Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Dorothy M. Scura
Mary E. Papke, B. J. Leggett, Jim Lloyd
In a letter to Emma Goldman, Evelyn Scott defended her rejection of both Marxist doctrine and middle class philistinism: “‘And individualists like myself— incurable believers in what has now become demode as a "romantic" movement—are caught between the Scilla [sic] of bourgeois obtuseness and the Charibdis [sic] of a radicalism that rejects appeal on the only grounds that are moving and arresting to people who love a free spirit'" (ES qtd. in Callard 104). But in a passage in her experimental autobiography Escapade. Scott admitted the weaknesses of her faith in the romantic ego . "The enigma of myself is the failure of romanticism to satisfy a being fundamentally romantic" (E 123). The tension between these two passages is one that is played out in the major prose works of Evelyn Scott's canon; in her autobiographical Escapade, in three of her most successful novels, The Narrow House, The Wave, and Breathe Upon These Slain, and in her unpublished novel, the late work "Escape into Living." Whether the ideal of autonomous selfhood is truly attainable, or even possible, is the question these texts try to answer.
Considered a significant artist in the 1920s and '30s, Scott for several decades had been a largely forgotten writer. A recuperation of Evelyn Scott's canon is under way in the 1990s, however, as evidenced by the recent publication of Mary Wheeling White's biography. Moreover, recent rethinkings of women's writing, as articulated by critics such as Mary Jacobus, Estelle Jelinek, and Sidonie Smith, should aid the critical recovery of Scott's work. My study commences with an examination of Escapade. Scott's daringly original autobiography. With its themes of domestic entrapment, its examination of female subjectivity, and its strikingly original prose style. Escapade provides an important touchstone for Scott's early fiction. Emerging from this discussion of the autobiography, I examine three novels representative of the major stages in Evelyn Scott's fiction: The Narrow House shows Scott examining feminist concerns through the lens of literary naturalism; The Wave constitutes Scott's most successful foray into modernism as she subverts and reworks the form of the historical novel, all the while examining the possibilities for the freedom and integrity of the individual caught up in the inexorable forces of history; in Breathe Upon These Slain. Scott becomes one of the first twentieth-century practitioners of metafiction, thus pushing her concerns for the autonomy of the self up to the boundaries of postmodernism. The final stage in this work includes a reading of Scott's unpublished novel, "Escape into Living," a text in which Evelyn Scott's fierce devotion to individualism seems finally to have faded, returning her, in a sense, to the naturalistic doom that permeates her earliest work.
By undertaking such a project, I hope to encourage a serious reevaluation of Evelyn Scott's canon. Indeed, as Jean Radford urges us to ask new questions of old texts and search out new voices from the modernist period, Evelyn Scott's innovative but long neglected corpus of work provides a compelling opportunity to do both.
Edwards, Timothy O., "The fine illusion of free will' : autonomy and selfhood in the major prose works of Evelyn Scott. " PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 1999.