Scott, Evelyn, 1893-1963

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1893-01-17
Death 1963-08-03
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

American author.

From the description of Evelyn Scott Collection, 1894-1952. (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 122590438

Evelyn Scott was a writer from Clarksville, Tennessee.

From the description of Letter, circa 1937, New York, to Mr. Nortewall. (University of Tennessee). WorldCat record id: 45253557

Evelyn Scott was born in Clarksville, Tennessee, on January 17, 1893, as Elsie Dunn, the only child of Maude Thomas and Seely Dunn. Maude Thomas, Elsie's mother, was from a respected and prosperous southern family of Clarksville. Seely Dunn, Elsie's father, though born and raised in New Orleans, had Yankee parents and a more northern outlook. By the time Elsie was fourteen, Seely had made some unwise investments and the family moved to New Orleans to be near the financial support of his parents. As she was growing up Elsie struggled with reconciling the social class her mother's family represented with the life they actually lived. The transition which Tennessee was undergoing toward social and economic progress, and the pull of opposing forces in her mother's and father's outlook, combined with the ever present shadow of the Civil War, was to have a significant effect on Evelyn's development as a thinker and writer. As an only child Elsie felt lonely and misunderstood. She attended the Sophie Newcombe Preparatory School and became the youngest girl student to enroll at Tulane University. By the age of twenty she had become discouraged by her inability to make a real difference in society.

It was at this time, in 1913, that Elsie met Frederick Creighton Wellman. Wellman, twenty years her senior and married to a concert pianist, had four children by a previous marriage which ended in divorce, and was now dean at Tulane University's School of Tropical Medicine. He and Elsie shared many intellectual interests and he eventually asked her to accompany him to Brazil where he planned to collect insect specimens. They left secretly in December 1913 and by a circuitous route arrived at their destination in February 1914. It was at the beginning of this trip that both Elsie and Wellman changed their names to Scott to protect their identity, with Elsie becaming Evelyn Scott and Wellman changing his to Cyril Kay Scott. She had become pregnant with her only child, Creighton Scott, before they landed. Evelyn later wrote about their poverty and hardships in Brazil in her autobiography, Escapade, published in 1923. They remained in Brazil for six years.

When they returned to the United States the Scotts lived in New York City's Greenwich Village where Evelyn quickly embraced the Bohemian life style, as well as various lovers such as Waldo Frank and William Carlos Williams. Evelyn had submitted a few poems for publication while in Brazil and soon was at work producing a volume of poems entitled Precipitations, published in 1920, followed the next year by her first novel, The Narrow House. Both publications received mixed reviews. They were followed by Narcissus (1922) and The Golden Door (1925), which completed her first trilogy using the theme of the loveless conventional marriage.

The year 1927 also saw the publication of the first volume of her historical trilogy, Migrations, which used for its backdrop America's westward expansion. The Civil War was the background for The Wave (1929), and industrial expansion for A Calendar of Sin, (1931). The Wave is considered Evelyn's greatest critical and commercial success. In Eva Gay, an autobiographical novel published in 1933, Evelyn wrote about her youth and her involvement with Cyril Kay Scott and the artist Owen Merton before her connection with and subsequent marriage to British novelist, Jack Metcalf. Reviewers continued to maintain Evelyn's significance as an important modern writer. The year 1937 saw the publication of both another autobiography, Background in Tennessee, in which Evelyn discussed the significant effect of her Clarksville upbring on the fundamental formation of her character, and her novel, Bread and a Sword, begun fifteen years earlier, contrasting economic necessity and artistic integrity in artistic expression.

In addition to her novels and poetry, Evelyn produced four children's books, a play, numerous short stories, essays, and reviews. She wrote two additional novels, “Escape into Living,” reflections of a middle aged woman on her life, and “Before Cock Crow,” a work about the French Revolution, both of which remain unpublished. Though she lived for an additional 22 years Evelyn was unable to publish her work after 1941, due in part to its controversial nature and her refusal to accept her publishers' suggestions for changes, as well as to her growing paranoia about conspiracies directed against her. Additionally, each of her novels had a unique style which the general public found difficult to read or understand.

Late in 1925 Evelyn began a relationship with John Metcalf that was to last until her death. In March of 1928 Cyril Scott decided to formally end his common law marriage with Evelyn and obtained a divorce in Juarez, Mexico. Although John and Evelyn claimed to be married as early as 1925, they went through a legal ceremony in 1930. During World War II, when John was drafted into the RAF to train pilots, Evelyn joined him in England in 1944, and was not to return to the U.S. until 1953 when a fund, organized by Margaret DeSilver in the U.S., was set up for that purpose. Scott had found it difficult to interest publishers in her work at such a distance and, along with her growing mental instability, poverty and illness took its toll. She suffered from heart trouble and lung cancer and passed away on August 3, 1963.

From the guide to the Evelyn Scott Collection TXRC98-A5., 1894-1952, (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin)

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Subjects:

  • Women novelists, American--20th century
  • Novelists, American--20th century

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