‘Such Friends’:  Review of A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

As soon as I brought my signed copy of A Secret Sisterhood home, I did exactly what you would expect—read the last chapter, about the friendship of Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, of course.

When I was researching the ‘such friends’ of early 20th century writers’ salons, I had to draw lines somewhere. A lot of really interesting characters just outside the groups, like Mansfield, had to be left behind. Now I had a great chance to build on what I already knew about Virginia.

With excellent primary research, Midorikawa and Sweeney do a great job of dispelling the myth that ‘there could only have been room for one woman at the top. And so Katherine Mansfield was branded Virginia’s enemy.’

It was interesting to discover that Mansfield had her own version of Gertrude Stein’s Alice B. Toklas:  the ever-loyal Ida Constance Baker who stuck by her ‘Star.’ Unlike Toklas, who learned about their paintings by dusting them, Ida was a terrible housekeeper.

Blue plaque at Hogarth House and me

In front of Hogarth House in Richmond, where Virginia and Leonard hosted Katherine Mansfield

Now that I have been writing and editing for the authors’ blog, Something Rhymed, I decided it was time to go back and read about the other literary friendships they chronicled:  Jane Austen and her niece’s governess, the amateur playwright Anne Sharp; Charlotte Bronte and the amazing Mary Taylor, the early feminist author who taught piano to young, single German men; and George Eliot and the American author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

They did not disappoint.

Midorikawa and Sweeney justify their exploration of these four pairs by pointing out that there has been plenty written about male literary friendships, including by me in this blog—the poets W B Yeats and George ‘AE’ Russell of the Irish Literary Renaissance, playwrights Marc Connelly and George S Kaufman of the Algonquin Round Table, and, of course, the ubiquitous novelists Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald of the Americans in Paris.

The authors contrast the Hemingway-Fitzgerald pairing mostly being characterized as ‘combative friends,’ but Woolf and Mansfield are identified as ‘bitter foes.’

I’m a big fan of primary research, and this book shows how it pays off. The descriptions of the homes and hangouts of the writers, particularly Austen’s brother’s Godmersham Park, ring true, reflecting the first-hand experience of the writers.

Godmersham Park

Aerial view of Godmersham Park

They also made a point of investigating all available correspondence between friends and family, ‘reading between the lines’ of handwritten letters to build a more accurate picture of the relationships, rather than falling back on the ‘bitter foes’ theory often ascribed to women writers.

You can feel their excitement when they describe finding important notes tucked away in a diary and pointing out nuggets that later show up in the writers’ novels.

Midorikawa and Sweeney also do what I always try to do—stick to the facts. Phrases such as ‘It seems possible that…,’ and ‘It’s tempting to imagine…’ are much preferable to invented conversation or blatant assumptions presented as real. Words such as ‘if,’ ‘may,’ ‘would’ allow the reader to draw their own conclusions.

They also face the same problem that I have had—too many characters! Sometimes the extended family relationships distract from the focus on a specific friendship. It’s hard enough keeping track of my husband’s relatives, let alone Eliot’s.

The excellent background and social history in each section is reminiscent of Who Do You Think You Are? with its abandoned single mothers and children relegated to the workhouse. And cliff-hangers at the end of chapters make the reader eager to find out what happens next.

A Secret Sisterhood leaves you wanting more—so buy it, read it, and then sign up to follow the blog, Something Rhymed!

Secret Sisterhood BF AW 2.indd

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

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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‘Such Friends’: May, 1925

In England…

Virginia Woolf, 43, is anticipating the reviews for her fourth novel, Mrs. Dalloway, which she and her husband Leonard, 44, have just published at their own Hogarth Press, with another cover by her sister, Vanessa Bell, 45.

mrs dalloway original cover

She has been working on it for the past three years, building on short stories she had written, and experimenting with stream of consciousness. The beginning of this year was spent on the rewriting, which, she had confided to her diary, was

‘the dullest part…most depressing & exacting.’

Leonard is enthusiastic. He feels it is Virginia’s best work. But he has to think that, doesn’t he?

Last month, the Woolfs had brought out a collection of her critical essays, The Common Reader, also with a Vanessa cover. Virginia had worried that it would receive

‘a dull chill depressing reception [and be] a complete failure.’

Actually, there have been good reviews in the Manchester Guardian and the Observer newspapers, and sales are beginning to pick up a bit.

The-Common-Reader- cover 1st ed

The ten-year-old Hogarth Press is doing quite well, having survived a succession of different assistants. They had published 16 titles the previous year and are on schedule for more this year. In addition to writing their most successful works, Virginia has been closely involved with the choice of manuscripts among those submitted by eager novelists and poets, as well as setting the type. She finds it calming.

Despite the stress of a new publication, physically Virginia is feeling quite well. She and Leonard have been busy in London with Hogarth, but also getting out and about with family and friends. Fellow writer Lytton Strachey, 45, had praised The Common Reader, but thinks that Mrs. Dalloway is just

‘a satire of a shallow woman.’

Virginia noted in her diary,

‘It’s odd that when…the others (several of them) say it is a masterpiece, I am not much exalted; when Lytton picks holes, I get back into my working fighting mood.’

Virginia’s literary competition with Lytton—he has always outsold her—is motivating her to get to work on her next major novel. She’s thinking of writing about her childhood, and the summers the family spent on the Cornish coast.

In France…

Ernest Hemingway, 25, is regretting having snapped up the offer from the first publisher he’d heard from, Boni & Liveright. He’d been so thrilled to get their letter when he was skiing in Austria that he’d accepted the next day. His first collection of stories and poems, in our time, had been published last year by Three Mountains Press, a small company operating on Paris’ Left Bank. But Boni & Liveright was a major American publisher who wanted to bring it out as In Our Time and have first shot at his next work.

In_our_time_Paris_edition_1924

When he’d returned with his wife, Hadley, 33, to their Paris apartment there were wonderful letters waiting for him from Maxwell Perkins, 40, senior editor at rival publisher Scribner’s.

In addition, Ernest has just met one of Scribner’s top authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 28, who had recommended him to Perkins as long as a year ago. Fitzgerald was happy to share with Hemingway his inside info about the world of New York publishing, telling him that Scribner’s would be a much better choice than Boni & Liveright.

However, that first meeting with Fitzgerald in the Le Dingo bar hadn’t impressed Ernest much. Scott had been wearing Brooks Brothers and drinking champagne, but he kept praising the poems and stories of Hemingway’s that he had read, to the point where it was embarrassing. Then he asked Ernest whether he had slept with Hadley before they got married, turned white, and passed out. Ernest and his friends had rolled Scott into a taxi.

But on their second meeting, at Closerie des Lilas, Fitzgerald was fine. Intelligent. Witty. Interested in the Hemingways’ living conditions—in a rundown apartment without water or electricity above a sawmill on rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. Ernest decides it might be alright to take his new friend to the salon he frequents at the home of another American writer, Gertrude Stein, 51, and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 48, on rue de Fleurus, near the Luxembourg Gardens. Gertrude hates drunks.

Scott had asked Ernest to come along on a trip to Lyon to recover a Renault he had had to leave at a garage there, and Hemingway is thinking of going. After all, Fitzgerald says he’ll cover all the expenses.

His latest novel, The Great Gatsby, published by Scribner’s just last month, is not doing as well as Scott and his wife Zelda, 24, had hoped. Selling out the first print run of almost 21,000 copies would cancel his debt to his publisher, but they are hoping for four times that.

great gatsby original cover

He has discovered that Perkins’ cable to him claiming that the early reviews are good had been a bit optimistic, and sales aren’t going great.

Scott is worried that he is reaching his peak already.

In America…

Perkins is writing to Fitzgerald,

‘It is too bad about Hemingway,’

regretting losing a promising novelist to a rival.

But he’s even more concerned about the mixed reviews for Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. The New York Times has called it

‘a long short story’;

the Herald Tribune,

‘an uncurbed melodrama’;

and the World,

‘a dud,’

in the headline no less. Even H L Mencken, 44, who can usually be relied on for some insight in the Chicago Tribune, has dismissed it as a

‘glorified anecdote.’

Chicago Tribune May 24 1925

And FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, 43], the most widely read columnist in Manhattan, says it is just a

‘dull tayle’

about rich and famous drunks.

However, FPA is not known for fulsome praise. Back in February he had prepared the readers of his Conning Tower column for the launch of a new magazine, The New Yorker, by saying that

‘most of it seemed too frothy for my liking.’

He didn’t mention that he had written some of the froth to help out his friends who were starting the publication. For the past couple months he’s been going weekly into the magazine’s shabby office to choose the poetry. There have been some funny pieces by one of his own discoveries, Dorothy Parker, 31, but he doesn’t give it much hope of lasting.

The New Yorker cover may 9 1925

By now, sales of The New Yorker have gone from an initially respectable 15,000 to about half that. And the founder-editor, Harold Ross, 31, has had to cut the size to only 24 pages to save money.

But FPA can’t be bothered worrying about his friends’ losing business ventures. After finishing off a bad marriage earlier this year, he’s getting married!

Parker, Ross and all the others who gather for lunch at the midtown Algonquin Hotel daily, and for poker there weekly, have ventured out to Connecticut for the wedding.

Just yesterday, Ross’s chief investors decided to pull the plug on the magazine. Why throw good money after bad?

But, discussing their decision at the wedding, Ross and his main funder, Raoul Fleischmann, 39, start thinking that it may be too early to give up. Raoul says he’ll cough up enough to keep The New Yorker going through the summer, and then they can decide.

At the end of the day, FPA and his bride head back to the city, and he goes, as usual, to his Saturday night poker game and loses the money saved up for their honeymoon.

Donald Brace, 43, co-founder of Harcourt, Brace & Co., isn’t worried about funding, but he is anticipating reviews of two books he has just published:  Virginia Woolf’s essays, The Common Reader, and novel, Mrs. Dalloway.

Mrs. D Harcourt Brace cover

They have had success with Woolf before, but this is the first time that publication is simultaneous in the US and the UK.

The New York Times has raved about both Mrs. Dalloway and The Common Reader, comparing Woolf’s essay style to that of Lytton’s.

The Saturday Review of Literature calls the novel

‘coherent, lucid, and enthralling’

and wants her to write a piece for them about American fiction.

Virginia and Leonard will be pleased.

 

 

How Could Gertrude Stein Write The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and What’s with Those Brownies?

[A Secret Sisterhood:  The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf, by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney [Aurum Press, 2017], is now out in paperback. Midorikawa and Sweeney run the blog, Something Rhymed, about female literary friendships, so it seemed this would be a good time to post a piece I wrote a few years ago about the famous duo, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Although they were much more than friends.]

If an autobiography is someone’s own life story, how can one person write an autobiography of someone else? Did Gertrude Stein goof in her title?

If you want to read it yourself—and it’s a great, fun read—skip the ending of this blog which gives away Gertrude’s ending.

And besides, Gertrude could do anything she wanted. She was a genius. And Alice knew it.

Gertrude Stein was an American writer who spent almost her entire adult life living in Paris with her partner—Yes, they were gay!—Alice B. Toklas, also an American. They were so close that their joint biographer Diana Souhami [Gertrude and Alice, I. B. Tauris, 2009] says that from the day they met,

“They were together until Gertrude’s death. They never traveled without each other or entertained separately, or worked on independent projects.”

Like me, Gertrude was born in Pittsburgh, PA, although Alice said she should have been born in Oakland, CA. Her family moved west to the Bay area when Gertrude was only a baby. Dad made a bunch of money on the San Francisco trolley car system and then died. Her oldest brother Michael was such a good money manager that she and her other brother, Leo, were able to move to Paris right after the turn of the last century, live pretty well and collect art. They were known around town as the crazy Americans who wore sandals and bought weird paintings by unknown artists—Picasso, Braque, Matisse.

Stein family

The Stein family

Leo and Gert are the first two on the left.

Alice also grew up in San Francisco, although the two did not meet until she came to visit friends in Paris in 1907, soon after the San Francisco earthquake. When she was introduced to Gertrude, she says she heard bells ring. She always heard bells ring when she met a genius, and Gertrude was her first genius. The second was Picasso, whom Gertrude introduced Alice to the next day.

After Alice moved in, Leo felt it was getting a bit crowded in their apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus on the Left Bank of Paris, so he moved out soon after.

Gertrude would sit up late at night at her writing table, under a Cezanne, trying to do in written portraits what Cezanne had done on canvas. Alice would get up early, type up the copy, note some changes in the margin, plan the meals and chores for the day, and dust the paintings. She said she learned all about the paintings by dusting them. In the evenings they would host salons and invite the artists to come see their paintings, hanging two deep on the walls.

Gert and Alice with the paintings

Gertrude and Alice at home with the paintings

During World War I Gert and Alice ordered a car from the States—they called her Godiva—and volunteered for the Red Cross ambulance service. They were both honored for their work by the French government after the war.

When the war ended in 1918, the GIs came back to the States with tales of the beauties of France and were slapped in the face with Prohibition. What better plan than to go right back to Paris where it was really cheap to live and you could drink? As a result, Americans flooded Paris in the 1920s. They sat around drinking in cafes, got into brawls in the street, and were the subject of nasty letters to the editors by the French. No wonder they hate us now.

Some of Gertrude’s avant-garde writings were being published back home in the States, so the American writers came to her house to listen to her expound on her theories of modernistic writing and eat Alice’s little cakes.

Novelists Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, the photographer/painter Man Ray, and the composer Virgil Thomson were among the creative people who would come to the Saturday night salons. Alice would answer the door, ask who had sent you, and, if she let you in, she might allow you to sit within the charmed circle around Gertrude. But your wife would be ushered into a separate corner of the large room to chat with Alice.

“I had often said that I would write, The wives of geniuses I have sat with,”

says Alice in the Autobiography.

The line

“A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”

appeared in one of Stein’s poems written in the early twenties, “Sacred Emily.” Ever on the lookout for ways to promote Stein’s brand, Alice took the phrase and arranged it in a circle to appear on Gertrude’s stationery, creating a logo for her work.

Gertrude's letterhead

Gertrude’s letterhead, designed by Alice

At the end of the 1920s, Alice got tired of cleaning up after the messy writers. Some of them, like Thomson, received Gertrude’s personal engraved cards with a note from Alice:

“Miss Stein declines further acquaintance with Mr. Thomson.”

That was that.

Virgil and Gert working together

Gert and Virgil working together on the opera Four Saints in Three Acts

Gert kept badgering Alice to write the story of her life, because she had had the privilege of spending most of it with geniuses, but Alice was too busy taking care of Gertrude. So in 1932, at their summer home in the French countryside, in six weeks Gertrude sat down and wrote her most popular book.

Friends of hers in the States arranged to have it published by Harcourt Brace and, at the age of 58, Gertrude Stein was a huge hit. Her friends convinced her and Alice to come on a triumphant tour of the country they had both left behind almost 30 years before. When they arrived in New York, Gertrude’s name was up in lights in Times Square and the newspaper headlines read:

Gerty Gerty Stein Stein Is Back Home Home Back.”

She introduced Alice as “my secretary” everywhere they went, although Alice ran all the details of the tour like the control freak she really was.

Back in Paris during World War II, they invited American soldiers to come to their salon.  They got to know a lot of writers and painters who turned out to not be as talented or famous as the ones who had come earlier.

After World War II, the US government sent Gert and Alice on a tour of American bases in Europe but towards the end, Gertrude became really ill. Rushed to the American Hospital in Paris, she was operated on but they found that her cancer was too far along.  Before she died, she turned to Alice and said,

“What is the answer?”

Alice didn’t say anything.

“In that case, what is the question?”

Alice was devastated but devoted the rest of her life to guarding Gertrude’s memory. In her old age Alice began doing some writing herself, mostly memoirs. Neither she nor Gertrude had ever been devout Jews, and Alice started practicing Catholicism with the rationale that she would be reunited with Gertrude in heaven. When she checked in for a retreat at a convent, at the age of 83 still chain-smoking Pall Malls, a copy of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita fell out of her suitcase.

Alice finally died at the ripe old age of ninety and is buried in Pere Lechaise cemetery.  She’s not anywhere near Jimi Hendrix; she’s right where she always was—directly behind Gertrude, for eternity.

gertrude stein grave

Gertrude’s grave

What’s with those brownies?

 

The writers and artists all remembered Alice’s cooking fondly and in the 1950s convinced her to put together a cookbook of her own recipes as well as others from the people who came to the salons.

Painter Brian Gysin, who was just a passing acquaintance, sent along the recipe:

“Haschich Fudge

(which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)

This is the food of Paradise…it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR…”

Alice was in a hurry to get her manuscript to the publisher, and hadn’t tested any of the recipes, so she just slipped this one in.

Right before publication, someone at the American publishing house pointed out that hashish was a controlled substance, and Alice was mortified. It was taken out of the American edition, but her British publisher left it in. Some clever reviewers felt that this explained a lot about Gertrude’s writings.

There was a Peter Sellers movie in the 60s based on this myth—We Love You Alice B. Toklas. But neither Gert nor Alice ever needed drugs to alter their view of reality.

 

The ending of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas:

 

“I am a pretty good housekeeper and a pretty good gardener and a pretty good needlewoman and pretty good secretary and a pretty good editor, and a pretty good vet for dogs and I have to do them all at once and I find it difficult to add being a pretty good author. About six weeks ago Gertrude Stein said, it does not look to me as if you were ever going to write that autobiography. You know what I am going to do. I am going to write it for you. I am going to write it as simply as Defoe did the autobiography of Robinson Crusoe. And she has and this is it.”

me-at-stein-house

Gertrude Stein’s house, on the North Side of Pittsburgh, and me

To read more 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.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

 

 

 

‘Such Friends’: American writers in 1919

France, May, 1919

In Paris, leaders of the allied countries from the Great War are meeting to carve up their defeated adversary, Germany.

Paris Peace Conference in Versailles

Paris Peace Conference in the Palace of Versailles

On the Left Bank, near the Luxembourg Gardens, Gertrude Stein, 45, and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, just turned 42, are settling back in to their home at 27 rue de Fleurus. They hope to re-start the Saturday evening salons they held to display and discuss the latest artworks they have been buying from their artist friends such as Pablo Picasso, 37, and Henri Matisse, 49. But it’s a different Paris than the one they left. As their friend, English art critic Clive Bell, 37, remarked,

They say that an awful lot of people were killed in the war but it seems to me that an extraordinarily large number of grown men and women have suddenly been born.’

Gert and Alice with the paintings

Stein and Toklas with their paintings at 27 rue de Fleurus

American vicar’s daughter Sylvia Beach, 32, is finishing up her field work with the Red Cross and writing to her Paris friend about starting a bookstore. Her mother will advance her the money. Beach wants to sell the latest American books, but can’t decide whether to open in New York or London.

Sylvia Beach 1919

Sylvia Beach

In another part of Paris, the US Army newspaper The Stars and Stripes, by American servicemen for American servicemen, is winding down. A big farewell banquet has been held, with Alexander Woollcott, 32, who will be going back to his job as New York Times drama critic, and Franklin Pierce Adams [FPA], 37, who will be returning to his must-read column, ‘The Conning Tower’ in the New York Tribune. Stars and Stripes editor Harold Ross, 26, is waiting in Marseilles to sail home to Manhattan, hoping to meet up again with the New York Times’ Jane Grant, just turning 27, whom he has been courting in Paris.

Stars and Stripes montage 1918

 

America, June, 1919

In St. Paul, Minnesota, on Summit Avenue, recently discharged serviceman F. Scott Fitzgerald, 22, is back home. He’s quit his job at the New York advertising agency Barron Collier, determined to finish his first novel, now called The Education of a Personage. Fitzgerald has received excellent advice, in letters and in person, from Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins, 34, and really wants to be published before the end of the year. He feels that will help him win back his ex-fiancee, Zelda Sayre, 18, of Montgomery, Alabama.

Fitz as soldier

Scott Fitzgerald in the Army

In a cabin near Ephraim, Wisconsin, Sherwood Anderson, 42, who has spent most of his life working in advertising, is camping with his wife Tennessee, 45. Anderson has been pleasantly surprised by the success of his third novel, Winesburg, Ohio, published last month. But the pressure of writing it, and now starting another, has been too much, and he feels he has to get away.

anderson

Sherwood Anderson

Farther south, in Oak Park, Illinois, another would-be writer home from the war, Ernest Hemingway, 19, has also been dumped by his fiancée, Agnes von Karowsky, 27. She was his nurse when he was injured as a Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy, and he was convinced they would marry back in the States. Von Karowsky has told him that she is now engaged to someone else, but he is writing to her again anyway, ever hopeful. Mostly he’s looking forward to going fishing for the first time in two years.

hemingway ambulance driver

Ernest Hemingway as an ambulance driver

In New York’s Greenwich Village, Margaret Anderson, 32, and Jane Heap, 36, publishers of The Little Review, are ignoring the censors and continuing to publish excerpts from Ulysses, the latest work by Irish writer James Joyce, 37, living in Zurich. They feel it is important literature, and are confident that their attorney, John Quinn, 48, will win their case in court.

littlereview Ulysses announcement

Initial announcement of Ulysses in The Little Review

In midtown, Vanity Fair’s publishers, Conde Nast, 46, and Frank Crowninshield, turning 47, on an extended fact-finding trip to Europe, have left new managing editor Robert Benchley, 29, in charge. He has been publishing parodies of regular Vanity Fair articles, and awarding bonuses to his colleagues, theatre critic Dorothy Parker, 25, and movie critic Robert Sherwood, 23.

Vanity Fair June 1919

Vanity Fair cover, June 1919

Parker has been invited to a luncheon at the nearby Algonquin Hotel. A press agent, to promote his client, new playwright Eugene O’Neill, 30, has asked the most important writers in Manhattan to lunch to welcome the Times drama critic, Woollcott, back from the war, and Parker has insisted that her new co-workers come along.

At lunch, Woollcott, who weighs only 195 for the last time in his life, has no interest in talking about anyone but himself and his exploits in the ‘theatre of war,’ of which he is inordinately proud.

To get back at him for monopolizing this meeting, and get more publicity, the PR flack invites other well-known critics from New York’s many publications to a big gathering at the Hotel. There are 12 dailies in Manhattan and five in Brooklyn. When 35 people show up, the hotel manager puts them at a big round table in the back of the dining room.

Tribune drama critic Heywood Broun, 30, and his wife, journalist Ruth Hale, 32, who had honeymooned by covering the war in France, are there. Tribune columnist FPA is invited as a personal friend of Woollcott.

In the next few weeks, their Stars and Stripes editor, Ross, joins the regular lunches. George S. Kaufman, 29, who works under Woollcott at the Times, comes and brings his playwriting partner Marc Connelly, 28.

When lunch is over, somebody says,

Why don’t we do this every day?’

And they do, for the next nine years.

hirshfield alg

The Algonquin Round Table by Al Hirschfeld

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

‘Such Friends’: February, 1922

New York City, February, 1922

 

John Quinn, 51, has received a cable from James Joyce, just turned 40, in Paris:

Ulysses published. Thanks.

Bit of an understatement.

joyce pound ford quinn

James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, and John Quinn in Paris

 

Quinn has been supporting Joyce financially, legally, and sometimes emotionally, while he was writing the novel. He’d even gone to court for the right of The Little Review to publish ‘obscene’ chapters. Quinn didn’t win that legal battle, but felt that getting the publishers off with a $100 fine was itself a victory.

He cables back right away,

Congratulations publication Ulysses. Best wishes. Write soon.

Then he starts composing an angry letter to the woman who had taken the risk to publish Ulysses, American ex-patriate Sylvia Beach, 35, owner of the Left Bank bookstore, Shakespeare & Co. He is a bit annoyed that she has written to him about Joyce:

If Joyce wants to write to me at any time it is open to him to do so and not through you.

Joyce and Beach at Sh and Co

Sylvia Beach and James Joyce in her bookshop, Shakespeare & Co.

But what has made him even angrier is that in her most recent letter she has asked whether Ulysses’ US copyright is covered by the publication of the chapters in The Little Review.

Quinn reminds her that he has already told Joyce, often, that it is. However, her advertisement for the novel in the magazine might set off the censors again! Now the customs authorities will be watching all the post from Paris to New York.

Quinn paid for his own 14 copies in advance, telling Beach,

They will become my property and then I must be consulted as to how they are to be sent here…[Set them aside] carefully wrapped up, and held subject to my order.

He then suggests ways copies might be smuggled into the US via Canada.

Now Quinn has to focus on his problem right here in New York:  John Butler Yeats, painter and father of his friend, poet William Butler Yeats, 56, whom he has been supporting for the past 14 years of his self-imposed exile in Manhattan, has died, aged 82. Quinn’s ‘assistant’ (and lover), Mrs. Jeanne Foster, 42, has been watching over JB in his lodgings on West 29th Street the past two days, and he succumb in the night.

William_Butler_Yeats_by_John_Butler_Yeats_1900

W B Yeats by his father John Butler Yeats, 1900

john butler yeats self portrait

John Butler Yeats’ self-portrait

Quinn and Foster have to deal with the doctor, the friends, the visitors—and what about the funeral? New York or Dublin?

***

Downtown from Quinn’s 11-room Central Park West apartment, lunch is on at The Algonquin Hotel. For the past three years, the writers and freelancers who work for nearby newspapers and magazines—Life, Vogue, the World—come by to have lunch and trade quips.

Dorothy Parker, 28, nee Rothschild, is trying to calculate if she can afford a half-order of the eggs. Her friends are carefully avoiding discussing her recent suicide attempt. The fact that she had ordered dinner to be delivered from the nearby Alps Restaurant just before she tried to slit her wrists with her husband’s dull razor, makes it more drama than tragedy.

hirshfield alg

The Algonquin Round Table by Al Hirschfeld

Parker’s main supporter, fellow free-lancer and former Vanity Fair writer, Robert Benchley, 32, is one of the few who had come to see her in the hospital. Bench had told her,

Go easy on this suicide stuff. First thing you know, you’ll ruin your health.

parkerbenchley cartoon

Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley

***

Farther down in midtown, in Scribner’s offices on Fifth Avenue, editor Maxwell Perkins, 37, is planning to have a discussion with his current star author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 25.

Fitzgerald’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, is about to come out. Perkins feels it is a good follow up to his first, The Far Side of Paradise. Now the editor thinks Fitzgerald could take a different turn, and, discussing the advertising for Damned, Perkins tells him,

We ought to…get away altogether from the flapper idea.

fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Maxwell_Perkins_NYWTS free to use

Maxwell Perkins

***

Farther down Manhattan, at JB Yeats’ rooms in Chelsea, Quinn and Foster are beginning to sort through the late painter’s belongings, waiting for instructions as to whether JB should be sent to Ireland or laid to rest here in his adopted home, New York.

Quinn is composing a telegram to the Yeats sisters in Dublin:

Regret your father passed away this morning 7 o’clock…The end came in sleep without pain or struggle. After conference please cable desires about burial…Everything was done for his comfort and peace of mind and he had best possible medical attention.

Next, he sends the details to the painter’s son, Willie, currently in Oxford, adding,

He fought bravely for life but it was almost hopeless since Wednesday. His mind was unclouded and his spirits buoyant until the end.

440px-Jeanne_Robert_Foster,_by_John_Butler_Yeats

Jeanne Foster by John Butler Yeats

johnquinn

John Quinn

 

Dublin, February, 1922

 

In Dundrum, south Dublin, Lily, 55, and Lolly Yeats, 53, read the telegram they had been dreading from their American friend, John Quinn.

Lily and Lolly Yeats

Lily and Lolly Yeats

They knew that Quinn had worried that the old man would die ‘on his watch.’ Right now, they feel nothing but gratitude for all Quinn has done for him.

Of course, they will need to check with their brother Willie in Oxford, but agree that it is best to advise Quinn to handle the funeral arrangements in New York.

 

London, February, 1922

 

Everyone has the flu.

The Times reports that 13,000 people in England and Wales have died since Christmas. They caution that one of the symptoms is a ‘tendency to “feel the heart”—ie., to palpitations,’ and that anyone suspecting they have contracted the disease should take to their beds at once. Just last month they had reported that Pope Benedict XV, 67, had died from influenza that turned into pneumonia.

Pope Benedict xv

Pope Benedict XV

***

T. S. Eliot, 33, is trying to get his new long poem published. As soon as he returned home last month, reinvigorated by a three-month leave spent in Switzerland, he had been laid low with the influenza for a good ten days. At least that meant time away from his dreaded office at Lloyds Bank so he could work on finishing off The Waste Land.

Eliot has been corresponding with The Dial magazine in the States, but is leery about the deal on offer. He feels he had been burned a few years ago by a contract with Alfred Knopf that John Quinn had negotiated for him. Now he is using his friend Ezra Pound, 36, as a go between.

T.S.-Eliot-and-Ezra-Pound

T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound

***

In the southwest suburb of Richmond, Virginia Woolf, just turned 40, is devastated that she is spending the first months of this year as she had the previous summer—in bed. She confides to her diary,

 I have taken it into my head that I shan’t live till 70…Suppose, I said to myself the other day[,] this pain over my heart wrung me out like a dish cloth & left me dead?

The flu had hit her just a few weeks before her 40th birthday, which made her acutely aware of the passage of time:

I feel time racing like a film at the Cinema. I try to stop it. I prod it with my pen. I try to pin it down.’

Her husband Leonard, 41, however supportive, insists on following the doctor’s instructions that she must stay in bed. But Virginia wants to be out in the cold air, walking, which means writing, because she works out her sentences in her head as she makes her way through the London streets.

Va and Leon

Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Virginia is thinking of experimenting with a tale of a woman walking through the city while preparing for a party, the passage of the hours marked by Big Ben’s bongs.

Her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, 42, hasn’t let her children’s flu keep her from her work. She is in Paris, again, for a painting holiday. Virginia writes to her,

For Gods [sic] sake make friends with Joyce. I particularly want to know what he’s like.’

She’d read parts of Ulysses when it had been submitted to her and Leonard for publication by their Hogarth Press. She can’t imagine what kind of working class man could write like that.

Va and V in Firle Park 1911

Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell

 

Paris, February, 1922

 

Newlyweds Hadley, 30, and Ernest Hemingway, 22, are back from a Switzerland skiing trip and settling in to their new fourth floor walk-up apartment at 74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine.

Hadley and Ernest Hemingway

Hadley and Ernest Hemingway

Ernest has taken an office on the Rue Mouffetard, a pleasant five-minute walk away. Going there on a regular schedule is the only way he is going to get any writing done.

After all, that’s why they came at the end of last year. Paris is so cheap, the exchange rate so good, and between his salary as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star, and his wife’s family money, they can afford an apartment, a studio, and dinner at local cafes every night. Great French food is 50 US cents for a meal; the wine only 60 centimes for a whole bottle.

Ernest is eager to get started on his writing career, and is planning to make good use of the contacts he had been given last summer back in Chicago by Sherwood Anderson, 45, author of the hit novel, Winesburg, Ohio.

Sherwood anderson and wife

Sherwood and Tennessee Anderson

Anderson and his wife, Tennessee, 48, had just come back to the States from Paris and encouraged the young Hemingways to follow in their footsteps. He gave Ernest an all-important letter of introduction to fellow American writer Gertrude Stein, celebrating her 48th birthday. Ernest and Hadley are gathering the courage to visit Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 44, soon.

Gert and Alice with the paintings

Alice B. Toklas and her partner Gertrude Stein with Picassos

 

***

Another expatriate, Kansas-born Robert McAlmon, 25, is in Paris, also with his new wealthy wife, Bryher, 27. As well as supporting himself as a writer with her inheritance, McAlmon intends to use her family money to publish other writers on the Left Bank.

McAlmon and Bryher

Bryher and Robert McAlmon

Soon after he came to Paris two years ago, McAlmon had struck up a close friendship with an Irishman, James Joyce. McAlmon had supported his new friend while he was struggling with his big novel, both financially and practically by helping with the typing of the manuscript.

But now that publication day—and Joyce’s big birthday—is nearing, McAlmon chickens out. He takes off for the Riviera. He figures he’ll just buy Joyce a present.

***

Standing on the platform at the Gare du Lyon, Sylvia Beach is waiting for the Paris-Dijon Express, due in at 7 am.

When she’d told Joyce that her printer in Dijon guaranteed to put the parcel in the post on 1st February, Joyce was not pleased. He insisted that the package be put on the train so the conductor can hand deliver it to Sylvia personally.

As the train approaches, Beach is working out her next steps in her head. She will get a taxi to Joyce’s apartment, to give him the 40th birthday present that he wants the most, the first copy of Ulysses. There is a small party planned for tonight at one of Joyce’s favorite restaurants, Ferraris. He and his partner, Nora Barnacle, 37, and a few friends will be celebrating his accomplishment, seven years in the making, the result of his relentless vision and the support of his family, Sylvia Beach…and John Quinn.

jas joyce sylvia beach

American Sylvia and her Irishman on rue de l’Odeon

K and T at rue de l'Odeon

American Kathleen and her Irishman on rue de l’Odeon

 

Review of Bohemian Lives: Three Extraordinary Women: Ida Nettleship, Sophie Brzeska, Fernande Olivier, by Amy Licence

Amy Licence, also the author of Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles, about the Bloomsbury group, has form for writing about late 19th and early 20th century European bohemians, my favourite topic. She has a real talent for telling stories about these three women whose lives overlapped, but never actually physically intersected.

By choosing the partners of three major artists of the time—Ida Nettleship’s husband, painter Augustus John; Sophie Brzeska’s partner, sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska; and Fernande Olivier’s lover, Picasso—Licence tells the story of the art and culture of the early 20th century through the lives of these women in unusual and unique relationships.

Ida Nettleship John

Ida Nettleship John (1877-1907)

I share her fascination with the possibility that the three women’s paths may have crossed in Paris:

Sophie, Ida and Fernande share so many friends and locations that it is tempting to speculate on their proximity; perhaps they followed a similar route through the Luxembourg Gardens or met mutual acquaintances in the same Montparnasse Café.

Gertrude Stein could have been strolling past them with her partner, Alice B. Toklas; Hadley and Ernest Hemingway could have been dining at the next table.

Sophie Brezska-Gaudier

Sophie Gaudier-Brzeska (1873-1925)

Licence bases her stories on solid research, and her descriptions of the buildings and neighbourhoods that these women inhabited come alive. She must have visited them personally to get the feel for the physical space surrounding her three heroines. Never underestimate the value of primary research.

Fernande Olivier

Fernande Olivier (1881-1966)

For me, it was a delight to see some of my writers—Stein, Roger Fry—appear, along with side characters I always wanted to know more about—artists Nina Hamnett and Gwen John, for example. And I felt the spirit of my John Quinn, Irish-American lawyer and collector of Augustus and Gwen John, as well as Gaudier-Brzeska, hovering in the background, supporting their work.

In a few spots, there is perhaps too much detail about the women’s extended families. Always interesting, but with so many fascinating characters, it’s hard to keep up.

Overall, a great read about three ‘extraordinary’ women in interesting circumstances. Who needs fiction?!

Bohemian Lives:  Three Extraordinary Women:  Ida Nettleship, Sophie Brzeska, Fernande Olivier, by Amy Licence (Amberley Publishing, 2017; £18.99)

 

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.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

 

‘Such Friends’:  New York City, May 1917

The May issue of Vanity Fair is on the newsstands in Manhattan.

vanity-fair-cover-may-1917

Vanity Fair, May 1917

On the Upper West Side, lawyer and art collector John Quinn, 46, is eager to get his copy and see in print the article he submitted, ‘James Joyce: A New Irish Novelist.’

Quinn had sent most of his friends copies of the new novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by Joyce, 35. Earlier this year, his piece had been rejected by the New York Sun for being too long. So he had submitted it to Vanity Fair, knowing that they did not shy away from challenging their readers. They’d published Gertrude Stein, 43, after all. Vanity Fair had accepted it, offering to donate the $65 fee to an Irish charity of Quinn’s choice.

Ha! Quinn feels he is done with Irish charity, having supported his artist, writer and political friends there financially and morally over the last few years. He told them to give the cash to French war orphans instead.

But Irishman-in-exile Joyce has become his pet project. Quinn had heard his Irish friends talk about him when visiting Dublin almost ten years ago. But it wasn’t till the American ex-patriate poet Ezra Pound, 31, had introduced him to Joyce’s writing that he vowed to champion this new prose in America. Through Pound in London, Quinn had managed to get $100 to a grateful Joyce, ill in Zurich, by buying the original manuscript for A Portrait. Quinn felt that buying manuscripts and paintings from developing writers and artists was a good way to support them as well as increase his own holdings.

Portrait_of_the_Artist_as_a_Young_Man

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Paging through the current issue of Vanity Fair, Quinn finds his article nestled among the ads for perfumes and deodorants, children’s shoes and rubber body suits for weight loss.

Farther down in mid-town, Dorothy Rothschild, 23, is grabbing her copy of Vanity Fair to see her latest poem, ‘Actresses:  A Hate Song’:

I hate actresses.

They get on my nerves.

There are the Adventuresses,

The Ladies with Lavender Pasts.

They wear gowns that show all their emotions,…’

She’s been getting a lot of mileage—and $12 a shot—out of this theme, starting with ‘Men:  A Hate Song’ in the same magazine over a year ago.

Dottie is actually on staff at Vanity Fair’s sister magazine, Vogue, both owned by Conde Nast publishing.  She spends her days writing captions such as,

‘Brevity is the soul of lingerie—as the Petticoat said to the chemise.’  

vogue-cover-may-1917 (1)

Vogue, May 1917

Rothschild would love to switch over to the more literary Vanity Fair, and submits poems to get their attention. But mostly she is thinking about her upcoming wedding to Wall Street stock broker Edwin Pond Parker II, 24, about a month away.

Is this a good time to get married? Just last month, America entered the war in Europe! At least she will be able to change her name.

Also in midtown, looking through this month’s issue, is another sometime Vanity Fair contributor, Robert Benchley, 27. In ‘The Alcoholic Drama’ he reviews a roundup of plays, including one he wasn’t so impressed with:

Somehow it drags. One has plenty of time…to look about the house and see who is there, and then come back to the play, without missing a stroke.’

Benchley has just been fired along with all his colleagues on the New York Tribune Magazine. He’d loved that job. They’d even encouraged him to play a corpse in a play so he could write an article about it.

But the publishers of the Tribune are big supporters of America’s involvement in the war, so they’d gotten rid of any staff who disagreed. Benchley is a pacifist; and with a wife and 18-month old son in the suburbs, he is exempt from military service.

Bob had seen the disaster coming, so has applied for a rumoured opening at Vanity Fair. But the editor is vague about whether this will materialize, so Benchley is thinking of creative ways to free-lance. Writing articles for the Atlantic Monthly, advertising copy, movie titles. Even becoming a press agent for Broadway shows.

Quinn instructs the staff in his Nassau Street law office to send copies of Vanity Fair out to a list of his acquaintances. He wants to do everything he can to promote Joyce and his writing.

But he also has to get ready for the dinner party he is giving tonight. On Pound’s suggestion, he has invited the editors of a literary magazine based in Greenwich Village, The Little Review, Margaret Anderson, 30, and Jane Heap, 34, to dine that evening in his Central Park West ninth floor penthouse.

The purpose of the dinner is to discuss the support Quinn has been giving to the magazine via Pound, who has been appointed, at Quinn’s request, as The Little Review’s foreign editor. Quinn is sure he will be able to persuade these women to take his additional advice about how to run their little magazine.

Little Review May 1917

The Little Review, May 1917

This year I’ll be piecing together my planned biography of John Quinn (1870-1924). Read more about him on the link to your right: ‘I want to tell you about an amazing man.’

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.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

‘Such Friends’:  Dallowday, Blogging Woolf, and me

I said I would buy the lunch myself.

As I recommend to all my visiting American friends, time your train trip so you can take along some lunch from M&S Simply Food, ubiquitous in train stations here. My preference is carrot sticks with reduced fat humous and salmon pasta salad. Yum.

So I stocked up and took off for London a few Saturdays ago to take part in my first ‘Dallowday,’ commemorating the day on which Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway, is set. The Irish all over the world have been celebrating ‘Bloomsday’ based on James Joyce’s Ulysses for over 50 years. Now it’s Virginia’s turn.

mrs dalloway original cover

Original cover of Mrs. Dalloway, designed by Vanessa Bell

The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain has sponsored this day, which includes a walk through some of the novel’s settings, a discussion of the book, and a 1920s party at the Bloomsbury Waterstones. I signed up for the whole package.

On one of the hottest days of the year, I took the train from Birmingham New Street to Euston station, and then the Underground to the appointed meeting place, outside the Regent’s Park Tube.

Waiting for the Underground lift, literally a breath of fresh air came wafting through. The woman next to me, about my age, said, ‘Oh! That feels great. It’s so hot.’ I nodded in agreement.

Watching her walk up the stairs in front of me, I realized she was wearing a blue flower print dress and lovely straw hat. Aha. Another Dallowday participant, I surmised.

As we reached the street at the top, we both laughed. Standing just a few feet away was a gaggle of Dallowday fans. About 20 women ‘of a certain age’ in flowered dresses or skirts, straw hats—they all looked just like me! No trouble finding this group.

The walk was led by Jean Moorcroft Wilson, who obviously was a lot more familiar with the book and Virginia than I am, having read it years ago as part of my research. I actually have much more vivid memories of the Vanessa Redgrave film, which I’ve used in my presentations.

Jean was dressed in the full Dalloway, including a vintage dress and hat, complemented by darling low-heeled black shoes with straps. Very 1920s. She’d obviously done this many times before.

Jean pointed out that there is debate as to when Dallowday actually is. Whereas Joyce clearly set Ulysses on 16th June, 1904, the day of his first date with his eventual wife, Nora Barnacle, Woolf ‘s novel says ‘mid-June.’ However, by lining up events in the book with cricket games and the Ascot races, most scholars have settled on June 20th. But—this year, it’s Saturday, 17th June. So more of us can come.

The unusually warm weather—it’s actually been hot; Miami hot, not just England hot—didn’t slow us down a bit. After a stop in Regent’s Park, Jeanne walked us over to Fitzroy Square, where Virginia lived from 1907 until 1911 with her brother Adrian. Their sister Vanessa had married art critic Clive Bell and kicked the siblings out when the newlyweds took over the Gordon Square house, where we headed next.

My own Bloomsbury walk actually takes the reverse route, starting in Gordon Square and then over to Fitzroy Square.

Here’s me pointing out the house at #29 where Virginia lived:

29 Fitzroy Square and me

At Waterstone’s, we sat in a circle, sipping refreshing flavoured ice water. Jean and Maggie Humm of the Woolf Society led us through an interesting discussion of the book. My research was on the relationships among the creative people in the Bloomsbury group, but wasn’t focused on their works—books, paintings, etc. This discussion brought new insights about the connections for me to incorporate into my future presentations.

And I learned that there is a website that maps all the walks of the characters in the book—Clarissa, Peter, Septimus and Rezia—showing how they interconnect.

For the 1920s party, I was planning to switch to Dorothy Parker mode, and so had tucked my red feather boa into my travel bag. But not many others were quite so dedicated to the flapper look, so I decided to stay in Bloomsbury garb.

Just this past week, I had another tax-deductible reason to go to London. Paula Maggio, better known to many of you as ‘Blogging Woolf’ was visiting from the States to attend the 27th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. We made plans to meet up and she wanted to try the Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury Hotel. We had a fabulous lunch of pasta and prosecco, treated ourselves to dessert, and took a peek at the 1920s-style Bloomsbury Club downstairs.

Dalloway Terrace at Bloomsbury Hotel

Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury Hotel, photo by Paula Maggio

Paula had also heard about a life-size statue of Virginia at Kings College, where Woolf had studied classics in her early days. A bit of Googling and walking led us to the Woolf Building. A sign said it was locked due to increased security, but when the guard saw our noses pressed against the glass, he let us in.

There she was, encased behind plexiglass, big as life, holding a copy of A Room of One’s Own, in a wardrobe that was, as Paula said,

a closet of her own.’

Surrounded by large quotes from Virginia’s works, and photos of her, it makes a fitting entrance for the College’s School of English.

Virginia Woolf statue Kings College

Virginia Woolf statue, Kings College, photo by Paula Maggio

I would definitely add both of these places—Dalloway Terrace and the Kings College statue—to my Bloomsbury walk. Here’s a review of the restaurant by one of last year’s conference participants..

Heading back towards Euston station, Paula and I stopped by Woburn Walk, where the poet William Butler Yeats lived at the same time that Virginia and her siblings were moving into Gordon Square, just a few blocks away.

These intersections of time, place and characters are what interest me most. I can picture an aerial view of north London in 1907, as the Irish poet walks past the Stephens sisters, on their way over to enjoy a stroll through Regent’s Park.

Might make an interesting structure for a biography. Watch this space.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

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.

‘Such Friends’:  Sir Hugh Lane and the sinking of RMS Lusitania, 1915

When I first met my friend Pat, she told me that her great uncle, Edmund Ireton, had been a passenger on the RMS Lusitania, which was sunk by a German torpedo off the coast of Ireland in 1915. I was interested because my research into the Irish Literary Renaissance had led me to the story of the nephew of Abbey theatre founder Lady Augusta Gregory, Sir Hugh Lane, who also went down with the ship. Along with part of his art collection insured for $4 million.

Picture 384

Sir Hugh Lane (1875-1915)

Pat and I talked then about doing a joint presentation about Hugh and Edmund, and, on the evening of Wednesday, 5th July, 2017, we are going to speak to the Birmingham [UK] Irish Heritage Association at the Irish Centre in Digbeth. All welcome.

Irish center Digbeth

The Irish Centre, Birmingham

In preparation for the big event, I took a day trip last Sunday to see the Lusitania exhibit at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, right on the Albert Dock in beautiful Liverpool. Pat had been a few years ago but, despite our many day trips to Liverpool, less than two hours away by train, I’d never seen this museum. Hey—there’s a lot to do there.

Merseyside-Maritime-Museum-exterior-©-National-Museums-Liv

Merseyside Maritime Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool

And I timed my trip to take in their annual commemoration of the anniversary of the sinking, at 2:10 pm on 7 May, 1915.

The ceremony is held each year near the propeller from the ship, still visibly damaged, which the Maritime Museum has installed nearby.

Lusitania propeller vertical

The Lusitania propeller in Liverpool

Ellie Moffat, the curator of the permanent Lusitania exhibit at the museum, read an excerpt from a letter written by a survivor, Winifred Hull, to her husband, describing in painful detail the moment the ship was hit and her lack of hope that she could survive.

Geoff Pawling, Mrs. Hull’s grandson, then read out other details from her letter, about how helpful the people of Queenstown, Ireland, were, and how horrible to see so many—1,193 men, women and children—corpses piled up.

Very moving.

Hugh Lane was more to Lady Gregory than a nephew. During his childhood he lived in Dorset, but spent many of his summers at her home Coole Park in the west of Ireland. She got him his first job as an art restorer, and he went on to become one of Ireland’s foremost art collectors. His promise of an art gallery for Dublin to house his collection is one of the reasons he earned a knighthood from the British government in 1909.  Remember—Ireland was still part of the UK then.

Any of you who have been to Dublin have seen the ubiquitous signs, ‘Hugh Lane Gallery,’ pointing to the imposing building just north of Parnell Square.

dublin_street_2 w hugh lane sign

A Dublin street

In early 1915, both Augusta and Hugh were in the States, hitting up rich Irish-Americans for money for the gallery. They were hosted in New York City by one of their targets, John Quinn. See how I got him in there?!

Quinn had warned both of them to not return to Ireland on a British ship like the Lusitania, fearing that it would indeed be torpedoed. When I read of his foresight, I was very impressed.

But my further research revealed that the German embassy had taken an ad in New York newspapers warning people to not sail on a British ship through what they considered to be a war zone.

German embassy and Lusitania ad

German embassy ad next to Cunard ad for Lusitania

Lady Gregory, thankfully, listened to Quinn and went home in early April on the USMS St. Paul, a safer American ship.

Hugh Lane boarded the Lusitania in New York on 1st May, 1915, along with Pat’s great uncle Edmund, and 1,958 other passengers; Hugh in first class, Edmund in third.

Hugh also brought with him some of the paintings he’d bought—Rembrandts, Rubens, Titians and Monets—secure in lead cylinders. Divers to the wreckage in 1994 saw cylinders in the hold. Are the paintings worth digging up? In that same year, the Irish government issued an Heritage Protection Order for the site, so there’s little chance we’ll ever find out.

Unfortunately, Hugh Lane’s legacy was one of the longest battles in Irish and British legal history.

Pissed off that the Dublin government hadn’t given him a decent building for his collection, Hugh left his paintings to the National Gallery in London in his will.

Before boarding the Lusitania he had a change of heart and wrote a codicil leaving them to Dublin. But no one witnessed it.

There began the saga, a full employment program for Irish and British lawyers—and a full-time job for Lady Gregory, who died in 1932—that dragged on for 44 years until 1959 when both sides agreed to share the paintings. Doh.

Les parapluies Renoir

Les parapluies by Auguste Renoir, in the Dublin Municipal Gallery, for now

Today, you can see most of the paintings in the Dublin Municipal Gallery, the Hugh Lane [just follow the signs], although some are exchanged every few months for ones that the National Gallery still hold. Like most relationships, it’s complicated, but it works.

If you want to know more about Hugh, and Pat’s uncle Edmond, here is a link to a video of the whole presentation at the Birmingham Irish Centre. The good part starts about 1:50.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

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.

‘Such Friends’:  Vanessa Bell’s Six Rooms of Her Own

Back in 2002, I went to see the fabulous Picasso Portraits exhibit at the Tate Modern. While eating the brownie with ice cream and fudge sauce in the café, I filled out the museum’s feedback card, which asked,

‘What other events would you like to see at the Tate?’

Always seizing the opportunity for shameless self-promotion, I wrote something to the effect:

‘Why don’t you have me give a talk about my early 20th century writers and artists?’

and

‘Why don’t you have an exhibit of Vanessa Bell’s fabulous paintings which are mostly locked away in a Tate Liverpool basement?!’

Still waiting for answer to the first, but the Dulwich Picture Gallery has answered the second. The third question is now, why did it take so long?!

My research into writers’ salons exposed me to creative people I had not been familiar with before, and one of my favorites is Virginia Woolf’s painter-sister, Vanessa Bell. Partly because of the excellent biography by Frances Spalding—Vanessa Bell:  Portrait of the Bloomsbury Artist—who discovered her while researching the art critic and Vanessa’s one-time lover, Roger Fry.

So finding my way from Birmingham to Dulwich to see this exhibit has been high on my to-do list this year. As part of our new-found freedom of semi-retirement, My Husband Tony and I set aside last Tuesday for a London jaunt. Road trip!

First, we had to figure out how to get to Dulwich. Not as difficult as we thought. Train to Euston, Victoria Line to Victoria station, train to West Dulwich, lovely well-marked walk from the station thanks to the glorious weather.

How posh! The Dulwich Gallery is one of the few museums which was actually built as an art gallery, to house a private collection back in the early 19th century. It’s not terribly big, but most rooms are fantastically well lit with the skylights built in.

My timed ticket to the exhibit was for 2:15, but we got there early to have lunch in the crowded but excellent café. The woman in the box office said that the ticket timings were ‘very strict.’ Tony planned to have a look at the museum and then head off to explore nearby Dulwich.

The building itself is well worth a look, but we also spent some time in the related free exhibit, Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith. Singer/artist/photographer Patti Smith, 71—who, I confess, I remember most from Gilda Radner’s impersonation of her on Saturday Night Live—is a big Virginia Woolf fan, and has recorded a video at Vanessa’s Sussex home, Charleston Farmhouse. [Also a must see. Trust me. Go.]

This exhibit juxtaposed Smith’s photos over quite a few years with Bell’s photo albums of her life—a very interesting idea. Smith’s were artistically small, mostly black and white Polaroids, and a bit dark. Unfortunately, the room itself was a bit dark, and we found ourselves squinting quite a lot.

I sent Tony off—What did you think of Dulwich, honey?

‘Beautiful. I want to live there’—

with a reminder to meet up at the Tate Modern so we could take in the exhibit of Sir Elton John’s photography collection, which includes quite a few by Man Ray, from my Paris group. A doubly deductible trip.

This gave me plenty of time to explore the six rooms at Dulwich devoted to Vanessa’s work. All on her own.

Vanessa bell dulwich poster

Poster for Vanessa Bell exhibit at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

The first room, ‘Among Friends’ [missed a trick there, didn’t they?!], showcases her portraits of those in and around the Bloomsbury Group, including her own self-portrait which is the poster for the exhibit. The room has the same attraction as London’s wonderful National Portrait Gallery—all eyes are looking at you.

Here is Vanessa’s take on her friend and lover of her husband Clive Bell, Mary Hutchinson:

bells por of mary hutchinson

Mrs. St. John Hutchinson (1915)

In the ‘Design and Experimentation’ room are some of Vanessa’s early attempts at abstraction, influenced by the Post-Impressionists Fry was championing around the same time. I got the feeling Vanessa wasn’t as comfortable with abstract painting as she was with recreating the feeling of the real world and people around her—her sister, her children, her lovers, her flowers.

This room also includes fantastic examples from the Omega Workshops which Fry and Vanessa directed from 1913 to 1919. As the exhibit’s wall explanation states, the Workshops represented the pre-World War II hopes that were ‘dashed’ on the battlefields of Europe.

Screen by bell and grant

Tents and Figures (1913), painted folding screen

The ‘Still Life’ room has one of my favorites, Iceland Poppies.

iceland poppies

Iceland Poppies (c. 1908-09)

Doesn’t it look like the pattern for a Norwegian ski sweater? [To those in charge of the gift shop—you can have that idea for free. You’re welcome.]

‘At Home’ demonstrates Vanessa at her best, photographing and painting her family in their natural environments.

Angelica reading

Interior with Artist’s Daughter (1935)

Although some of the playful photos of her two sons would probably get her arrested today.

The fifth room, ‘Landscape,’ shows an interesting juxtaposition of her first painting of the pond at Charleston, done in the fall of 1916, when she had first moved there,

pond at charleston 1916

The Pond at Charleston, East Sussex (1916)

and a more chaotic version of the same scene three years later when the communal life had developed its own complications.

view-of-the-pond-at-charleston-1919

Charleston Pond (1919)

The finale, the sixth room, ‘Pictures of Women,’ includes one of my other favorites, A Conversation, which I’ve always thought would make a nice cover for ‘Such Friends.’ Girls night!

A conversation

A Conversation (1913-1916)

And doesn’t this 1913 portrait look like Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars?!

The model 1913

The Model (1913)

In addition to the paintings, one of the other highlights of this room is a letter Vanessa wrote to her daughter-in-law, Anne Olivier Bell, on the birth of her baby girl,

‘How clever of you to produce a daughter…’

After walking back and forth through the six rooms a few times, I headed back to Dulwich train station, back to Victoria, on to Blackfriars, to walk over the bridge to Tate Modern.

Along streets and through Tube stations that Vanessa, her sister and their ‘Such Friends’ would have used over 100 years ago. And probably, some days, the weather was just as good as well.

The exhibit, Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), is at the Dulwich Picture Gallery until June 4, 2017, and I would have no problem making the journey again if you would like to have your own personal tour guide. And my offer to give a talk is still open…

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.