‘Such Friends’: 100 Years Ago, January 1910

In Ireland…

John Millington Synge’s play, Deirdre of the Sorrows, is premiered, posthumously, at the Abbey Theatre.

His fellow Abbey directors, William Butler Yeats, 44, and Lady Augusta Gregory, 57, have completed the unfinished play with the help of Synge’s fiancé, Abbey actress Molly Allgood, 24, who plays the lead.

Synge had died the year before, age 38, two years after the Abbey premiered his Playboy of the Western World, which caused riots in the theatre because of its honest portrayal of Irish people. On his young friend’s death, Yeats had said:

“He was but the more hated because he gave his country what it needed.”

In the coming year, Yeats will take a lesser role in running the Abbey, and a new manager, Lennox Robinson, 24, has been appointed. The Abbey will also revive Playboy, winning over some of Synge’s original critics.

In England…

…early on a Monday morning at the Cambridge railway station, painter and art critic Roger Fry, just turned 43, recognizes two Londoners he had met a few years before, painter Vanessa Bell, 30, and her husband, art critic Clive Bell, 28, and strikes up a conversation.

Fry’s past year has not been a good one. He was rejected for a position at Oxford University, and ended his job at curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He had to certify his wife, Helen, 45, and commit her to an asylum.

Soon after his train trip to London with the Bells, Fry invites them to his London home and he becomes part of their Bloomsbury salons. The following year, he will begin a love affair with Vanessa, which will end two years later when she leaves him for homosexual painter Duncan Grant, then 27. In the years they are together, Vanessa and Fry influence each others’ work greatly, and she contributes to the running of his Omega Workshops in the years leading up to the war.

Among the other members of Bloomsbury, this January, Vanessa’s sister Virginia Stephen, celebrating her 28th birthday, is actively volunteering for the cause of Women’s Suffrage, and there is standing room only at the lectures about the stock exchange economist John Maynard Keynes, 26, is giving at Cambridge University.

In France…

…on the Left Bank of Paris, at 27 rue de Fleurus, all is not happy. American writer Gertrude Stein, 35, has been living there with her brother, Leo, 37, for the past seven years, and they have hosted salons with the painters whose work they admire and collect such as Pablo Picasso, 28, and Henri Matisse, 40.

In the past few years Gertrude and Leo, along with their brother Michael, 44, and his wife Sarah, 39, have hosted other visitors from their hometown of San Francisco, including a series of young women, especially Alice Babette Toklas, 32.

The others have gone back to California, but Alice has decided to stay. She spends most days at rue de Fleurus, typing up Gertrude’s writings from the night before, shopping for groceries, cooking meals, and dusting the paintings. Leo is beginning to feel marginalized in his own house.

By the end of the month, Paris is flooded. Not yet with Americans, but with water. On the 21st the Seine overflows and doesn’t recede for a week, causing power outages and evacuations. Gertrude and Alice’s friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, 30, writes in Le Petit Journal:

‘On Avenue Montaigne people organize pleasure tours by boat. For two sous, you pass by the smartest hotels and photographers will take your picture as a flood victim for the sum of 50 centimes.’

In America…

…as the decade begins…

…in Washington, DC, President William Howard Taft, 52, opens up the White House to private citizens to visit on New Year’s day.

In Missouri, protégé Virgil Thomson, 13, is the organist at Kansas City’s Calvary Baptist Church, where he astonishes the congregation with his creative improvisations.

In Minnesota, F. Scott Fitzgerald, also 13, is attending St. Paul Academy, plays basketball and footfall, and has had a story in the school magazine. He has finally managed to join the ‘right’ dancing class.

In Massachusetts, Robert Benchley, 20, and Heywood Broun, 21, are at Harvard, although Broun will leave this year without graduating. Benchley has been earning money doing humorous mock travelogues to clubs in Boston.

And in New York City…

…Pittsburgher George S. Kaufman, 20, is taking weekly acting classes and hopes to get a job managing a theatre, in Troy, NY. But he is thinking of giving up and going back to the sales job his father got him at the Columbia Ribbon Manufacturing Co. in New Jersey.

Alexander Woollcott, celebrating his 23rd birthday, is working at the New York Times where he has been making good use of the free play passes But Alex has now been re-assigned to crimes and trials.

Also at the Times is reporter Maxwell Perkins, 25, who recently had a job interview with publisher Charles Scribner’s & Sons. Max is hopeful that he will be offered a position in their advertising department with more regular hours.

 To read more about all the groups, click on the pages or categories to the right.