Scott, Evelyn

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

SCOTT, Evelyn

Born Elise Dunn, 17 January 1893, Clarksville, Tennessee; died 1963, New York, New York

Also wrote under: E. Souza

Daughter of Seely and Thomas Dunn; married Frederick C. Wellman (Cyril Kay Scott), 1919 (common law); John Metcalf, 1928

Although Evelyn Scott's family no longer held the moneyed position it enjoyed before the Civil War, Scott was trained in the values of the Southern aristocratic tradition. At fifteen, she rejected the role of the Southern woman and became an ardent feminist; at eighteen the Dunn family moved to New Orleans. She enrolled in Sophie Newcomb College, but never finished her studies there; instead, she educated herself.

In 1913 Scott ran away to Brazil with the dean of the School of Tropical Medicine of Tulane University, and they changed their names to Evelyn and Cyril Kay Scott. One son was born in Brazil. The Scotts returned in 1920, lived in Greenwich Village and Cape Cod, and separated in Bermuda. In 1928 Scott married British novelist John Metcalf.

Escapade (1923) is an account of Scott's six-year exile with her lover in Brazil. It is written in a subjectively impressionistic style, controlled by a conception: the entanglement of life and death in a conflict between the lush tropical growth soaring above villages of earthy natives and Scott's deathlike isolation. By selecting images that express feelings and actions, Scott balances emotionalism with understanding, and avoids immersion in subjectivity. Scott endured hunger, squalor, severe illness, and a fearful pregnancy. Each episode or carefully composed moment is imbued with Scott's belief that only in the presence of death do we discover life.

Background in Tennessee (1937) is an autobiographical history in which Scott discusses the sociological, economic, religious, and cultural growth of the South, integrating her own experiences and judgements. Scott believed the slow growth of culture in the South was due to the short span of time between the Revolution and the Civil War; most of the important men of the South were orators and politicians, not artists.

Scott wrote several novel trilogies: The Narrow House (1921), Narcissus (1922), and The Golden Door (1925) are about three generations of a family attempting to hold on to their self-made ideals and hollow beliefs. Migrations (1927), The Wave (1929), and A Calendar of Sin (1932) cover American history from 1850 to 1918. In The Wave, set during the Civil War, Scott combined over 100 episodes in a deliberately structured mosaic, illustrating the conflict of individuals with society and with themselves. Scott equated the perversion of war with the perversion of love lying in the heart of each individual.

The range of Scott's other publications is broad. Precipitations (1920), her first book, is of imagist poetry. The Winter Alone (1930) contains poetry more varied in subject and techniques. Love, a play, was performed by the Provincetown Players in 1930. Scott wrote a mystery, Blue Rum (1930), under the name E. Souza, and three juvenile books: In the Endless Sands (1925), Witch Perkins (1928), and Billy, the Maverick (1934).

Scott possessed the rare combination of emotional intuition and an artistic genius for style and technique. She was a fervent intellectual, sensitive but analytical. She had no strict philosophy, but she consistently strove in her life and work for freedom from every limitation. Scott believed in authorial intrusion and wrote all her fiction from an omniscient point of view, a technique which gave her the freedom she desired. Scott's major works can be read and studied simultaneously on psychological, philosophical, and artistic levels.

Other Works:

Ideals (1927). Eva Gay (1933). Breathe Upon These Slain (1934). Bread and a Sword (1937). Shadow of a Hawk (1941).

The papers of Evelyn Scott and two unfinished novels are in the possession of Robert L. Welker.

Bibliography:

Scott, C. K., Life Is Too Short (1943). Welker, R. L., "Liebestod with a Southern Accent," in Reality and Myth (1964).

Reference works:

America Now (1938). Living Authors (1935).

—PEGGY BACH