24. Settled at last?

In the autumn of 1932 Evelyn and Jack left the south of England and found lodgings in Lowestoft in Suffolk, on the North Sea coast and exposed to biting North Sea winds.  Lowestoft was (and still is) a fishing port.  Suffolk would have been familiar to Jack, who grew up in neighbouring Norfolk, but to Evelyn it offered yet more opportunities for her insightful and sometimes biting descriptions of her new surroundings.

This first part of their Suffolk sojourn was not  to last:  in early 1933 Elizabeth Ames, the administrator at Yaddo, invited Jack to return and in March 1933 he and Evelyn once again set sail for New York and Yaddo.

Evelyn had been busy writing and publishing over the years and although this blog is primarily about her family story, we cannot forget that she was enjoying some success as a novelist, with a generally favourable critical response and modest sales.

In 1925 she and Cyril jointly published In The Endless Sands, the fictionalised story of Jigg’s desert adventure; this was soon followed by The Golden Door.  Two years later saw the publication of two more novels:  Ideals and Migrations. Perhaps her most ambitious work, The Wave, about the Civil War, was published in 1929 to considerable acclaim. Two more “juveniles” followed:  Witch Perkins in 1929 and Blue Rum (under the pseudonym of Ernest Souza) in 1930.  In the same year she published The Winter Alone and  a year later A Calendar of Sin.  During the time in Lowestoft Evelyn was working on Breathe Upon These Slain and shortly after their return to Yaddo, her latest book of this period, Eva Gay, was published. Throughout this period she was also publishing a number of poems and critical essays.  This prodigious  output, combined with the large volume of letters she was writing to her numerous friends, is impressive by any standards.

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To Louise Morgan

“Lyndhurst”, Alexandra Road, Pakefield
Lowestoft, Suffolk
October 19 [1932]

Very dear Louisa, haven’t we got AN address?  We are in a bungalow which gives us two charming peeps of sea about half a block away, is as quiet as a grave, and has accessible from it about a mile of cliff and little frequented natural beach.  Those are the assets.  The liabilities are a north sea that is extremely northerly at times and no heat but one fireplace (small) and the kitchen stove.  Also one utterly mad landlady who is convinced that we are secret emissaries for Al Capone and put even the gas meter1 and the bathroom fixtures on her inventory!  I don’t know in which column to set down our eight potties, one commode, one bed pan (besides the lavatory) which are the lavish equipment for this establishment.  Jack writes in the settin’ room and me in the kitchen.  My labours are presided over by Kitchener as the patron saint, a large photographic group of an unknown family (presumably the landlady’s) and oleograph called:  Missed! A Bengal Lancer at the game of Tentpegging—Facsimile of a water colour sketch by Miss E Thompson.  And another oleograph entitled:  Cock Robin’s Funeral, well calculated to bring tears to the most reluctant eyes.

The settin room is adorned with etchings and a piano inhabited by the warring souls of all the lost Lowestoft mariners.  There is also a real oil painting of (conjectured) Juliet and her nurse; and a chromo of a strange interior which contains a spinning wheel, a Turkish coffee set, and two blunderbusses, besides several chickens rooting on the rafters.  To contradict the homely atmosphere created by the presence of the fowls, is a very grand lady..  She is being told dreadful news by a deformed maiden of the servant class, while on the floor sleeps a man in a Roman toga who hugs another blunderbuss in one arm and, with the other, protects a naked child (either asleep or dead—we are uncertain).

The bric a brac was rather out of key in its simplicity and modernity, and comprised about ten plain coloured vases for flowers.  But since the landlady set down the three cracked and handleless cups in the pantry we are afraid to trust ourselves with the vases and have put them away.

Last night after having chattering teeth all day, we took a walk on the beach and heard the water and the stars, so to speak, and didn’t feel cold at all.  The Suffolk country people talk like Swedish Americans with their baints etc.  Lowestoft is certainly the last place to find excitement but it is infinitely more attractive than Felixstowe and if we had money to invest this would be a good, cheap unfashionable neighbourhood for a house.  Sunday we bussed to Oulton Broad and while it’s not much from the road, we could see fine melancholy marshes in the distance which ought to be romantically bleak and full of hants.

I am very nearly laid up with a mashed big toe nail which is painfully being shed.  That takes my mind off heaps of things.

Love and lots, from Jack and me, to you both,

It was common at that time for there to be a “shilling” gas meter in rooms in lodgings. This meter was linked to the main gas supply for the house and the tenant fed it with shilling coins to purchase (often at a premium) gas for heat and sometimes for a small gas ring for a kettle.

Lowestoft [www.simplonpc.co.uk]

To Lola Ridge

Lowestoft, Suffolk
October 31, [1932]

Dear lovely:

Selma left Jig, darling; but I think you may be right in subtler ways.  I don’t think Selma was in love with Jig even last winter.  But she wanted to be married to him and she wanted to please him.  And Jig, of course, even when most infatuated, was gauche and brusque while she was smoothly voluble.  But I also fancy there was a kink in his psychology even at the time the marriage was accepted, last winter.  And perhaps resentment by the time you saw them.  Anyhow, Selma while Jig was away, got her another boy friend, Jig suspected, she denied, and Jig caught them in his room, when he returned to town suddenly.  I think he could have been won back if he hadn’t had an unadmitted desire to be free anyhow.  But of course he was shocked, hurt, excited.  He was with the Grants, but suddenly found he could bear New York no more and took train for Denver.  The marriage is being annulled, I think.  I’m unhappy as his mental state is reported not too good, and as heaven knows now when another meeting can be afforded; but I am thankful the break came before the relation has grown too complex with time.  There’s load about it I never told last year.  There was no time.  Besides, I was trying to make myself accept it.  And now, naturally, this is between you and me and Davy.  (don’t smile for I am more discreet than I used to be.  I don’t mean the break is a secret, but opinions and causes left out of general public reckoning.)

We were mad with depression in London.  The English are cold, Lola.  I was thinking recently that never once has any English person made a gesture of real friendship toward me or an imaginative one to ease the foreignness.  Sensitive and cold together.  Cold in utter indifference to the fate of everything not touching them immediately, just in theory, the sensitive and mystical regarding what is at the inner core of their lives.  They are, therefore, satisfactory in a love relation, but in friendship only after a long, long time and when special occasions break the ice.

Up here better than misfit in suburbia.  It is gloomy in a Wuthering Heights way.  Bleak coast, the sea from our windows.  Gulls, fishing boats, and perpetually troubled weather.  Fine natural beach, miles of sand.  No “scenery” as all flat.  But Lowestoft old fashioned and unpopular.  Herring industry supports it.  Wonderful humid-coloured ocean, only massive with storm—other times I see from window silver poplars and a faint neutral blue water just being born.  Very cheap living compared to city.  We have little bungalow.  Only sprouts to eat!  don’t grow anything.  But lots of herring roe.

Glad Davy is fine, god bless him.  Hug him.  Jack’s, in this instance, unenglish love, and, to both of you, the heart you’ve always had,


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To David Lawson

Lowestoft, Suffolk
November 22 [1932]

Davy, dear:

I guess you remember the ill-fated trunk1 only too well!  I just had a letter from Margaret Larkin,2 who had lent her furniture to Selma and Jig.  It seems they left and did nothing to communicate with her and the landlord was preparing to auction all the stuff when she discovered it (I don’t know how).  Anyway, she and her husband, Liston Oaks are installed at 127 East 34th.  As I wrote Lola, Jig went completely to pieces about the middle of September and took train for Denver.  However, he left Selma two hundred dollars which Cyril had given them to live on, and she remained in NY and, as far as I know, is still there, so it does look as if she might have taken some responsibility about Larkin belongings, once she began to rally a little from the emotion of a crisis.  I don’t want to be too harsh as I know very little of her state, but I’m rather annoyed by the impression which seems to have been left with Margaret Larkin that Jig solely was responsible for these affairs.  It irritates me to have Jig as Selma’s husband, at his age, bearing the moral brunt of a general collapse (especially when, looked at by the conventions which take account of the husbandly, he is victim and not offender).

That has nothing to do with anything, except that it appears that my trunk, blankets. pillows and books were abandoned with everything else.  I have small hope of blankets and pillows being there any more or identifiable, and unless Margaret makes some definite gesture to avow them not her own, cannot press their recovery.  She wrote to ask me if I gave permission for her to take on the beds (which were bought by Jig and Selma).  Naturally I say yes, though I don’t know the law.  Anyhow, whatever material value may be there has to be turned over to Margaret if she wants it as compensation for inconveniences.  However there were books and personal papers (autographed books—Laura, Grace Carlisle, and I fear, though hope not, one of Lola’s).  Also, particularly Benham’s Quotations, which costs over five dollars, is invaluable as a travelling reference, and which I never succeeded in getting mailed to me though I wrote many times.  I am writing Gladys and if she and Dudley can conveniently take over any small effects, and painting effects, which he, leaving stormily without preparation, dumped on them; and Dudley and I had a bit of a misunderstanding (which please never mention) because of Dudley’s discouraging Jig (I considered from confiding in me, so perhaps it won’t do to assume anything else can go to Jersey).  So I just wonder whether you and Lola, with all your so much more important difficulties, could bear taking over the oddments until I find a place for them. If blankets and pillows are, as I suspect, melted away, there’s no use bothering with that awful trunk; but I would so like to save the little things!  We ain’t got nothin’ but the clothes we stand in, and while that may be good for the soul in some ways, the repeated scattering of books and papers since the big loss in Bermuda is becoming painful.  Naturally I can’t ask this unless you instantly send account of any taxicab or sech used for transport, and, at that, I am a parasite on the dearest friends who above all should be saved from even minor additions to their own burdens; but I am so worried, Davy, and so helpless; and after all these years find that unless I appeal to you or the Grants, there isn’t a human who really cares enough to do anything but resent this kind of petition.

Jig is still in a state of melancholia, I gather.  Cyril is so worried by big things he’s hopeless about any minor ones.  And we’re all, like your blessed selves, with noses above water and no more.

We are freezing here, but it would be good for work if I could get in a proper frame of mind.  Concern for Jig has been eating into my resources despite every bit of will I have to fight it.  I am writing a children’s book but it doesn’t go as it should so far.

I’m in my usual way of sending self-centred news because in this complete isolation, there ain’t no other; but feeling aren’t all on ego, and love and longing for those who mean most to us are present just the same.

Bless you both and forgive me, dear Davy,

PS  I has the first mild quarrel of my life with Cyril because of slow and no communication re Jig.  Cyril, poor darling, is quite literally pathological about letter writing.  I have to realize that and put up with suspense, since he still is saving Jig’s life by taking material responsibility.

A reference to a trunk Evelyn left in Bermuda and which had been the subject of a dispute between her and Margaret Garland about its whereabouts.
American writer, poet, singer-songwriter, journalist and, later, union activist. She was married to Liston Oak, who was an activist and an early member of the Communist Party of America.

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To David Lawson

[Lowestoft, Suffolk]
January 27, 1933

Davy dear:

I feel sort of petty asking, but I wonder if you ever got my note about the personal possessions I left in NY at Jig’s past address?  They’re all attended to, and the wondering is simply due to my usual state of imaginings whenever I don’t hear from my dearest friends.  I suspect myself of a persecution complex1 or something like or I surely wouldn’t always begin to think this or that wrong and need letters to correct me.  Anyhow I’m worried about it on this score; that with all you and Lola have to carry in serious burdens I may have seemed so selfish in making that request that you’re disgusted with my unimaginativeness.  Do say no if it is no, in three lines, Davy dear, and if it’s yes, give me a dressing down.

My original plan was to return in January on the last of the money, but the publication of Eva Gay was delayed until April and Jack has tried so hard to complete his novel before trying for a job, so it finally seemed sense to live up the money here and use my advance to get back on.  Jack is now in bed with flu and has been for nine days. That’s temporarily ruled out work but I hope he’ll still rally in time to get another plug at his book before I go.  It’s ruled out work for me as well, though that is important only financially as I’m doing another kid book.  It’s bitter cold here as everywhere, but we suffer only indoors.  Outdoors with the sea looks blooming wonderful no matter how painfully chilly.  I’ve cursed English houses and coal fires since Jack got sick, but what really fills me with wonder is the way the English themselves blithely carry on with practically no heat.  Think Jack’s flu partly due to the effect of America on his Spartan make-up.  He seems to feel indoors as much as I do now, poor dear.

We’re in our annual uncertainty re quota and return.  If Jack doesn’t go back he loses his entry, and if he does it will be as before, no job.  I don’t expect my friends to sympathize any more with what is becoming comic.  International marriages are luxuries, seems to be the moral.

I shall be so happy to see you both again—nobody knows.  That’s always something counts heavily to counteract other less attractive aspects of NY.

Dear Davy, dear Lola, dear beliefs!


This comment gives an interesting insight into Evelyn’s later mental state: from the early 1940s much of her letter-writing was driven by what appeared to be paranoia.

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To Lola Ridge and David Lawson

Lowestoft, Suffolk
March 2 [1933]

Dearest two:

Jack and I (Thanks to Mrs Ames who by cable—so perhaps best not mention it yet) asks Jack anyhow to Yaddo for a short time) leave on the Bremen on March 24th.  I don’t know that Davy remembers it but the last time we landed in June 1931 we were held up at the dock by a gang of thugs who got five dollars from us as blood money for releasing our baggage which they had simply taken away from the Cunard porter.  If Davy’s forgotten I shall explain later, but it was quite serious.  They thought Jack foreign and when they became obstreperous and offered to beat him up he offered to beat them up, whereupon I sailed in with an American voice and threatened them with the police—that helped.  Anyhow I wanted to really got to the police, but Hazel, to whose place the baggage was taken, thought if I did the West Street gangsters would damage her property.  So we did nothing.  But I am genuinely terrified of landing alone.

SS Bremen
SS Bremen [Alamy stock photo]

If the Bremen gets in after Davy’s working hours, would he be willing to come to the custom barrier to meet us?  Very few people know we are landing.  As I say, I shall write Byer and Gerald, as they have no regular jobs as far as I know and it may be easier for them.  The only others we could ask are Gladys and Dudley, impossible.  Hazel—but she’s a female.  There now!  It just occurs to me that Ellen Kennan’s nice boy Paul has no job and might be willing to come.  So amend this (I’m thinking as I write!)  I shall ask Ellen to ask him and if Davy wouldn’t mind telephoning her to ascertain if Paul will do it, all will be well with no need to inconvenience Davy anyhow.  (I won’t rewrite this, but this paragraph as all the point!)

I don’t know what time the Bremen takes going west but I suppose five days.  Jack is in bed again with gastric hangover from flu so I expect he will arrive very frail.  Mag DeSilver says we may come there again and I hadn’t wanted to but I’ve written all over the place about cheap rooms so I think we’ll have to (I’ve had no responses) until we can get bearings.

But we won’t step off the boat as gloomy as this or my last orful note sounded, fore there is great relief to the spirits in action.

Love and love and love and don’t forget, I shall write Ellen at once.  But I might as well let this go because I ‘aven’t time for more today and I want you to know when we get there anyhow.  All ze love going”, evelyn.

PS  Tourist Third, Bremen

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Our next instalment sees Jack and Evelyn happily back at Yaddo, where Evelyn in particular is enjoying contact with a their felllow guests,  creative people from all the arts.