At first, it all seemed so interesting.
Writer Andre Breton, 26, was fascinated by the seances he was introduced to by his friend, poet Rene Crevel, 22.
Crevel had passed out during a séance he took part in when on holiday in Normandy last month. After he told Breton and his wife, Simone, 25, about his experience they were eager to try it themselves and enlisted another young poet Robert Desnos, 22, in their activities.
Here at the Bretons’ fourth floor apartment, the walls covered with paintings and objects by their friends—Francis Picabia, 43, Pablo Picasso, 40, Man Ray, 32—small groups of artists and writers get together almost every evening to play games and practice artistic experiments, such as automatic writing. When their married hosts retire to bed, poet Louis Aragon, just turned 25, and others stay up late and hit the local bars.
Louis Aragon, Robert Desnos, and Andre Breton
But now these nightly seances are getting a bit out of hand. The young poets keep fighting, accusing each other of faking their trances, mostly to get Breton’s attention. The neighbors complained about the noise so much, Simone had to bribe the concierge to avoid eviction. Desnos claims he can commune with their friend, painter Marcel Duchamp, 35, in New York City; Crevel says he can predict the future. He predicted that some of the others would get sick—and they did. Picabia and Aragon have decided to stay away.
At another apartment one night, 10 participants go into a trance and try to hang themselves.
Breton figures, enough. He’ll get a good article out of this for the magazine he re-launched earlier this year, Litterature, and then he’ll take off with Simone for a holiday in Spain.
Andre Breton’s studio at 42 rue Fontaine
Near Madrid, about 20 minutes by tram from city centre, at the Residencia de Estudiantes—commonly known as “the Resi”—young male students from the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts who live here walk around in British-style suits with short, trim, haircuts.
First year art student Salvador Dali, 18, from Figueres, Catalonia, skinny and five foot seven, walks around in early 19th century English knee breeches, a long velvet coat to his knees and floppy neckties, sporting a wide-brimmed hat and a gilded cane.
Salvador Dali’s student ID card
Despite his unconventional appearance, Dali is accepted into the conversation groups of the clique known as the Ultra. They publish a student magazine of the same name.
Dali has made particular friends with one of the group members, Luis Bunuel, 22, from Aragon, who has been at the Academy for five years now. Luis has bounced around to different universities, taking up various fields of study—Engineering, Agriculture—but is enjoying his time here, wandering the city streets at night and visiting brothels.
Dali on the other hand has religiously been spending his Sunday mornings in the Prado museum, where he uses pencil and paper to sketch and analyse the works of the great masters.
His new friends in the Ultra gossip all the time about another of their number, writer Frederico Garcia Lorca, 24, who is away this semester but will be returning in January.
Bunuel tells Dali that he will definitely be impressed by Lorca and learn a lot of from him. And that he definitely should re-think those clothes.
Salvador Dali surrounded by his college friends
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA and on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early next year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, and about The Literary 1920s in Paris and New York City at the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.