‘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’: 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.

In mid-town Manhattan, fall, 1924…

Harold Ross, 31, is working on the prospectus for his new project, a weekly magazine for New Yorkers.

For the past year or so, he and his wife, reporter Jane Grant, 32, have been badgering everyone they know with a dummy of their proposed first issue, trying to scare up some funding. Finally, Harold’s friend from The Stars & Stripes newspaper in France during the war, New York World writer Alexander Woollcott, 37, has finally come through with an introduction to Raoul Fleischmann, 38, heir to the yeast fortune.

Now he’s got to pitch the idea. Really pitch it. Ross knows what he wants to say. But to give the project credibility, he has been advised to make use of the writers he lunches with at the Algonquin Hotel almost every day.

He can’t include Robert Benchley, just turned 34, because he is on contract to Life magazine. He really shouldn’t list his other Stars & Stripes buddies, columnist FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, about to turn 43] and sports writer Heywood Broun, 35, because their employer the World newspaper, would not be happy.

Who’s left? Are they really his ‘advisors’? Can he claim that? Ross decides to take a risk:

Announcing a New Weekly Magazine:

The New Yorker:

The New Yorker will be a reflection in word and pictures of metropolitan life.

It will be human. Its general tenor will be one of gaiety, wit and satire,

but it will be more than a jester.

It will not be what is commonly called radical or highbrow.

It will be what is commonly called sophisticated,

in that it will assume a reasonable degree of enlightenment

on the part of its readers.

It will hate bunk…

The New Yorker will appear early in February.

The price will be:  $5 a yr.

15 cents a copy

Address:  25 West 45th Street, New York City

Advisory Editors,

Ralph Barton

George S. Kaufman [34]

Heywood Broun

Alice Duer Miller

Marc Connelly [34]

Dorothy Parker [31]

Edna Ferber

Laurence Stallings

Rea Irvin

Alexander Woollcott

HW Ross, Editor”

Original_New_Yorker_cover

The first cover of The New Yorker

Again this year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ during and after their times together.

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. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

At the Court Theatre in Chicago, February 20, 1921…

…playwright Marc Connelly, 30, is feeling excited.

Dulcy, his first collaboration with George S. Kaufman, 31, also from western Pennsylvania, is about to open in its tryout before Broadway.

They had written it at night, after working their day jobs on Manhattan newspapers, and based it on a character used in the column of their Algonquin Round Table lunch buddy, FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, 39].

A week ago Dulcy had been a hit in Indianapolis. The lead Lynn Fontanne, 33, has star written all over her.

But his new writing partner, Kaufman, is a wreck. At dinner tonight he said to Connelly,

We’ve been kidding ourselves and might as well admit it.’

If Kaufmann is this nervous when things are going well, Connelly thinks, what is he going to be like to work with when they don’t have a hit?!

dulcy-poster Pgh playwrights co.

Poster for a recent production of Dulcy by the Pittsburgh Playwrights Co.

Again this year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ during and after their times together.

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. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

At the Globe Theatre in Manhattan, September 30th, 1916…

Marc Connelly, 25, is angry.

The producers have just announced that The Amber Empress, the operetta for which he has been credited with both books and lyrics, will close tonight. After just 15 performances.

Connelly had been working on the musical since last year, but actually a lot of his hard work hadn’t made it into the final production. The Amber Empress, about a Hollywood movie crew filming in Italy, hadn’t gotten many good reviews; some singled out the score:

The music of the piece…has little to commend it, few of the numbers rising above mediocrity.

When Connelly had first moved to New York from Pittsburgh in 1915, he had worked on some additional lyrics for a musical revue, Hip! Hip! Hooray! and that had run more than eight months at the Hippodrome.

Hippodrome Theatre, New York City, 1915

Hippodrome Theatre, New York City, 1915

But it might be time to reconsider. Connelly’s widowed mom is struggling back in Pennsylvania, and maybe he isn’t cut out for this writing stuff anyway.

He has been selling some short pieces to Life magazine, and the Morning Telegraph just told him that he could have a Broadway column. Besides–he doesn’t have the bus fare back to Pittsburgh.

Connelly decides to stay.

Marc Connelly

Marc Connelly

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.