‘Such Friends’: 1919, Summer, Algonquin Hotel, Mid-town Manhattan

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 Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, 100 years ago this past summer:

Alexander Woollcott arrived home from France on June 3rd and resumed his pre-war job as the New York Times drama critic. Soon after, a press agent, searching for a way to promote his young client, playwright Eugene O’Neill, called on a mutual friend to set up a lunch with Woollcott at the convenient Algonquin Hotel. At lunch, Woollcott, who weighed only 195 pounds for the last time in his life, had no interest in talking about anyone but himself and his recent exploits in the “theatre of war,” of which he was inordinately proud.

algonquin hotel

The Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street

To get back at Woollcott for monopolizing this meeting, and to get more publicity, the public relations flacks decided to invite other well-known critics from New York’s many publications to a big gathering at the hotel. There were 12 dailies in Manhattan and five in Brooklyn at the time. When 35 people showed up, the hotel manager put them at a big round table in the back of the dining room.

Dorothy Parker was invited as the drama critic at Vanity Fair, and she insisted that her new co-worker Robert Benchley come. Heywood Broun and his wife were there. Parker had met him, a vague acquaintance of her sister, one summer a few years before. FPA [Franklin P. Adams] was invited because he was a personal friend of Woollcott. Marc Connelly and George S Kaufman, who were already writing partners, were not there the first day, but started coming by soon after. Harold Ross was also a later “founder.”

However, many things about that inaugural lunch are vague. When it was over, either the PR people or somebody said,

“Why don’t we do this every day?”

And so they did, for the next nine years.

hirshfield alg

The Algonquin Round Table by Al Hirschfeld How many can you recognize?

Next year, I will be teaching a class in the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute [OLLI], ‘Such Friends’:  Scribner’s Editor Max Perkins and His Authors:  Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Others

In Carnegie-Mellon University’s OLLI program I will be doing talks about Perkins and his relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

To read more about American writers, Manager as Muse, about Perkins and his writers, is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

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

‘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.

‘Such Friends’: 1907, March, Bloomsbury, London

In the next few weeks I will be posting vignettes about how each of the four writers’ salons came together. This is the beginning of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group:

She had finally said yes.

For months art critic Clive Bell, 25, had been proposing to painter Vanessa Stephen, 27. She had continually refused him, despite his wealthy family and connections with the group of friends who gathered around the Bloomsbury townhouse she shared with her younger siblings, Thoby, 26, Virginia, 25, and Adrian, 24.

But late last year, she had given in and accepted. Just two days after the sudden death of her beloved brother Thoby—big, strapping, healthy Thoby, who had died of typhoid after being misdiagnosed with malaria.

After a few weeks honeymooning in England and France, the new couple is now making No. 46 Gordon Square their own. Virginia and Adrian are moving a few blocks past Tottenham Court Road, over to Fitzroy Square.

But Virginia and Vanessa are planning to hold on to one important part of their old life:  Thoby’s Thursday night salons. These “at homes” had become popular with Thoby’s friends from his recent days at Cambridge University, including the irritating but charming writer Lytton Strachey, 27.

Vanessa and Clive want to use the weekly gatherings to talk about avant-garde art and literature, and the meaning of “good.” Whoever shows up can have a light meal in Gordon Square, and then stroll over to Fitzroy Square for whiskey, buns and cocoa—and conversation and cigarettes late into the night. As Virginia remembered later:

Talking, talking, talking,…as if everything could be talked—the soul itself slipped through the lips in thin silver discs which dissolve in young men’s minds like silver, like moonlight.”

51 gordon_sq

No. 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury

29 Fitzroy Square and me

Your humble author at Fitzroy Square

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

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.

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’:  1897, summer, the West of Ireland

In the next few weeks I will be posting vignettes about how each of the four writers’ salons came together. This is the beginning of W B Yeats and the Irish Literary Renaissance:

After being in the center of the Dublin riots that greeted the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, poet W B Yeats, 32, is happy to spend the rest of his summer traveling throughout the west of Ireland with a friend.

Yeats is invited by the Baron de Basterot to stop by his home, Duras, in Co. Galway. By chance the other guests that day are Lady Augusta Gregory, 45, from nearby Coole Park, and her neighbour from Gort, Edward Martyn, 38. Yeats and Lady Gregory had crossed paths a few times before, at her salons in London, but this is the first time they actually get to know each other.

The three are getting along famously and lamenting the fact that there is no theatre in Ireland to produce plays, such as the ones Martyn is writing, about Irish people.

As Lady Gregory remembers it later,

We went on talking about it, and things seemed to grow possible as we talked, and before the end of the afternoon we had made our plan.”

Lady Gregory invites Yeats and Martyn to come to Coole Park where they can embark on their plan to start a theatre for the Irish, with plays by and about the Irish.

coole-house

Lady Gregory’s Coole Park

coole park steps

What is left of Coole Park today

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.

 

 

 

 

‘Such Friends’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 3: Fitzroy Square

A few months ago, I was thrilled to be asked by the Charleston Farmhouse to lead my walk through Bloomsbury for a group attending their Bloomsbury Revisited event in London. You can download a shorter version from the Voicemap.me website. But, if you’re not able to walk around London listening to me on headphones, I have posted the text of the walk here with photos, so you can follow along from anywhere. There are three parts, Tavistock Square, Gordon Square and Fitzroy Square. Here is Part 3:

  1. Grafton Way near Tottenham Court Road

Welcome back! But for those of you just joining us, I’m Dr. Kathleen Dixon Donnelly and I am your guide for this walk.

My research was about writers and artists who ‘hung out’ together in salons in the early part of the last century, on either side of World War I. The four groups are Irish poet William Butler Yeats and his friends who founded the Abbey Theatre; Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury, of course; Gertrude Stein and the American writers in Paris, and Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table.

Yeats ended his poem, The Municipal Gallery Revisited, with the lines:

Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,

and say my glory was I had such friends.’

so I have used ‘Such Friends’ as the title for all my work about ‘my’ writers and artists.

Here we are in the heart of Bloomsbury, heading towards Fitzroy Square where Virginia lived with her brother Adrian, when they were in their 20s. The Northumberland Arms pub across the street is a great spot for a pint.

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Northumberland Arms pub, Grafton Way and Tottenham Court Road

Let’s talk about one of the other Bloomsberries, writer and publisher Leonard Woolf.

After graduating from Cambridge University, Leonard joined the Colonial Service and was assigned to represent the crown in Jaffna, Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. He realized the absurdity of a 25-year-old with no experience taking charge of an entire country. Leonard spent seven years there, and, ironically, while Virginia’s brother Thoby Stephen died from a misdiagnosis of typhoid in London, Leonard was successfully treated for it in the jungle.

Leonard was not happy in the post, and in 1911 he applied to come back to England on leave. He had kept in touch with his university friends—many of whom were, like him, members of the Cambridge association, the Apostles.

Although the Apostles were then a ‘secret’ society by invitation only, they became less secret in the 1950s when it was revealed that British spies Guy Burgess and Kim Philby had been members when they were recruited by the Communist Party.

Leonard had met Virginia and Vanessa Stephen years before when they had come to visit Thoby at Cambridge. Later, Leonard wrote of his first impression of the sisters:

Their beauty literally took one’s breath away…One stopped astonished…It was almost impossible for a man not to fall in love with them and I think that I did at once.’

Even in Ceylon, Leonard had corresponded with Cambridge friends, such as Lytton Strachey, who wrote him letters about the lovely evenings he would spend in conversation with Virginia, Vanessa, Duncan Grant, Clive Bell and Maynard Keynes. So when Leonard came home, he couldn’t wait to get back in to the cultural and social life of his friends. He and Virginia became re-acquainted when he came to dinner one summer night at Gordon Square in 1911.

In the Bloomsbury group, I identified Leonard as the ‘Sponsor.’ He might not have been the most witty, or social, or rich, but he served as an administrator with Roger Fry’s art exhibits and, with Virginia’s help, bought the printing press to start Hogarth Press. The Sponsor in each group either had the money or resources—like Edward Martyn, the philanthropist behind the Abbey Theatre and other Irish institutions, or Robert McAlmon, an independent publisher in Paris—or got the money—like Leonard, or Harold Ross the founder of The New Yorker magazine.

Let’s walk down to Fitzroy Square.

  1. Fitzroy Square

Approaching Fitzroy Square, the newer building on your left is the Indian YMCA. This is one of your tips on where to eat cheap in London; they have a lovely cafeteria with great curries.

Indian YMCA Fitzroy Square

Indian YMCA, Fitzroy Square

A few years ago I attended a travel writing workshop here. It was advertised in the Guardian newspaper, and I figured it was a good omen that it was in Bloomsbury.

The writer who taught the daylong session gave us an assignment for our lunch break. When he announced what it was, I couldn’t believe my ears. He wanted us to

write about this neighbourhood.’

Seriously. I had been in training for that assignment for more than twenty years!

Fitzroy Square

Fitzroy Square

Like many sections of Bloomsbury, Fitzroy Square has a colourful history. Lytton’s parents had a house here in the 19th century. In the Edwardian era, Augustus John had a studio in Number 8, where Vanessa and Duncan had studios and parties in the 1920s. Painter Walter Sickert had a studio in Number 19. Vanessa studied with Sickert, and you might have read that American crime writer Patricia Cromwell has fingered him as Jack the Ripper.

Duncan and Maynard lived here together in Number 21, and in World War I, Belgian refugees were held here. None of these have plaques.

We’ll walk over to Number 29, Virginia and her brother Adrian’s house. There’s a bench if you want to sit.

  1. Number 29 Fitzroy Square

Number 29 Fitzroy Square is the one with two plaques. George Bernard Shaw’s Irish family lived here in the late 19th century.

29 Fitzroy Square and me

Your intrepid tour guide at Number 29 Fitzroy Square

In 1907 when Virginia moved in, she was 25 and living with her brother. While her married painter sister decorated Gordon Square with the latest in cubist art, Virginia and Adrian kept their interior simple. Adrian had a study full of books that looked out here onto the square.

To avoid competition, the sisters would alternate the at-homes on Thursday nights between the two locations; sometimes the guests would walk from one to the other, like we just did.

In her own home, hosting her own salons, Virginia’s confidence grew. She and Vanessa slowly realized why their brother’s friends weren’t interested in them as women—most were gay. The evenings were for conversation, and as Virginia wrote later, she would

stumble off to bed feeling that something very important had happened. It had been proved that beauty was—or beauty was not—for I have never been quite sure which—part of a picture.’

Now with

a room of her own,’

she began her first novel, Melymbrosia, eventually published in 1915 as The Voyage Out. She remembered later that she had the luxury of writing

in comparative splendour—[with] a maid, carpet, fires…’

Great parties were also held here, including one where Maynard and a topless Vanessa allegedly copulated on the floor.

But not all the evenings were a success. Virginia remembered that one had ended thus:

Adrian stalked off to his room, I to mine in complete silence.’

By the time Leonard showed up, in 1911, the lease on Fitzroy Square was up, so Virginia and Adrian were planning to move to a more communal arrangement with Duncan, Maynard and others, in Brunswick Square. They asked Leonard to join them.

However, shortly after they set up this friendly commune, Leonard decided that, instead of going back to Ceylon, he would propose to Virginia. After months of persuasion, she accepted. They married in August 1912 and moved to their own flat in Clifford’s Inn.

  1. Number 33 Fitzroy Square, the Omega Workshops

We’ll end our walk with the building to your left, Number 33.

Number 33 Fitzroy Square

Number 33 Fitzroy Square, currently undergoing refurbishment

Here we meet our last Bloomsbury, art critic Roger Fry, the ‘Link,’ where he opened the Omega Workshops.

Fry had had a studio in Fitzroy Square, but didn’t begin socializing with the others until a fateful day in 1910. He’d lost his job with the New York Metropolitan Museum, and had to commit his wife to an asylum. Fry was on the platform of the Cambridge railway station and recognized Vanessa and Clive Bell whom he’d met socially before. They chatted, and by the time they reached London, Roger was in the group!

At 43, Fry was older than the others, because each salon had a ‘Link,’ with better connections, who helped the younger ones become more mainstream. For the Irish, it was Lady Gregory, with the government connections to start a theatre; for the Americans in Paris it was Sherwood Anderson, already a successful novelist; and for the Round Table, FPA was the top New York columnist who publicized the others constantly.

Fry used inherited money to rent this building. In 1912 he opened the Omega Workshops with Vanessa and Duncan. Vanessa suggested having a Bloomsbury party to celebrate:

We should get all our disreputable and some of your aristocratic friends to come, and…there should be decorated furniture, painted walls, etc. There we should all get drunk and dance and kiss, orders would flow in, and the aristocrats would feel they were really in the thick of things.’

During these years, Vanessa and Roger carried on quite a torrid affair, in Bloomsbury and Sussex. At one point Clive asked his wife why Roger was around so often, but beyond that, he didn’t protest. He just got on with his own affairs.

The Omega was successful for five years, but was sold off in June 1919. Despite exhibitions and conferences and parties, the Workshops never covered their costs, and Roger, like all arts supporters, spent a lot of his time fund-raising.

Customers who had bought the fashionable handmade pottery and textiles included Yeats and Shaw, but also Ottoline Morrell, HG Wells, EM Forster, Rupert Brooke, Ezra Pound and Augustus John.

The workmen here tell me that, because this is a listed building, it is being renovated back to its original fittings, to be a private residence. There is a plaque, but it’s covered by the scaffolding now.

omega roger-fry-blue-plaque

Blue plaque on Number 33 Fitzroy Square

And how did the group end?

Let’s go back to Maynard. He went to work in the Treasury department during the early part of ‘The Great War.’ His Bloomsbury friends, who were famously pacifist, were not happy about this job, which eventually contributed to the point I identify as the break-up of the group.

In January of 1915, Keynes celebrated his new role by giving himself a party at the fabulous Café Royal, near Piccadilly Circus. In-between Vanessa and Duncan he sat the infamous editor Edward ‘Bunny’ Garnett, and soon after those three were living together in a boathouse in Sussex.

Around the same time, Virginia and Leonard decided to move to Richmond. On her 33rd birthday, 25th January, 1915, they went for tea and resolved to buy Hogarth House, which they had seen out in Richmond, buy a printing press, and get a bulldog named John. Never got the bulldog.

Once one or more of the key players withdraw, the groups dissipate. Yeats stopped working with the Abbey; Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas stopped inviting people to salons; and Robert Benchley left Dorothy Parker and friends to move to Hollywood to work in the movies.

Although the Bloomsberries still saw each other frequently, the days of wandering in and out of each others’ houses, staying up late drinking whisky and cocoa, were over. As Virginia remembered that time,

Talking, talking, talking,…as if everything could be talked—the soul itself slipped through the lips in thin silver discs which dissolve in young men’s minds like silver, like moonlight.’

Thanks for walking with me and our ‘Such Friends.’

If you missed the first two parts, you can search for ‘Such Friends’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 1:  Tavistock Square and Part 2:  Gordon Square.

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’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 2: Gordon Square

Recently, I was thrilled to be asked by the Charleston Farmhouse to lead my walk through Bloomsbury for a group attending their Bloomsbury Revisited event in London. You can download a shorter version from the Voicemap.me website. But, if you’re not able to walk around London listening to me on headphones, I have posted the text of the walk here with photos, so you can follow along from anywhere. There are three parts, Tavistock Square, Gordon Square and Fitzroy Square. Here is Part 2:

  1. The corner of Gordon Square

Welcome back! But for those you just joining us, I’m Dr. Kathleen Dixon Donnelly, your guide for this walk.

My research was about writers and artists who ‘hung out’ together in salons in the early part of the last century, on either side of World War I. The four groups are Irish poet William Butler Yeats and his friends who founded the Abbey Theatre; Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury, of course; Gertrude Stein and the American writers in Paris, and Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table.

Yeats ended his poem, The Municipal Gallery Revisited, with the lines:

‘Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,

and say my glory was I had such friends.’

so I have used ‘Such Friends’ as the title for all my work about ‘my’ writers and artists.

When the creative people known as The Bloomsbury Group lived in this area, they spent their days writing and painting, and their evenings in drawing rooms—or salons—where they ate, drank, argued, fell in and out of love, and talked. The group initially lived, worked, and socialised here in Gordon Square when they were just starting out, before Virginia became well-known.

gordon_square,_london_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1169832

Gordon Square

Although now it is quite a posh area of London, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Bloomsbury was considered to be really seedy, a cheap place for students and artists to live because the rents were low. Not anymore! According to the estate agents Foxtons, the average recent ‘sold’ price for a house around here is—any guesses?—£1.8m.

But in those days, middle class people didn’t own the homes they lived in—Virginia’s sister, painter Vanessa Bell, never even owned Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex which she is most associated with. The land and buildings were usually the property of the aristocracy, living somewhere else; the inhabitants just rented.

Let’s walk up to Number 46.

  1. Number 46 Gordon Square

46 Gordon Square, Londres, Royaume-Uni

Number 46 Gordon Square

Standing here, you can see most of the buildings that the Bloomsbury group lived in during their years in Gordon Square. Straight ahead, Number 46, with the black door and plaque, is where Vanessa Stephen, then 25, moved with her brothers in October 1904, after their widowed father had died. Vanessa saw this as a release from the dark old house they had been brought up in, just off Hyde Park. Their sister Virginia, 22, didn’t join them until November, because Vanessa had wisely sent her to live with one of their aunts during the whole moving process.

You’ll notice that the plaque here is about just one of the Bloomsberries, economist John Maynard Keynes. There has been a lot of controversy with English Heritage because there are so few plaques with women’s names on them. I recommend that you nominate Vanessa for a plaque by clicking here.

keynes blue plaque

Keynes’ blue plaque

In February of the next year, 1905, Thoby Stephen started having ‘at homes’ on Thursday evenings, when his friends from Cambridge University would know that he would be ‘at home’ for them. His sisters would sit quietly while university men like Lytton Strachey and Clive Bell, also in their 20s, would knowingly discuss ‘the nature of good.’

In the summer of 1906, living here, Virginia wrote her first short story, ‘Phyllis and Rosamond,’ about two young women coming to an evening in Gordon Square. It was not published in her lifetime.

And then, in November of that year, big, strong, athletic, strapping Thoby…died. Aged 26. The Stephen siblings had all been on a disastrous trip to Europe, and everyone had gotten sick. Thoby’s typhoid was misdiagnosed, and in a few days, he was gone. They were all devastated.

Two days after Thoby’s death, his friend Clive proposed—again—to Vanessa. And this time she said ‘yes.’ When they married, in spring 1907, Clive moved in to Number 46, and Virginia and her other brother, Adrian, moved over to Fitzroy Square, which we’ll visit in Part 3 of our walk.

For my research, I had to determine a specific time when each group started and ended. For Bloomsbury, I timed it from Vanessa and Clive’s marriage. The Bells continued to hold salons on Thursday evenings here, but now, after dinner, the party would often move to Virginia and Adrian’s living room, probably walking the same route that we will be walking today.

They were young, they were embarking on creative careers in writing and art, they were able to live on family money and small commissions, and they were enjoying their newfound freedom. Later, Virginia wrote that the whole world changed in one moment in Gordon Square in 1908. Here’s how she described the now infamous ‘semen scene’:

‘It was a spring evening. Vanessa and I were sitting in the drawing room…Suddenly the door opened and the long and sinister figure of Mr. Strachey stood on the threshold. He pointed his finger at a stain on Vanessa’s white dress. “Semen?” he said. Can 1 really say it? I thought, and we burst out laughing. With that one word all barriers of reticence and reserve went down. A flood of the sacred fluid seemed to overwhelm us. Sex permeated our conversation. The word bugger was never far from our lips. We discussed copulation with the same excitement and openness that we had discussed the nature of good. It is strange to think how reticent, how reserved we had been and for how long.’

After the first world war, the Bloomsbury group played musical chairs with the houses in Gordon Square. Vanessa was mostly out in Sussex with her kids, so their friend Maynard, took over the lease on Number 46. Back in the Victorian era, Keynes’ father had lived in Gordon Square as a university student.

Vanessa’s husband Clive hosted many of his mistresses here. The group gave lots of parties, such as a celebration when the Armistice was announced in 1918—over 100 years ago!—and a soiree for the visiting Russian ballet and Picasso the year after.

But by the time she was planning to move permanently out to Charleston, Vanessa wrote to Lytton,

‘We are so much overcome by the country as compared with London that I doubt if I shall ever return to Gordon Square…no telephone, no crowd to tea.’

Let’s walk down to the end of the block to see two more houses.

  1. Numbers 37 and 41 Gordon Square

In the second half of the 1920s, Vanessa lived in Number 37, with her lover, fellow painter, Duncan Grant, a few years younger than she, and gay.

37 and 41 gordon square

Numbers 37 and 41 Gordon Square

In Number 41, many members of the Strachey family, including Lytton and his mother, made their home here, mostly in the 1920s.

Now we will head back to the street and stop at the corner for the last two Gordon Square addresses.

  1. Numbers 50 and 51 Gordon Square

When the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova and Maynard were carrying on their affair in the early 1920s, she hid out from her husband here. Keynes wrote to Vanessa:

‘If Lydia lived in Number 41, and Duncan and I lived in 46, you and family in 50, and we all had meals in 46, that might not be a bad arrangement…We all want both to have and not have husbands and wives.’

When Clive lived in Number 50 in 1926, Vanessa and Duncan decorated his rooms. A decade later, the farewell party for the Bell’s son Julian was held here, before he went off to fight—and die—in the Spanish Civil War.

50 and 51 gordon square

50 and 51 Gordon Square

Let’s talk a bit about the people who lived in these houses.

In my research I found that in every group there were certain roles:  There was always a ‘Star.’ Not a fiery leader, but the one they all knew was the most talented, like Virginia Woolf, Yeats, Stein and Parker.

Each ‘Star’ had a ‘Hostess,’ like Vanessa, who took care of everyone in the group. She was the Earth Mother, similar to Lady Augusta Gregory, Alice B. Toklas, and…Robert Benchley!

Maynard, as an economist, was the ‘Bridge’ to another field, which, according to my theory, is the role that kept the groups from becoming cults. The Irish group had the politician Douglas Hyde; the Paris group, the painter/photographer Man Ray; and the Algonquin Round Table, the union organizer Heywood Broun.

The Bridge is important because he brings a different point of view. A bunch of writers sitting around talking about writing isn’t very creative. I think it is the presence of someone who looks at the world from another angle that makes these salons so creative. That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.

51 gordon_sq

51 Gordon Square

Lytton lived here in Number 51 on the ground floor around 1928. Every group had an ‘Irritant’—annoying Irishman George Moore, pugnacious Ernest Hemingway, and flaming peacock Alexander Woollcott. But there was no one more irritating than Lytton. He was a true British eccentric, with his high-pitched voice and long red beard. He drove them all nuts—but they loved having him around. Don’t we all have people like that in our groups of friends?! He had affairs with his cousin, Duncan, and Duncan’s lover, Maynard, and even proposed to Virginia once. But thought better of it the next day.

You can see why the Bloomsbury group has been described as those who

‘loved in triangles and lived in squares.’

If you want to see an excellent depiction of Lytton, I recommend Jonathan Pryce in the film Carrington, about his long-term relationship with the painter Dora Carrington, played by Emma Thompson. That’s your video tip for the week.

Gordon Square continued to be a hub for creative people, even after the 1920s. Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lancaster lived here in the thirties and gave parties with the Bloomsberries. Maynard would hold meetings here and in 1940 land mines were found buried here.

We’ll stop for a minute at the entrance to Gordon Square before heading over to Fitzroy Square for Part 3.

  1. Entrance to Gordon Square

Here is where the National Literary Trust placed the Mrs. Dalloway bench a few years ago. Along with 50 other literary benches around the city, it was auctioned off in 2015.

mrs dalloway bench 1 (2)

The Mrs. Dalloway Bench, entrance to Gordon Square

Let’s take a minute to talk about Duncan. To balance off the Irritant, every group also had an ‘Angel,’ someone who everybody just loved. In the case of Bloomsbury, it was Duncan. They all loved him. Most of them even slept with him. As one of the Fitzroy Square housemaids said,

That Mr. Grant gets in everywhere.’

He was a bit younger than the others, and had a certain innocence about him. Duncan also lived, at Charleston, until he was 93.

Having read numerous biographies of all of my writers, I have a piece of advice for those of you who are lucky enough to be in a group of creative people:  Outlive them. Because biographers have to suck up to the last living members, they get good write ups—artist/poet AE [George Russell] for the Irish and playwright Marc Connelly for the New Yorkers. Unfortunately, the Paris ‘Angel,’ novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, didn’t live long enough. He died at age 44 in 1940, the exception that proves the rule.

gordon square gardens from entrance

Gordon Square Gardens

Go straight ahead through Byng Place, and cross over Gower Street at the pedestrian crossing. Careful! Turn right and walk up to Grafton Way. I’ll tell you about Clive’s role in the group when we get there.

  1. Foundling Hospital, Grafton Way

 

This large hospital ties in nicely with a Bloomsbury story.

Virginia and Vanessa’s relatives were quite scandalized when they found out the young Stephens were moving to this part of town, to live on their own! And have their university friends visit! And stay overnight! Vanessa was so glad to be rid of her other relatives, she told one shocked aunt,

‘It will be all right. And the Foundling Hospital is nearby, in any case.’

This is actually the University College Hospital; the Foundling Hospital was on the other side of Bloomsbury. But the story works well here, don’t you think?

univ coll hospital gower str

University College Hospital, Gower Street and Grafton Way

Back to Clive. Whereas the others would be considered middle class, Clive came from a wealthy family. He became an influential art critic, with his most famous book called Art. A bit pretentious I’ve always thought.

Clive was the ‘Observer’ in this group. All the ‘Observers’ were definitely part of the group, but a bit to one side, watching what was going on. They usually were active in lots of other social circles as well, and this was true of Clive—also playwright John Millington Synge in the Irish group, composer and music critic Virgil Thomson in Paris, and playwright George S Kaufman in New York.

When Vanessa married Clive and started a family, the still single Virginia was a bit jealous. She even started a flirtation with Clive at one point. Virginia described her sister and brother-in-law in a letter to a friend:

‘[They] live…much like your ladies in a French salon; they have all the wits and poets; and ‘Nessa sits among them, like a Goddess.’

After the birth of their two sons, Clive and Vanessa had an ‘open’ marriage and he had many affairs, while still keeping a room of his own at Charleston.

Now we will walk down Grafton Way and cross Tottenham Court Road. Be careful!

You can pick up the walk in the next blog, ‘Such Friends’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 3:  Fitzroy Square. If you missed the beginning, just search for ‘Such Friends’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 1:  Tavistock Square.

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’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 1: Tavistock Square

Recently, I was thrilled to be asked by the Charleston Farmhouse to lead my walk through Bloomsbury for a group attending their Bloomsbury Revisited event in London. You can download a shorter version from the Voicemap.me website. But, if you’re not able to walk around London listening to me on headphones, I have posted the text of the walk here with photos, so you can follow along from anywhere. There are three parts, Tavistock Square, Gordon Square and Fitzroy Square. Here is Part 1:

  1. Morton Hotel, Russell Square

Welcome to Bloomsbury! I’m Dr. Kathleen Dixon Donnelly and I am your guide for this walk.

My research was about writers and artists who ‘hung out’ together in salons in the early part of the last century, on either side of World War I. The four groups are Irish poet William Butler Yeats and his friends who founded the Abbey Theatre; Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury, of course; Gertrude Stein and the American writers in Paris, and Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table.

Yeats ended his poem, The Municipal Gallery Revisited, with the lines:

Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,

and say my glory was I had such friends.’

so I have used ‘Such Friends’ as the title for all my work about ‘my’ writers and artists.

Today’s walk is about Virginia Woolf and her ‘such friends’ in the Bloomsbury group and their time through the 1920s, 30s and 40s in Tavistock Square.

The Morton Hotel, where we’re starting, has a Bloomsbury theme, and serves a lovely high tea. Virginia Woolf fans who have stayed here assure me that it is a great experience.

Morton Hotel

The Morton Hotel, Russell Square

We’re going to cross over Upper Woburn Place here, turn right, and walk up to the top corner of Tavistock Square.

  1. Upper Woburn Place near Woburn Walk

Many late 19th century Irishmen lived in this area as well. If you look up the street you’ll see a little alley off to the right, Woburn Walk.

Woburn Walk

Woburn Walk

Yeats rented rooms here from the late 1890s to around 1919, overlapping the Bloomsberries down the road in Gordon Square. It’s reported that this is where Yeats lost his virginity [not to Maud Gonne!]. When in London, go midway down Woburn Walk and look up to your left, where there is a plaque. It’s one of those quaint English streets with lots of cafes and shops.

We’ve got lots of plaques around here.

Now we’ll walk through Tavistock Square Gardens, near where the Woolfs lived, and take a look at the bust of Virginia that was put here in 2004.

  1. Tavistock Square Gardens

Va bust Tavistock Sq Gardens

Virginia Woolf bust, Tavistock Square Gardens

This bust is a copy of the one done in 1931 by Stephen Tomlin, which you can see in the National Portrait Gallery.

From 1924 until 1939, Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived on the top two floors of Number 52, which is now the site of the Tavistock Hotel. She lived here longer than in any other of the Bloomsbury homes, and wrote most of her novels here.

Tavistock Hotel

Tavistock Hotel

The Virginia Woolf Society and the hotel chipped in for the blue plaque on the hotel, which was just unveiled earlier this year by the Society’s honorary president Dame Eileen Atkins and Leonard’s nephew, Cecil Woolf. He just turned 91 and is present at many of the Society’s events.

In 1939 Virginia and Leonard moved over to Mecklinburgh Square, farther east. The following year, 1940, their home there was bombed. The Hogarth printing press was inside but they were out at Monk’s House in Sussex at the time, watching German aircraft fly over.

One month later, Tavistock Square was bombed, and the next day the Woolfs drove up to London to see the damage. Here’s what Virginia wrote in her diary:

So to Tavistock Square. With a sigh of relief saw a heap of ruins. Three houses, I should say gone. Basement all rubble. Only relics an old basket chair (bought in Fitzroy Square days) and Penmans board [saying] “To Let.”  Otherwise bricks and wood splinters…I could see a piece of my studio wall standing: otherwise rubble where I wrote so many books. Open air where we sat so many nights, gave so many parties. The hotel not touched.’

They never lived in London again; five months later, Virginia committed suicide out in Sussex. Leonard tried to live in Mecklenburgh Square afterwards, but found it too depressing. He lived the rest of his life—until 1969!—at Monk’s House near Rodmell.

More recently Tavistock Square was the site of a bus bombing during the July 2005 terrorist attack on the Tube. The upper level of the Number 30 bus. from Marble Arch to Hackney Wick, was blown up at 77 Tavistock Square, which is the site of the British Medical Association, so doctors came running out into the street to help the victims.

Tavistock square bus bombing

Tavistock Square, July 2005

We’ll come out of Tavistock Square Gardens and turn right towards Gordon Square, where the Bloomsberries began in happier times.

You can pick up the walk in the next blog, ‘Such Friends’ Bloomsbury Walk, Part 2:  Gordon Square, or jump ahead to Part 3, Fitzroy Square.

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’:  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.

 

 

‘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.