Evelyn Scott (1893-1963), an expatriate of the South, was one of the most active, creative minds among the American modernists, commanding the attention and esteem of her fellow critics and authors for more than two decades. A ruinous denouement of health and career, however, left her all but forgotten by the time of her death, and it is only recently that scholars have begun to appreciate her achievements. In her critical biography of Scott, Mary Wheeling White depicts an independent idealist whose art and ...
Evelyn Scott (1893-1963), an expatriate of the South, was one of the most active, creative minds among the American modernists, commanding the attention and esteem of her fellow critics and authors for more than two decades. A ruinous denouement of health and career, however, left her all but forgotten by the time of her death, and it is only recently that scholars have begun to appreciate her achievements. In her critical biography of Scott, Mary Wheeling White depicts an independent idealist whose art and personality shared a defining trait: rebellious thinking. At age twenty, Scott fled her home in New Orleans for Brazil, embarking on a lifelong series of love affairs, exiles, and physical, emotional, and financial afflictions. She also began her serious writing, developing many of the techniques of impressionism, stream of consciousness, and symbolic realism that would mark her better work. Over the years she formed friendships with other literary figures - Theodore Dreiser, Emma Goldman, Lola Ridge, Charlotte Wilder, and others - who helped her through many a low time and saw emerge from the turmoil Scott's challenging imagist poetry, startling experimental fiction, and graceful memoirs. Scott is best known for her autobiography Escapade (1923), which recounts her years in Brazil; her shockingly modern first novel, The Narrow House (1921); and The Wave (1929), which has been hailed as the greatest novel about the American Civil War. She published numerous other works, including eight additional novels and another autobiography, and completed a substantial body of writing that remains unpublished. Despite her prodigious oeuvre, Scott, like many other modernist women writers, receded into the shadows through neglect. By rereading her life and works, Mary Wheeling White helps resurrect the recognition Scott's writing deserves and forces a reexamination of the making of literary exemplars during one of the most vital eras in American letters.
Faulkner, when asked what he thought of female novelists, remarked that fellow Southerner Evelyn Scott was "pretty good for a woman." White, who teaches English at Methodist College in Fayetteville, N.C., argues that Scott has been unfairly left out of the modernist cannon, but unfortunately, she offers far more detail on the "current" Scott foughtvarious illnesses, clashes with the male publishing world, financial troublesthan on why her work should be revived. Scott wrote historical novels on the Civil War and the French Revolution, as well as more autobiographical poetry and fiction like Escapade, describing her early elopement to Brazil. After stays in Brazil and Europe, Scott returned to New York's burgeoning art scene, where she encountered Theodore Dreiser and a new Marxist literary scene, represented here as another obstacle to her individualistic style and desire for free expression. When White does consider Scott's writing, it is usually in an over-eager attempt to make her a modernist. About a 1927 novel that ends abruptly, White writes, "it is precisely this lack of `completeness' that declares the relevance of such a modernist work as Migrations," but later admits that the precipitate end might simply have been because Scott was planning another volume in the series, which she did, in fact, write. Luckily, Scott's vitality comes out in her letters, and the inclusion of many excerpts from her vigorous correspondence with other artists and intellectuals helps to illustrate Scott's own position on her condition and her writing. (Jan.)
White's biography, a respectable addition to the field of feminist literary criticism, helps place Southern writer Evelyn Scott (1893-1963) among the ranks of notable, rediscovered American modernists. Despite the success of Scott's early novels, The Narrow House (1921) and The Wave (1929), a best-selling fictionalization of the Civil War, Scott's unconventional narrative techniques, shocking depictions, criticism of social conventions, and personal shortcomings (debts, addictions, and psychosis) led to her professional demise. White (Methodist Coll.) traces Scott's self-destructive lifestyle while providing a critical overview of her major works in the context of their times. Her thorough reexamination of the contributions of this demanding, slighted writer adds an important dimension to the history of 20th-century American literature. Recommended for academic collections in modern literature, Southern culture, and women's studies.Carol Ann McAllister, Coll. of William & Mary Lib., Williamsburg, Va.