“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, June, 1921, en route to and in Paris

Everyone’s coming to Paris…

Harvard undergraduate Virgil Thomson, 24, is thrilled to be headed to Paris for the first time on the European tour of the Harvard Glee Club—the first such extensive tour by any American university choral group. He’s the accompanist, but also an understudy for the conductor, Dr. Archibald T. “Doc” Davison, 37, who has led the 63-year-old choir for the past two years.

The Glee Club will be traveling through France for four weeks, then three more weeks in Switzerland and Italy. Playing 23 concerts at major venues in 12 major cities.

Harvard Glee Club logo

But what Virgil is looking forward to most is staying on in Paris after the Glee Club goes back to America.

This tour came about because French history professor Bernard Fay, 28, who had been at Harvard, managed to get the French Foreign Office to issue an official invitation to the Club.

In addition to meeting their steamer when they dock at 2 am, Fay will be able to introduce Virgil to those in Paris who he needs to know, particularly French composers such as Darius Milhaud, 28, and Francis Poulenc, 22.

Thanks to a teaching fellowship, Virgil will be staying on in Paris for a full year to study composition with renowned composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger, 33. What an opportunity. He’ll be staying with a French family at first, but then hopes to find his own flat near Boulanger’s studio on the Right Bank.

Nadia Boulanger

*****

Artist Marcel Duchamp, 33, on the other hand, is heading for home.

Marcel has been living in and around New York City for the past six years. After his painting Nude Descending a Staircase was such a big hit at the 1913 Armory Show, he was able to finance a trip to the States and leverage his newfound fame to acquire artist friends and valuable patrons, Walter, 43, and Louise Arensberg, 42. As owners of the building where he has a studio, the Arensbergs agreed to take one of Duchamp’s major paintings, The Large Glass, in lieu of rent.

Duchamp’s English wasn’t good at first, but supporting himself by giving French lessons helped to improve it quickly.

Marcel feels it’s time to go back home to Paris. Even just for a few months.

The Large Glass by Marcel Duchamp

*****

After a stop in London, the Fitzgeralds are now in Paris.

In England, Scott, 24, wasn’t particularly impressed with his fellow Scribner’s novelist John Galsworthy, 53, whom he met at his home in Hampstead.

Scott and his wife Zelda aren’t really impressed with Paris either. The managers of the Hotel Saint-James-et-d’Albany where they are staying complain when Zelda blocks the elevator door on their floor so it will be available for her.

The real problem with this trip, though, is that Zelda is sick all the time. And pregnant.

*****

American novelist Sherwood Anderson, 44, and his wife, Tennessee, 47, on the other hand, are having a ball on their first trip to Paris. They’ve seen a terrific exhibit of work by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, 39. Visited Chartres. Met American ex-patriate poet Ezra Pound, 35. They were more impressed by the Chartres cathedral than they were by Pound.

What Sherwood is really looking forward to, however, is using the letter of introduction he just received from the American owner of Shakespeare & Co., Sylvia Beach, 34, to meet her friend and fellow American, writer Gertrude Stein, 47. He has read some of Stein’s pieces in the “little mags” that he’s found back in Chicago and has learned so much from her radical style.

In exchange, Sherwood is helping Sylvia send out prospectuses to all the Americans he can think of, soliciting subscriptions for her upcoming publication of Ulysses, the scandalous novel by the Irish ex-patriate, James Joyce, 39.

Prospectus for Ulysses

*****

Recent Yale graduate Thornton Wilder, 24, and his sister, Isabel, 21, both writers, have been in Paris since the beginning of the month. During his recent eight-month residency at the American Academy in Rome, where he studied archaeology and Italian, Thornton started on his first novel, The Cabala.

Now that they are in Paris, Thornton and Isabel are signed up as members of Shakespeare & Co.’s lending library and they have made friends with Sylvia, thanks to a letter of introduction he carried from his friend, poet Stephen Vincent Benet, 22.

Sylvia has offered to introduce Thornton to Joyce, whom he has seen in her shop.

Thornton refused. Joyce always looks as though he doesn’t want to be interrupted.

Right now, Thornton’s biggest concern is finding a new place to live. The Hotel du Maroc, where they have been since they arrived, is crawling with bedbugs.

Thornton Wilder, Yale University graduation photo

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volume I covering 1920 is available on Amazon in print and e-book versions. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

This summer I will be talking about The Literary 1920s in the Osher Lifelong Learning programs at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and e-book formats.

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

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