Miss Scovell

Joy Scovell[1]
Edith Joy Scovell, 25, (1907-1999) was a lyric poet and Time and Tide’s assistant editor and reviewer of books in the 1930s.[2] Educated at Somerville, Oxford, at the time of the dinner the 25 year old poet had yet to publish anything but doubtless editing Time and Tide would be a good training for anyone. She summed up her life as “I have had a fairly ordinary life I think, with normal experiences.”[3] [4]

Seated Beside

Joy may have been the exception on this table and seated with the suffragette bodyguard, the suffragette’s lawyer and the suffragette organiser, she may well have though she lived an ordinary life.  She probably would have enjoyed everyone’s company and I would certainly think an evening with Kitty Marshall would have been good.

What’s on her Mind

In the same vein, she may well have been pondering all these amazing lives and indeed this could easily have been an evening when she felt ordinary.  Perhaps she went home afterwards and wrote a poem about it all.  Or perhaps not.


Edith Joy Scovell was born in Sheffield on 9th April 1907, one of eight children born to the New Zealand-born Edith Anne, née Hall (1873–1964) and husband the Canon Frederick George Scovell (1869–1951), the vicar of St Andrew’s Church, Sharrow, Sheffield. She kept in touch with her siblings throughout her life. A boarder at Casterton School in Westmorland (where the Brontës had been pupils), from 1928 she was a scholar at Somerville College, Oxford, reading classics and English. She did not do well in her finals, but edited the Somerville literary paper The Fritillary, and contributed poems to university periodicals and to Basil Blackwell’s annual anthologies.

Joy then made a living as a secretary in London, while also writing poetry and publishing occasionally in periodicals (and working for Time and Tide).


cd3915b1-f855-4960-a94f-ab205015f141 EltonJoy moved to Oxford after marrying the distinguished Oxford ecologist and naturalist Charles Sutherland Elton (1900 – 1991) on 1st December 1937 (pictured left). Charles, a divorcee, was a reader in ecology at Oxford, a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, and they lived at 98c Banbury Road, and then at 61 Park Town. Charles Elton, who had established Britain’s Bureau of Animal Population specialised in animal populations in tropical rainforests, and is sometimes considered the founder of British ecology. They had two children, Catherine, born 1940, and Robert, born 1943. Joy accompanied Elton to Central and South America and the West Indies as a recorder and field researcher, and many of her poems contain minutely observed details of the natural world.[5] In a late interview she said that his way of looking at things clearly had influenced her art.[6]

It was not until 1944 that Joy’s first collection of poems, Shadows of Chrysanthemums, was published, by Routledge – being praised by Stephen Spender and, notably, Geoffrey Grigson, who singled her out as ‘the purest of our women poets’. Her next book, A Midsummer Meadow, came in 1946, and then The River Steamer in 1956.[7] Her next publication didn’t come for another 25 years. She travelled to Italy and was inspired by the natural world. Her ODNB entry by Anne Ridler reads “She pursued her course undistracted by any search for popularity—joined no groups, gave no poetry readings (until once at the very end of her life)—but in her final years was glad to be ‘discovered’ by some young poets and students. Slender and of medium height and gentle-voiced, Scovell took a lively interest in the work of her contemporaries.”.[8]

A review of her poem Deaths of Flowers, is worth a read – as is of course the poem itself.[9]

Joy died on 19th October 1999 at St Luke’s Home, Oxford. Her husband Charles had died in 1991.


[1] Photograph sourced from Catherine Tufariello, Bright Margins: The Poetry of E.J. Scovell, The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets’ Timeline Project , accessed 7.1.2018

[2] Reference to Joy in the Chapter on Time and Tide, page 181 in Jane Dowson, Women’s Poetry of the 1930s: A Critical Anthology, Routledge, 2008 –

[3] All Poetry, Edith Joy Scovell, accessed 7.1.2018

[4] Obituary E.J. Scovell, Independent, 12.11. 1999

[5] Catherine Tufariello, Bright Margins: The Poetry of E.J. Scovell, The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets’ Timeline Project , accessed 7.1.2018

[6] Interview with Jem Poster, 47, cited in Catherine Tufariello, Bright Margins: The Poetry of E.J. Scovell, The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets’ Timeline Project , accessed 7.1.2018

[7] E.J. Scovell, Wikipedia,

[8] Anne Ridler, Scovell, Edith Joy, (1907–1999), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 4 October 2012 first published 23.9 2004, accessed 18.1.2018

[9] Memorable Poems Project, Oxford Brookes University,

Can you tell us more?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s