‘Such Friends’:  John Quinn and me

Some of you are familiar with my near-obsession with John Quinn (1870-1924), the Irish-American art collector [to put it mildly] who appeared Zelig-like in all my research into early 20th century writers’ salons [Cf. ‘I want to tell you about an amazing man,’ on the right].

Last summer, on my trip to the States, I spent a tax-deductible day with the helpful staff at the New York Public Library, going through his papers. And thanks to my wonderful brother, Patrick J. Donnelly, we spent a whole day driving around Ohio where Quinn was born and grew up.

I owe it to all those who helped me, and to John Quinn, to finally embark on my long-planned work on his life and his role in the birth of modernism.

For the past 15 months in this blog I’ve been chronicling ‘my writers’ with stories of what they were doing before and during their times as ‘such friends’ hanging out together in living rooms and cafes in Ireland, England, France and America. My original plan was to keep going and tell the stories of what happened to them after their time in these groups. Let me know if you are heartbroken that those blogs are now on hold.

Instead, I am going to chronicle my search for Quinn. I could just write and self-publish a standard biography of him on Amazon. But—why? He’s an interesting guy, but there is a bigger picture.

Quinn was both an observer of and participant in the Irish Literary Renaissance, the Armory Show and the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses. He was in Dublin, London, Paris and New York when the salons were happening. What a point of view!

And, even more important, he supported the arts and the artists. In unusually creative ways. I think we can learn a lot from him that would help today’s W B Yeats, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and Dorothy Parker. And Joyce.

Come with me on my journey. John Quinn and me. We are ‘such friends.’


John Quinn      1870-1924





On the Left Bank of Paris, December, 1921…

…recently arrived Americans, Ernest Hemingway, 22, and his new wife, Hadley Richardson Hemingway, 30, are having drinks at one of their favourite cafes, the Dome, on the Boulevard de Montparnasse. They’re very excited about starting their new life here, living off Hadley’s trust fund and Ernest’s writing for the Toronto Star.

But, they’re lonely. They don’t know anyone. Their friend back in Chicago, novelist Sherwood Anderson, 45, has given them letters of introduction to other ex-patriate writers in the city, but they haven’t summoned up the courage to use them yet.

At the Dome in the 1920s

At the Dome in the 1920s

At the Dome last week

At the Dome last week

About ten minutes away, at 27 rue de Fleurus, two other American friends of Anderson, writer Gertrude Stein, 47, and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 44, are getting ready for their Christmas party. Each year they invite the writers and painters living in Paris. Well, the ones they like.

And, on the other side of the Luxembourg Gardens, on rue de l’Odeon, there is a buzz around the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, run by another American, Sylvia Beach, 34. Irish author James Joyce, 39, is getting ready to give a reading of his new novel, Ulysses, which Sylvia is preparing to publish early next year. This reading is a way of getting more pre-orders to finance the project. All of cultural Paris is coming.

But not Gert and Alice. They cancelled their membership in Sylvia’s bookstore when she took on Joyce.

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

American Sylvia and her Irishman on rue de l’Odeon in the 1920s

American Sylvia and her Irishman on rue de l’Odeon in the 1920s

American Kathleen and her Irishman on rue de l’Odeon last week

American Kathleen and her Irishman on rue de l’Odeon last week