‘Such Friends’: 100 Years Ago, November 1909

In Ireland:

Both William Butler Yeats, 44, and Lady Augusta Gregory, 57, are disappointed in their Abbey Theatre. After only five years as the Abbey in its home on Abbey Street, in Dublin city center, the energy seems to have gone.

Lady Gregory’s Kincora, called by Arthur Clery the Abbey’s “first undoubted masterpiece,” has been revived this year, along with The Playboy of the Western World by their third co-director, John Millington Synge, who had died a few months before, aged 37.

Towards the end of the year, they appoint Lennox Robinson, 23, as manager and producer, which makes him director of plays, and premiere his The Cross Roads. A little more than two years before, Robinson had first gotten interested in theatre when watching an Abbey production of Yeats’ and Lady Gregory’s plays at the Cork Opera House.

Robinson will be manager of the Abbey for the next five years, until he leads the company on a disastrous tour of the US and then resigns the post. However, he stays involved with the theatre until his death in 1958.

Edward Martyn, 50, one of the Abbey founders—and funders—has made his will, giving his full library and a painting by another Abbey founder, AE [George Russell], 42, to the Carmelite nuns, and all of his other art to the Municipal Gallery.

In England:

When Virginia and Vanessa Stephen were growing up in Hyde Park Gate, near the Victoria and Albert Hall, it was decided early on that Virginia would be the writer and Vanessa would be the painter.

Now Vanessa, 30, married to Clive Bell, 28, has been painting their son in Julian Bell and Nanny, and is bored with the Friday Club which she and Clive founded. She is trying to get into the New English Art Club, an alternative to the Royal Academy, and the Bells are thinking of moving their young family to Paris.

Virginia, 27, has been contributing to the Times Literary Supplement anonymously, reviewing The Love Letters of Thomas Carlyle and Jane Welsh and The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie. However, her own “Memoir of a Novelist” has been rejected by Cornhill magazine.

Visiting Cambridge near the end of the month, Virginia meets up with fellow Bloomsbury, Lytton Strachey, 29. Earlier in the year, Lytton had proposed to her. As he wrote to his Cambridge friend Leonard Woolf, just turning 29 and serving in the civil service in Ceylon:

“The day before yesterday I proposed to Virginia. As I did it, I saw that it would be death if she accepted me, and I managed, of course, to get out of it before the end of the conversation. The worst of it was that as the conversation went on, it became more and more obvious to me that the whole thing was impossible. The lack of understanding was so terrific! And how can a virgin be expected to understand? You see she is her name…It was, as you may imagine, an amazing conversation. Her sense was absolute, and at times her supremacy was so great that I quavered.

“I think there’s no doubt whatever that you ought to marry her. You would be great enough, and you’ld have too the immense advantage of physical desire. I was in terror lest she should kiss me. If you came and proposed she’ld accept. She really really would. As it is, she’s almost certainly in love with me, though she thinks she’s not…[added the next day] I’ve had an eclairissement with Virginia. She declared she was not in love with me, and I observed finally that I would not marry her. So things have simply reverted.”

Almost three years later, back home on leave from Ceylon, Leonard proposes to Virginia and she accepts.

In France:

American ex-patriate Gertrude Stein, 35, is working on her piece “Ada,” helped by her partner Alice B. Toklas, 32, like Gertrude, from San Francisco. Alice has moved into 27 rue de Fleurus with Gertrude and her brother Leo Stein, 37. The surviving manuscript is in two hands.

Alice had come to Paris two years before to visit her friend Harriet Levy, 42, who introduced her to the Steins. When she first met Gertrude, Alice heard bells ring. As she later wrote in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas:

“And there at her house I met Gertrude. I was impressed by the coral brooch she wore and by her voice. I may say that only three times in my life have I met a genius and each time a bell within me rang and I was not mistaken.”

Recently, Harriet had invited her friend Caroline, also from San Francisco, to visit them in Paris.

When Caroline is returning home, Alice accompanies her to the boat-train, and, as Alice remembered later, confides in her,

“Caroline dear, you must see that when Harriet goes back to America she does not return to Paris because it is already arranged that I should go to stay with Gertrude and Leo… That is what I suspected, said Caroline, you can count on me. Whereupon Caroline kissed me and I put her on the train.”

In America:

George S Kaufman, just turning 20, is thrilled to have his first poem published in the popular Evening Mail column of FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams], just turning 28. Adams is so impressed with the younger writer, born in Pennsylvania but living in New Jersey, that he invites him over to Manhattan for lunch.

FPA has recently been brought in to help ailing O. Henry, 47, fix up his musical comedy, Lo!. Collaborating with the popular short story writer, Adams manages to produce a play that runs in small theatres in the Midwest, but never makes it to New York.

Maxwell Perkins, 25, recently graduated from Harvard University, is a general reporter on the New York Times but looking for a job with more regular hours so he can marry his childhood sweetheart. He hears that there is an opening in the advertising department of the publisher Charles Scribner’s and Sons, and has managed to get an appointment with the head of the company.

By the end of the month, Orville, 38, and Wilbur Wright, 42, airborne for the first time just six years before, form a million dollar corporation to manufacture airplanes.

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