Evelyn Roy


Letter to Henk Sneevliet


Source: Transcribed from a copy contained in the Evelyn Trent Collection, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University.



Mar. 13th [1927]

My dear Jack Horner.[1]

Your letter was more than welcome, as I had given up all idea of receiving any word from you, and especially, because I have heard nothing at all from Europe for over three months. I have heard very little from R.[2] – only in response to letters I have written him about various personal questions, and our correspondence has come to a complete standstill, as I have received no reply to the letter I wrote in December, which you say was forwarded to him.

I am feeling immensely better than I did last year, or in fact better than I have for several years. This is mainly because I have nothing to worry over, and because I am once more in a state where I can be, to some extent, master of my own destiny. I had fallen into such a lamentable situation in Europe, largely because I was away from my own environment and was absolutely dependent upon someone else for my whole existence.

You will be glad to hear that I am working and earning my living by writing for one of the newspapers here. I received a divorce six months ago, as it appeared to me absolutely necessary to do so, before I could take up my life again in any direction. I hesitated a long time before taking this step - waited over six months and wrote many letters to R. offering to return and resume our former relationship. It was only after receiving his categorical reply to remain in this country or go to China, but not to return there, that I decided upon what course to follow. Life appeared to me very difficult – almost impossible to resume in the old channels I had left nine years before. My mother & father were glad to see me, but did not welcome my ideas, and part of my family refused to have anything at all to do with me. Most of my old friends from school and college also turned away from me. I found myself almost alone, except for a very few who remained loyal to the past, without in any way understanding or sympathizing with my viewpoint.

My activities abroad had been such as to render it very difficult for me to obtain work for which I was adapted by education and training. I had lost my citizenship and this fact closed a good many avenues of employment as well as made my position extremely uncertain. There were other factors, known to yourself, that rendered my situation precarious. The only bright spot was the fact that I was back in a country where I could speak the language, felt more or less at home and where I could eventually readjust myself to conditions if permitted to do so. I had some trouble with the authorities and would have much more did I show any disposition to be active in any way. This was impossible during the first 18 months after my return. I was in a state of complete mental and physical collapse. The very thought of politics sickened me. I could not concentrate my mind long enough to read a newspaper or book. I was restless, unhappy and frightfully disorientated. I belonged neither to my old life or the new one I had left it for. Then there was the personal heartache.

Besides all this, I had to meet the slanderous gossip and malicious tongues of various nationalist factions in this country, who very effectually poisoned the minds of all those liberal and semi-radical people I have turned to for help and friendship. They heard such frightful things against me that one and all turned away from me.

I was accused of being a spy, a renegade, a defalcator of funds, of having abandoned my husband and the movement after having bled them dry, etc. etc. Quite naturally, I found myself alone. I had not the heart, even if I had possessed the strength, energy and enthusiasm, to begin all over again in the movement here. I attended the Convention in Chicago[3] on my way west, and have never in my life witnessed such sorry and disgusting quarrels, intrigues and useless discussions. They are hopelessly divided and split up into a thousand little factions. Spies are plentiful and the whole impression was one of disgust. Of course my own mental condition was at its worst then and it probably appeared even worse to me than it was in reality, but I saw enough to convince me that my place was not there, at least in my present state of mind.

I wanted only to keep clear of useless discussion and endless intrigue and find a little peace somewhere.

In the American movement I am a stranger. All my work had been for India. Many stories were circulated about me - from external and internal sources. Had I attempted to be active I would have been deported at once. There was no possible way to prevent it for I had no rights here at all.

The result is, I have held aloof from everything, seen no one and done nothing but attempt to regain my mental and physical strength and to solve the first problem of all – to earn my living somehow or other.

This was rather difficult for reasons explained above but I finally secured work on a paper and earn enough to live on independently.

I have become, what R. predicted when I left Europe, “lost to the movement” – for the time being at any rate. My convictions remain the same, but circumstances and my own inclination have brought this about. Of course I might have gone east, as originally planned, but what was there for me there? I was as much a stranger there as here - more so in fact – and once I left here I would be condemned to wander about in strange lands for the rest of my life, without even the reason I had before to justify such an existence of having been married and compelled to follow my husband.

I knew only one person there on whom I must depend again for every favor and rather than place my life once more in this unbearable situation, I decided to remain here and to tie together the broken threads as best I could. Here I was in a measure, at home. These are my people. I understand them, and it is in this environment I can grow and develop normally, as a human being. Above all, I was so weary of being hunted from place to place, from country to country, of having to hide and always to be surrounded by a terrible fog of suspicion and fear, and to have others suspect and fear me. All this had become intolerable.

I want you to understand that I have recanted nothing. Made no confessions or concessions. No one has molested me openly. I have been left alone, but of course watched to a certain extent. As long as I remain strictly aloof from all political activity, I think I will not be bothered.

At first I thought it would be impossible for me to abandon my former life and work and just to live like this – it is still difficult – but it has been forced on me by a good many circumstances. I could not remain in the Indian work, that was sure even before my divorce. My position had become very difficult. You remember my unhappiness for the two years preceding my departure for America. Once divorced, it became even more impossible to on with it. This was the reason I hesitated so long. If it had been merely a personal matter I would have gone straight enough with it because I realized that the personal tie was broken forever. But I had given nine years to the work and it was not easy to leave it nor did I do it lightly.

If I had ever been in India, or could ever go there, it might have been different, but always it had been pure theoretical abstraction to me. The only living link was my husband. When this link was broken, only the abstraction remained, and I was so tired of abstract theories. I had to come face to face with realities and to learn something about everyday, practical living.

I don’t know what the future holds in store for me. Sometimes I looks black and hopeless. Sometimes I find comfort in being just alive and free to live as an ordinary human being once more. To love and be loved by my family and what few friends remain, and to work and eat and sleep untroubled by the ghost of fear, suspicion, intrigue and hatred. After all, I was born to this life and had to adapt myself to the other kind of existence. Surely I can learn to adapt myself once more to this purely normal, healthy living, in which the element of struggle is not lacking. The time may come when I may be of more use to the world than if I had tried to struggle on in the position I found myself in over there.

Even now, when I review all that happened, I do not see how I could have acted so differently in any way or how I could have changed the outcome. Each step I took was forced upon me by circumstances, and I walked very slowly, so as to be sure I made no great mistakes.

I blame my husband for nothing. He could not help what happened, any more than I could. I only wish he might have been more frank and open so that together we could have discussed everything and decided on a course to follow, instead of sending me off in ignorance of his real feelings and desires. That is why I turned to you for help – to know what he really wanted most to do, and for me to do. Had he wanted me to come back, I would have come, if only to be true to him and the work. It was very hard for me to believe or to realize that he did not want me or need me. That he wanted me to stay away. I only fully knew this seven months after I left him, and it was then that I went to get my divorce. Had I known for the beginning, it would have saved me seven months’ uncertainty and groping for the right course to follow.

But perhaps he also was not sure. All I know now is that for a few years we were happy together and that he was the first to feel the desire to be free again. I do not even know at what stage he felt this desire, but it must have been at least as early as 1921. Had he told me this frankly, I would have come back to America then, and saved us both four years of useless worry and uncertainty. This I wrote to him in my last letter.

I have told you so much because you know us both better than anyone does except Borodin. Had there been any hope or prospect of our reunion, I would have gone to China, but he gave no slightest indication of any such desire on his part. If I went to China, it would be to follow out our destiny, and to go in that way meant I would be condemned to be a wanderer for the rest of my life.

Here at least my mother, who is nearly seventy, is glad and happy because I have come home once more, and should I go away and leave her again, it would be a terrible blow to her. This much good at least I have accomplished by remaining in America.

So now you see why I cannot write you articles for your paper or the American movement. I am sorry. I wish I could, but I am very far away indeed from the movement here. I still follow world politics in general, now that my mind is becoming stronger and more active again, and I have to thank my former life for teaching me to understand the trend of world affairs and the forces that are pushing us. I try to reflect this knowledge as much as possible in my writing, but you know what the bourgeois press is.

There is much to study and learn in this country. In many ways it is very remarkable and am glad to be here and be a part of it. I was such a stray cat in Europe, belonging nowhere, of use to nobody.

California is beautiful. In truth it is one of God’s chosen spots. I bask in the sunshine and am glad to be back home again, but I have forgotten nothing of the past, and the few friends I made in Europe I still love and treasure highly. That is why I was so glad to hear from you and will always be glad. I am so sorry that all is not well with your affairs. I am so sorry to hear about Betsy’s difficulties, and I would write her, but I don’t think she likes me very much. Remember me to her most sincerely when you see her, also to Pim and Pam.

Think you were rather impractical to marry again under the circumstances, but I suppose you could not avoid it very well as there was the child to consider. I am beginning to be very averse to foreign missionaries. One should work in the country to which one naturally belongs by birth and associations and understanding.

Best wishes to Sima, Simushka and the Langkempers. Also to all old friends at 101 Nassaukade.

Much love to yourself and write me from time to time. I love to hear from you. It is the only link I have with the past. Surely I deserve to have one link.




You may use the same address to reach me.




[1] Pseudonym for Henk Sneevliet used by Evelyn and M. N. Roy.

[2] She is referring to her ex-husband, Manabendra Nath Roy.

[3] Likely a reference to the Fourth National Convention of the Workers (Communist) Party of America, held in Chicago, in the American state of Illinois, from August 21st to the 30th, 1925.