunnies said what poisoned me, but I have made my own diagnosis from familiar symptoms and decided the trench mouth germs I have carried in my system ever since Algeria (as I gathered from Santa Fe diagnosis two years ago) had got all through me.  However palmer said whatever pisined me, got the upper hand of me because I was suffering from complete nervous exhaustion.  Exhaustion had produced a slight recurrence of prolapsis here and there.  I was to stay in bed two weeks and do nothing at all.

Scuse such a long dissertation of innards.  I think it’s ghastly you don’t have no holiday.

Very lovingly from us both,
evelyn

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Forest Hill, London
September 10 [1932]

Sweet:  We have had a middling summer.  I was ill through most of July, with nervous breakdown from overwork, and with some sort of systemic poisoning, not diagnosed which affected my innards various ways.  Much better since.  I rewrote Eva Gay entirely—and some chapters were rewritten three to four times also—this summer.

Confidentially, I’m worried about Jig, who doesn’t seem to be happy; and waiting for further data before definitely deciding whether I should return to NY to look over his and Selma’s affairs in the capacity of a detached (if possible) advisor.  There have been rifts, though please never mention, for they may be made up by now, and I don’t want to anticipate.  I never had a chance to talk it all over with you fully, as I do most of my affairs.  It seemed to me a mistake on both sides, but a mistake I wouldn’t interfere with.  Selma’s role at twenty-four as the wife of a seventeen year old child as unlike her as possible, with no money and no future assured, and nothing much to flatter her where she need flattery or to secure her in life, demands a nobility of her I never could quite believe in.  However, I am saying nothing yet to anyone.  Jig would not like to have anyone suspect unless, of course, the time comes when things have to be said openly; and the present unhappiness may be transient.

I never hear from Cyril.  One note in answer to RSVP so for some Umbundu (Bantu) words for Eva Gay.  He is living with a young painter named Watson Bidwell1 and thru him I get occasional and not too good health reports.

Dear, dear Love.  And if you are still at Yaddo, all our affection and love to Elizabeth2, too; and to Eloise and John, who are among our fondest memories and our worst correspondents.

Jack’s and my devotions, dear one, and may your health be strong again as your art always will be.
evelyn

1American painter who studied with Cyril at Denver and went on to become a teacher himself as well as a critic and curator.
2Elizabeth Ames, the Administrator at Yaddo

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

care Gilbert F Wright, Authors Agent
37 Museum Street, London WC 1
October 6, 1932

Lola, precious, I don’t write oftener because I keep waiting to have something nicer to write; and things don’t get better so I just send this to let you know I am thinking of you all the time anyhow.

Mrs Ames said you weren’t very well at Yaddo, and referred to your bronchial trouble; so I am afraid your dear and blessed chest is acting up again.  I wonder if you have gotten any work done, and ever so much else.

For you and Davy alone to know until more do, Jig and Selma have busted up and Jig is back in Denver.

Jack and I are leaving Forest Hill next week, and above is temporary address.  I expect to be back in NY in January, completely broke as usual.  The gods never willed a peaceful time to any of us, did they!

Anyhow, we love you and Davy, and it will always comfort us to know you are, and I shall always wish I had more than words with which to prove how much.

I think we will move to the seaside town of Lowestoft [Suffolk] which may be cheaper than London in the winter.

With love and love from us to you two,
always, evelyn

* * * * *

Not long after this letter, Evelyn and Jack were in Suffolk, on the English North Sea coast, and beginning what was the most settled period of their life to date.

 

19. Interlude: A blog is born

I make no bones about it:  blogging does not come naturally to me.  Earlier I composed this piece as a crie de coeur, hoping that my experience might strike a chord with other “unnatural” bloggers.  If your experience is similar:  my sympathies.  If you have any thoughts that might help, please get in touch.

* * * * *

This is about my blog about my grandmother Evelyn Scott, a controversial modernist (and feminist 30 years before her time) American writer in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s.

Ten years ago (!) I embarked on what I never dreamed would consume so much of my time and energy:  collecting as many of her letters as I could and turning them into her biography.  I have struggled with the vastness of the collection and the seeming impossibility of creating any sort of narrative from them.  [Skipping over about 8 years’ struggle], I was eventually persuaded that it would be difficult to get the result of my labours published by a conventional publisher, and that the key to getting anything published was SOCIAL MEDIA!

My book needed a presence on social media before any publisher would even glance at it.

In May last year, I decided to give a paper about my grandmother at the annual conference of the American Literature Association in Boston.  Deep breath: I paid my fee and bought a plane ticket, and then collapsed in panic.

Somehow I produced a PowerPoint summarising her life.  The discipline of a 20-minute slot focussed my mind, and eventually I summarised her life and letters in 40 minutes of hard-won distillation.  It went down well with the select audience.  And suddenly, I realised what I had to do to prepare for the publication of my life’s work (well, the last 10 years or so).  Distil it all into a much longer PowerPoint, which could serve as a first draft.  Enough to interest (or not) a possible publisher.  At least I would have something I could show.  Reflection persuaded me that PowerPoint might not be the best medium.  And how to share it amongst the audience I hoped would be interested?

Friendly advice prompted me to try a blog.  A what?  A bit of research persuaded me that WordPress was the one to use.  I bought a generously-illustrated “introduction”, complete with CD, and parted with £10.

If that was an introduction, I wonder what the advanced-level book would be like.  The pictures matched, more or less, what came up on my screen, but the words could have been mystic incantations.

“Only 5 easy clicks to get your new blog online!”

Yes, the easy clicks weren’t the problem.  It was the difficult ones leading up to them.

I am not a newcomer to IT.  Long ago, I even wrote in machine code!  However, WordPress does not understand machine code and insisted on terms like “plugin” and “widget” and, for the really advanced, “page jump”, also known as “infinite scroll”.

After a certain amount of screaming, tearing of hair, and kicking the cat, I produced my first post.  And posted it.  But how to make people aware that it was out there?  It would have to be the dreaded social media.

Now, I have a visceral objection to placing information about myself, however trivial, in cyberspace, and have studiously avoided anything to do with it. Facebook does not appeal to me, but I dutifully went out and bought the latest Dummies guide.  A gripping read it is not, but I did glean that you could turn on numerous “privacy” settings which would hide anything you posted from everyone. There seemed little point in that, so I carefully set my privacy to allow my next-door neighbour and my daughter to see what I was up to.

When I opened my new Facebook account I was invited to reveal “what’s on your mind?”  All I wanted to disclose was the fact that I had posted something on a blog.  What blog?  I entered the web address and, magically, an image of my blog’s title appeared!  Wow!

ALIL

I rashly clicked “post now” and “public” and waited.  Several days later I got a notification:  someone had liked my blog!  I was well on the way to publication!

Heady with excitement, it occurred to me to let my grandmother in on the act.  She died in 1963, and she was a bit of a troglodyte where matters literary were concerned, but she might just have been intrigued by the possibilities offered by social media.  I thought she might like her own Facebook account.

She could write from beyond the grave.

And indeed she does.  Each time I post a new instalment of her letters, she has something to say about what I have done.  She is not always happy, either.  She can be very critical of my selection from her letters.  (Did I mention that I have over 2000 of them?  And that some of them are very lengthy?  And repetitive?)

That, I thought, is that.  But not for Facebook.  How do you think they make those huge profits?

That is where the concept of “boosting” comes in. It is another word for paying them to make sure lots of people see what I have done. Or, more precisely, what Evelyn has written about what I have done.

Like WordPress, FB can use words in mystifying ways.  A few ill-judged clicks and I discovered I had almost committed myself to paying £790 to “boost” my post to over 1,000,000 potential “likes” in sub-Saharan Africa.  It was only because I had to go find my bank details that I was saved from making that payment.

Some careful clicking through the various options, and I have discovered that I can decide with whom to share Evelyn’s FB posts.  Everyone aged 18 to 65 seemed like a good start.  Interests?  Certainly not “celebrities” or “classic cars” or “eating out”.  Maybe “reading” would cover it. Geographic area? Tricky, but settled on England and a few US states.  I could always add to the list.

I have been “boosting” by paying small amounts for a few days’ boosts at a time.  FB helpfully sends me a daily summary of my measly statistics.  Bit by bit, I am getting more “likes”.  Now they send me regular reminders:  “You have 7 likes so far.  You could have 27 likes tomorrow if you pay us £xxx every day in perpetuity.”

As they say, every little helps.

I only wish I knew how many “likes” a publisher would consider sufficient interest.

The plan, dear friends, is to post Evelyn’s entire collection (edited just a bit) by the end of next summer.  That done, I can start thinking about how to get the material into print.  And to help, I (or more precisely, Evelyn) need “likes” and “shares”.  Lots of them.

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