‘Such Friends’: 1921, Summer, Left Bank, Paris

In the past few weeks I have been posting vignettes about how each of the four writers’ salons came together. This is the beginning of Gertrude Stein and the Americans in Paris:

‘He is so anxious to know you, for he says you have influenced him ever so much and that you stand as such a great master of words,’

read the note that Sylvia Beach, 34. owner of the Left Bank bookshop Shakespeare & Co., sent to Gertrude Stein, 47, about their fellow American, novelist Sherwood Anderson, 44. Gertrude and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, also 44, instantly decided that they would love to meet him.

Beach had found Anderson looking in the display window of her shop, and invited him in.  He had left his advertising job after having success with Winesburg, Ohio, his collection of stories focused on the residents of one town. Anderson had read some of Stein’s work in American publications and was impressed by her radical approach to writing.

27 rue de fleurus

27 rue de Fleurus

Anderson and his wife Tennessee, 47, arrived at 27 rue de Fleurus, anticipating being in the presence of greatness.  As Toklas remembered later in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by Gertrude Stein:

‘For some reason or other I was not present on this occasion, some domestic complication in all probability, at any rate when I did come home Gertrude Stein was moved and pleased as she has very rarely been. Gertrude Stein was in those days a little bitter, all her unpublished manuscripts, and no hope of publication or serious recognition. Sherwood Anderson came and quite simply and directly as is his way told her what he thought of her work and what it had meant to him in his development. He told it to her then and what was even rarer he told it in print immediately after. Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson have always been the best of friends but I do not believe even he realizes how much his visit meant to her.’

When the Andersons went back to America, they told others of the wonders of postwar Paris. They sent a young reporter, Ernest Hemingway, 22, and his new wife Hadley, 29, to Stein. A few years later, Hemingway brought successful novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, 24, and his wife Zelda, 21, to Stein. And so the influx of American writers and their wives to 27 rue de Fleurus began:

‘The geniuses came and talked to Gertrude Stein and the wives sat with me. How they unroll, an endless vista thru the years…Hadley and Pauline Hemingway and Mrs. Sherwood Anderson, and Mrs. Bravig Imbs and the Mrs. Ford Maddox Ford and endless others, geniuses, near geniuses and might be geniuses, all having wives, and I have sat and talked with them all all the wives…’

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

This fall, I will be teaching a class in the first semester of the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute [OLLI], ‘Such Friends’:  The Literary 1920s in Dublin, London, Paris and New York.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, ‘Such Friends’: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

To read about American writers, Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

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