25. Farewell to Yaddo

The spring of 1933 saw Evelyn and Jack at Yaddo for what would be their last sojourn.

In  2009 the New York Public Library mounted an exhibition entitled “Yaddo:  Making American Culture”, and a volume of the same title was published celebrating Yaddo, its guests and their achievements [McGee, M.  (2010) Yaddo:  Making American culture.  New York: Columbia University Press]. Yaddo welcomed its first guests in 1926 and continues today as a successful centre and retreat for artists of all disciplines, many of whom developed their early artistic promise while at Yaddo.

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To Lola Ridge and David Lawson

May 15, 1933

It’s rather sad here this year.  The economy of regime, though all comfort within reason still exists, suggests too much an end.  Spring doesn’t belong—or else we don’t in spring.  Mrs Trask’s ghost no longer seems in opposition to other presences.  It’s ghosts meeting ghosts.

Or do I think so because I am as I am?

I’m working hard to rediscover my own land away from reviewers.  Gorham Munson1 says Migrations is my last good book, darlings, and E[va] G[ay] like a promising first novel.  Oh, curse all these fools for whom one would feel such a spontaneous indifference did not their folly grip the belly.

Mildly pleasant crowd here:  Philip and Penina Reisman, painters, rather sweet enfants terrible.  Ruth Suckow and her husband [Ferner Nuhn].  A plaintive sycophant with a resourceful wit and a bruised self-respect named Charles Yale Harrison.  A tall sea-going boy, intriguingly shy and to himself, who writes Conradish stories, Floyd or Lloyd Collins.  Grace Lumpkin, an elderly little girl, straightforward to bluntness and rather engaging.  Albert Halper, who is so completely an average American that he’s rather wonderful:  as if at last one had actually met—what!  A real cowboy, after the movies.  Or a real Englishman.  Or, or.  But he’s naively frank and all his mentality covers he regards from his own for him authentic angle.  Carl Carmer,7 who is kinder and more sensitively aware of social obligations than anyone else, with qualifications as an artist that remain ambiguous.  Louis Adamic lusting for revenge on capital.

For you two I hope and hope.  We love you so.  e

American literary critic and academic. He was very much part of the Greenwich Village group of avant-garde writers.
Two guests later became part of Evelyn’s life: Carl Carmer was an American writer whose most famous book was Stars Fell on Alabama and was later involved with The Artists League. Louis Adamic was born in Slovenia and emigrated to the US where he was educated and became a prolific writer and editor of a number of different publications.

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To Maude Dunn

June 8 [1933]

Dearest Mother:  I think it too bad you have all that annoyance about the house.  And those family quarrels.  Looks as tho they never fail to occur when there is any disposition of property.

Maude Dunn in front of Gracey Mansion c 1930s

Thank you again about the money.  I’ll wait, unless you have pressing need, until I get the Santa Fe trip paid for. It does cost as much to go there as to Cal.  You have to go via Chicago, and change to another road, and even some shortest way, it is three days and two nights.  There is a round trip slightly less but not much—I mean less in that it is a hundred and fifty for going and coming instead of eighty-five each way, but I don’t know that I can pay that out now.  Sure wish they lived somewhere else.

I gave the name of the donors of this place wrongly.  It was Trask.  Big portraits of them hang in the reception hall, and Mrs Trask’s grave is a lovely spot, the highest on the property, with a Keltic cross to mark it and very lovely pine trees.  She died in 1921.  “Yaddo” is a corporation now, but for the purpose of managing the estate only.  The name comes from Mrs Trask’s child’s mispronunciation of “Shadow”.  The child, now dead, heard her mother (who had just lost another child) say she had a shadow on her life.  Child called it “Yaddo”. It really is gorgeous.  I wish I could write a whole book here.  The country is superb, and Saratoga such a funny nineties looking place.  The races begin there next month.

I get very funny letters from strangers about my book.  Perfect cranks write to one just because of seeing one’s name in print.  Some sound like lunatics, tho occasionally a really appreciative letter.  And people here are autograph mad.  No indeed that picture is not Jack—only slightly better than of me.  Heaven forbid.

Well, lots love.  I have a frantic week ahead.  Leave here a week from Monday.  Have more interviews to give in New York.  Lots of errands and things to see.  Will be there three days.  I’ll send Santa Fe address as soon as it is exact.  I won’t stay with Cyril and Phyllis for fear of gossip.

Love again.  elsie

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To Lola Ridge

June 12, 1933

Sweet light:  It’s two weeks since I had your beautiful letter—and it can’t be!

Sweetie, I guess I almost write, if for anybody but myself, for you and Davy and Cyril and Jig and Jack.  Glad and Dud sometimes, but I don’t believe they quite know what I’m driving at any longer.  Anyhow, you always, so that, though I know it a wickedness to want you to write to me ever while it’s so hard to write for yourself—physically hard—it very deeply answers something when I do hear from you about a book—or ever.

Yes, Munson wrote a large review in the Sun saying E[va] G[ay] was a promising first novel by a beginner. It didn’t get under my skin in the real way, but it did exasperate me, like another one I got today scolding me for trying to reveal America.  As if this book had been written to do that!

Sweetie, plans here alter a good deal.  We expected to move to the farm house July 1st and now may have another month at the mansion.  How glad we are, since the farm house would have put us on our own about providing food.  It is one belonging to Yaddo estate and is across the highroad, about a quarter of a mile down toward Saratoga Lake.

I’m glad you had a notice of Cyril’s show.  Watson Bidwell wrote me that Cyril’s pictures done in Dakota were the finest water colours he had ever seen.  But no one is going to appreciate them while Cyril is alive.  There’s so much bitterness and jealousy about the museum job and the other painters are always trying to knife him.

Au revoir my sweet and god bless you for giving me such sustenance from your spirit about my books.   Love, love love to you and to Davy, from us, deeply and from Mrs Ames deeply too.  evelyn

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To Lola Ridge

[July 1933]

Lola darling:  I misplaced Davy’s letter with the Mount Sinai1 address so I have to keep on bothering him!  We felt very happy hearing you had gained eight pounds, so I do hope Davy will let me know if you and the doctor manage the country sanatorium because that really might do a lot to set you up.

I sympathize with Davy about your darling squiggly handwriting!  I adore the sight of it, but I’m rarely absolutely certain as to the content of that inimitable calligraphy.  Still—I gathered you were up on the roof in the sun and that, as a general indication, sounded good.

Jack god-blesses you and wishes he had been able to look in.  He saw May2 who declares his liver a little worse than last time, but insists it is because he had to knock off the medicine and promises something better when it is resumed after a few months.  His general health does seem improved.

This will sound like a clinical report, for my foot is giving me the deuce.  I went to Schenectady to a specialist and he said I had a bone broken and wanted to “operate”.  I balked, called in another man here, and he said what nonsense merely a strain and gave me ice packs and icythyol.3  I’m a little bewildered between them and may surreptitiously call in a third opinion to arbitrate sub rosa on the others.  Anyhow I’m quite crippled for the present.  Am disturbed by fear of being an inconvenience to Yaddo, tho Mrs A has kindly let me use garden studio temporarily so I won’t have to walk.

Did I write you Jig and Cyril were in Mexico?  Seventy five cents a day room and meals!

Nothing in particular happens.  An increasing overdose of communism versus art4.

Yaddo guests

Love all around and around you and Davy both, evelyn

Mount Sinai was one of the larger New York hospitals: it appears that Lola was again in hospital.
May Mayers, friend of Evelyn and Jack and their doctor when needed
Ichthyol was the brand name of Ammonium bituminosulfonate, distilled from rich shale oil and used for the relief of skin conditions including eczema and psoriasis.
4 There was an active and continuing debate at Yaddo during the 1930s about Communism. There is an account of this in McGee’s book about Yaddo, from which this photo is taken..

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To Lola Ridge

July 3, 1933

Beloved dear:

I hope the heat lifted a little in New York, as I know how one feels the weather when in bed.

This morning Ferner Nuhn is in my studio doing a cartoon of me which he thinks won’t be any good.  So my letter writing day combining with posing has not yielded the crop it should.  However, and however uninspired my communications while I am assuming this dual role, I had to drop you a line.  Mrs Ames is much distressed to hear of your illness and Eloise even more so.

F Nuhn portrait

I haven’t any news except that the snowballs are blooming outside my window and look very New England cool in their green while.  I guess I told you of work:  four short stories and four articles and a longish poem and four chapters on final draft of kid book.  As for sales, quien sabe!

Sunday dinner is approaching my sweet so. . .  And don’t feel I ever need answering.  Just hope things go better.  Just wish and wish I wasn’t as always a useless friend.  And just bless you with my heart as you breathe because your existence is such a happiness to we who love you.

Jack is no better much, but May says couldn’t be expected for months to improve.  His dear love to you all with mine.  evelyn

American writer and editor, interested mainly in American literature. He was married to Ruth Suckow and made the sketch of Evelyn.

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To Lola Ridge

July 12 [1933]

Lovey, I had a note from Davy who says you’re gaining, which is something for us to be a little happier over though there probably doesn’t seem much for you in bed.

I wish I could walk in in visitor’s hour, and so does Jack who is going to NY in an hour to stay for the day and see May Mayers about the liver, again, and would so love to see you if he could stay longer.  He sends heaps love.

As a coincidence I am also doctorwards bound.  I sprained my foot on the tennis court ten days after I came, and, as I foolishly went on using it, it has grown persistently worse.  So Ferner Nuhn and Ruth Suckow are driving us to Schenectady today to see an orthopedic specialist.  I don’t look for anything very grave but am annoyed, as I was making up for past years by pretending to lead an athletic life.  We’re a bit alike in one respect, darling—sort of willing to ignore the obvious in health.  Though it’s heroism in your case and hardly that in the stance of a bad foot.

There is the usual ebb and flow of guests, and quite an exodus July 1st, with a new lot now installed.  On some days I feel the company as a mild pleasure, and, on others, face them and meals with nausea prepared.  Not that it is any especial fault in the gathering, but that communal life steals the need ineradicable in my nature, as in yours, for solitude.

Yaddo exhausts all one’s pence of small talk.  I sometimes marvel that, after more than two months, words come out of my mouth to say nothing at the dinner table.  It’s sort of depressing to meet so many people and, always, with each one, feel the pit which separates one’s self from the mass of mortals dug a little deeper.  That’s why I return again and again to you and Davy and Cyril and Jig and Jack and such very few.

Bless you, my lovey, bless you, bless you.  I’m so tired of the invisibility of my world to those here.

Lovingly, evelyn

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To Lola Ridge

July 28, 1933

Darling Lola, Dear.

I hope it’s been made possible for you to go away to the country.  I hope, as usual, everything.

I’m in bed at present, but only to rest, as limping strained my leg and produced neuritis in hip.  So one thing, small enough, leads to another!

Mrs A asks after you frequently.  Asked me again if you could come here.  I repeated I feared you were not strong enough.  Hope this is the answer you would have wished me to me, though I pray it to change.  There is embarrassment in being ill in an institution not meant for that, as I begin to realize.  Kindnesses are done but one feels as one feels nonetheless.

A mob expected next week—some 8 new people and only a couple leaving.  I wonder where they will be stowed!

Lovingly to you both from us, Evelyn

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To David Lawson

[c/o Crawford, 286 W 11th St, NYC]
[August 1933]

Darling old Davy:

It was tantalizing to hear you and not see you, but in Phyllis’ tiny place with outsiders it didn’t seem any use getting you over.  I did hope to be back in town a night, but have decided it is foolish to climb stairs and start leg bad again, so am leaving for “Yaddo” from here.  May Mayers has helped mighty generously as I have been practically in bed and haven’t lifted a hand for myself.  (Especially, sweet of her as I owe her for doctoring anyhow!)

Well, it was a relief to know that Lola was in the country and doing fairly well—or going toward real improvement anyhow.  I shall write to her via you soon.  At present I find resting makes me so tired I can hardly scribble a note.  Fact.  I expect it’s relaxing after continued strain.  If you once sat down to rest, old dear, you probably wouldn’t budge for a year! I’ll be back in NY one of these days anyhow.

Heaps, heaps of love to you both,

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To Lola Ridge

August 27 [1933]

My angel-one, I’m getting better at it and there weren’t more than six words of your heavenly scribble I missed this time!  And it’s no spindly scribble either, but has the look now of the power they won’t let you put into writing.

Then there are the things you realize of crowds, which Jack, poor darling, feels as acutely as a physical pain.  They simply won’t let you get back in and down into yourself where the poetry lies.  It’s all got to go forth in extroversion and polite adaption to matters that don’t interest or move you or to combating tendencies you actually dislike.  The habit of being alone and depending on that for one’s strength, once it’s acquired, is certainly incurable.  So a lot of this association means loss—what might be a creative mood suppressed to make tea party chit-chat—or also gone into futile indignations better directed against universals than the accidental humans pleased to represent them at that moment.

Jack goes on on his nerves and with period discouragement and impulses to chuck his book (full of splendid writing) because of bad pages due to bad days.  I’m working in bed very comfortably and don’t quite know how I got into this short book (for me) on England, which I began in Lowestoft and is like a sort of Narrow House got cosmic, and I have no idea what it will be like in the end.  Jack loves its being English so that rules him out as a critic.  Also swatting when I can on the French revolution for the next one, but should like to write it in France which would appear impossible.

And so the days go.  So still now the pine trees give an occasional twitch just to assure you they’re real trees.  And hot again, with the clouds glaring darkly and the rain we have had all week getting ready to come down all over again.

God love you like we do.  He can do lots better by you—but can’t want too much more.

Bestest to Davy and to you from  us, blessed one, evelyn

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To David Lawson

December 31 [1933]

Davy dear, it was a great relief to have your note.  I suppose by now you have got used to these brain waves of anxiety and, as they profit nobody anything and result in nagging about letters, you’d have a right to be impatient with them.  I’m so used to being remote from nearly everyone I care abut and periodic hauntings that something has gone wrong is a part of a well established and thriving old trauma.

We are, of course, very fortunate to have a comfortable roof with heat supplied and no rent to pay.  Naturally one does, as I have discovered of all things, pay in other ways.  I have decided that my temperament never suited me to be a member of the human race nohow, as my last experience of a group in Santa Fe was disastrous through indignations felt by me about gossip which still seem justified entirely, since the gossip was lies.  And living in a group up here ain’t no better.  Because of dedicating Eva Gay to Mrs Ames, so I have been allowed to gather, it was presumed by a group here that I was a sort of official Yaddo spy, and this story accumulated results which would be funny if one could look down as god instead of living in the midst of it.  The people who now occupy the lower part of this house were among the originators of the tale and it with my resentment of it and the fact that I deeply resent the orthodox communist stand on art and they are quite rabidly orthodox has been responsible for a feud to which there is no ending.  As I say, it am largely funny in its preposterousness.  At the same time it makes a rather depressing atmosphere when one is virtually buried in winter with this same group.

It was thirty-five below zero here yesterday, which means the coldest temperature I have experienced, though Jack knew colder in Toronto when he was there as a child.  However, considering, we felt it remarkably little.  At the present moment the rest of the household is away on holiday and we quite rattle around, though not unhappily in this place.  The icicles in front of our windows are some of them nearly three yards long and when the moonlight strikes them the diamond array is very exciting in a queer not quite believable fashion.  There are no birds, rabbits or anything else—just snow, snow, snow.

Jack was in New York for one day three weeks ago, and, feeling groggy, decided, while he waited for the hospital report on his blood test, to accept Gladys and Dudley’s invitation for doing the waiting in Jersey, as you know Margaret always has a house full and he wasn’t up to seeing people.  So the Grants fetched him out and he stayed there until he got his report on the morning of the day he returned here.  He wanted to call you all up but I, again, wasn’t able to find the number the day he left, as I had it in the notebook I used for addresses here in New York last spring and god knows where it is in the mess of moving.  So he asks me to send heaps of good wishes and love to you.  He was much distressed when he got back and found I had started this worry business about you, but then I regularly envisage calamities for everyone—Jig and Cyril of course and the few others I love most.

I have spent December getting over a job of stenography for poor Jack as because of his inability to work steadily his literary chores have piled up until he gets almost dotty about them sometimes—the four novels he is still working on none of which is yet finished.  Hope he never has such an idea again for it has delayed and discouraged him as working on one and getting it off his hands never would have.

Tomorrow I’m going to start on the final draft of my quite short book for Spring.  I have to turn it in on March 1st so it is rather sweat-shoppy as a prospect.  I almost hate having it short because [the publishers] will think they won in all this pressure brought to bear whereas it was conceived as short a year and a half ago, before me spirit has been attacked and, as they doubtless think, broken.  However it is economic pressures which made me decide to get it done at once and leave the long French revolution novel which is the next big job.  Maybe I’ve already written the title which is Breathe Upon These Slain.1

When writing to me please don’t say anything about my comments on the situation here.  I’ll explain why when I see you.  Mrs A has certainly been kind and generous to our material troubles, but there are lots of rather morbid concomitants for which I don’t hold her responsible but which exist just the same.  I think hers an impossible job—the sort of job which would work out tolerably only for a hard-boiled person who simply was oblivious to nine tenths of what went on and did not react.  By unconsciously ignoring simplification would be achieved.  For meself, I think I’d rather be a stenographer provided I could get a stenographer’s job, which I doubt.

Of course Jack and me wish, wish, wish everything for you, dear Davy, and our beloved Lola, but I’m almost ashamed to wish any more.  It’s too ironic.  We just love you and that’s that.


The book Evelyn referred to as the “French Revolution novel”, published in 1934.

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To Lola Ridge

February 3, 1934

My own lovey, I hope, hope, hope, HOPE you were finishing all the attack you were going to have—not beginning another, when you wrote to me!  I think—feel—believe—through imagining—I know those awful black weeks of yours so well and it hurts all through me as I realize what you are going through.  If only sympathy weren’t so futile!

I have only 75 pages more of final draft to finish my book, and I feel glad to have done it.  However, it’s a kind of book I had to get off my chest—first person though with no autobiographical ingredients whatever.

Lovely, lovely, lovely, LOVEY, more love around you and Davy, and would it were a fairy ring that could keep pain and trouble out.  From me and jack, evelyn

PS Jack’s novel nearing completion is splendid.  He’s been reading it to me and Charlotte and we both cry all the time—no better sign!

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This is the last letter in the collections from Yaddo, although there were very likely many more which have been lost over the years.  Next week we see Jack in London and Evelyn staying with friends in New York before rejoining Jack in England in 1935.