Henry E. Turlington (b. 1945), a used and rare books dealer based in
North Carolina, sold his collection of materials pertaining to Cyril Kay-Scott
and Evelyn Scott to the Harry Ransom Center in 1990.
Frederick Creighton Wellman, later known as Cyril Kay-Scott (1879-1960),
was a self-described explorer, anthropologist, bacteriologist, journalist,
linguist, economist, and latter-day Renaissance man.
In 1912, while Wellman was working in Honduras, he met Seely Dunn. The
following year when they both returned to New Orleans, Dunn introduced Wellman
to his daughter Elsie, later known as Evelyn Scott (1893-1963), who would
become a literary force during the 1920s and 1930s. Wellman had four children
(Frederick, Manley, Paul, and Alice) with his first wife, but was married to
his second wife when he began a clandestine courtship with twenty year old
Elsie. On December 26, 1913, Wellman and Dunn eloped to New York City, and due
to the scandalous nature of their affair, changed their names to Cyril
Kay-Scott and Evelyn Scott. Shortly after arriving in New York, they took a
boat to London and then settled as husband and wife in Bloomsbury.
Cyril made arrangements with the British Museum to collect entomological
specimens in Latin America after realizing that he and Evelyn might be
discovered in England. Soon after arriving in Brazil he found that collecting
specimens was unrealistic and since he was unable to use credentials that would
betray his past to obtain work, he was forced to work as a manual laborer.
Eventually he obtained a job as a bookkeeper in a Singer Sewing Machine store,
where he would be promoted to auditor and then superintendent, requiring the
couple to move to Natal. In Natal, the couple's only child, Creighton
"Jigg" Scott, was born on October 26, 1914.
In 1916 Kay-Scott moved his family, which now included Evelyn's mother,
to Cercadinho, Brazil, an isolated valley four hundred miles inland in Bahia
province, to become a rancher. Here both Cyril and Evelyn began to write both
poetry and prose. In 1917 they abandoned the ranch and moved to Villa Nova
where Cyril took a position with the International Ore Corporation.
In 1919, the family returned to New York so Evelyn could receive medical
treatment. Cyril, Evelyn, and Creighton lived in Greenwich Village for the next
two years. During this period Evelyn began writing for
The Dial, reviewing work by James Joyce and
D. H. Lawrence.
The Narrow House and Cyril's novel
Blind Mice were published in spring 1921.
Their novels received critical acclaim rather than commercial success. Cyril's
stressful job and monetary woes caused him to suffer a nervous breakdown, which
served to reunite him with Evelyn after an estrangement due to Evelyn's
infidelities with Waldo Frank and William Carlos Williams.
In Bermuda in 1922, Evelyn and Cyril met Owen Merton, a painter, who
eventually moved into their house accompanied by his son Thomas. Owen Merton
became Evelyn's lover without apparent animosity on Cyril's part; in fact, it
was Owen who encouraged Cyril to begin a new career as a watercolorist.
Meanwhile, Evelyn completed
The Golden Door and began work on
Escapade. During 1923-24 the group traveled
together and separately throughout Europe.
Cyril returned to America with Creighton in 1928, the same year he filed
for divorce from his common-law marriage to Evelyn, and decided to pursue a
career as an art teacher, setting up an art school in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In
1931, Cyril gave up running the art school and became director of the Denver
Art Museum. He retired from this position in 1934. Cyril worked for a time with
Creighton on a Works Progress Administration project, but soon afterwards
settled into retirement. In 1943, Cyril's autobiography,
Life Is Too Short, was published.
In 1925, back in New York, Evelyn and Owen split due in part to Thomas
Merton's disdain for Evelyn. Evelyn escaped to London where she would find her
next lover, John Metcalfe; he became her husband in 1930. Evelyn's novel,
The Wave (1929), sold well and received
critical acclaim, but her next publication, a volume of poetry titled
The Winter Alone (1930), received almost
unanimously unfavorable reviews. Evelyn and John arrived in Santa Fe in 1929 to
join Cyril and Creighton. In Santa Fe Evelyn worked on
A Calendar of Sin (1931), a work based
almost solely on her family history. In June of 1931 Evelyn and John accepted
an invitation to work at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs. They spent three months in
Yaddo and Evelyn was able to finish a substantial part of her new novel
Eva Gay. They received a second invitation
to stay at Yaddo and returned from England in 1933.
Evelyn accepted a teaching position at Skidmore College in 1939. Her
career as an author ended in 1941, when
The Shadow of the Hawk did not find success.
In the fall of 1943 Evelyn traveled to Tappan, New Jersey, where Creighton and
his wife Paula were living. This stay was fraught with tension since Evelyn's
emotional state had deteriorated. The only other time she saw Creighton was in
1949 during a brief stopover he made in London. Evelyn returned to London in
1944 and until 1947 little is known of her activities. Evelyn's last appearance
in print was a postwar contribution of a poem and three articles on American
poetry in the
In 1951, Evelyn's friend Margaret DeSilver established a fund to allow
Evelyn and John to return to America. The original signatories on the draft
appeal were: Waldo Frank, Dawn Powell, Allen Tate, Lewis Gannett, John Dos
Passos, and Edmund Wilson. Sufficient money was raised for the couple's return
passage in 1953. They arrived in California and for a year stayed at the
Huntington Hartford Foundation at Pacific Palisades. They left California in
1954 for New York where they took up residence in the Benjamin Franklin Hotel
on the upper West Side. John found work teaching at a boys' prep school only to
lose this job a few years later due to his increasingly evident drinking
problem. Evelyn fell ill in 1963 and was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was
operated on, released on August 3rd, and died later that night in her