1993, April-May, the West of Ireland, Sussex, Paris
Near the end of my year living in Dublin and working on my dissertation, it’s time to visit the places I’ve been reading about.
First, my partner, Tony, and I rent a car and head west for Coole Park where Lady Augusta Gregory and the other members of the Irish Literary Renaissance ‘hung out.’
We drive through the lane shadowed by dense trees and as we come to the clearing, there it is: The empty foundation of one of Ireland’s great houses. A tribute to government stupidity, the whole thing was pulled down in 1941 for building stone, and only one photograph of the exterior remains.
We park and get out to wander the grounds. Past where the house had been, down to the lake where the wild swans—more likely their progeny—still float gracefully, back up to the main area and over to the larger park. There’s the silver beech where Lady Gregory’s guests carved their names: W B Yeats, John Millington Synge, Edward Martyn. Now it is surrounded by a fence, positioned perfectly to keep locals and tourists from adding their names to the pantheon of Irish literary greats.
We take pictures and then drive off in the impending rain.
Back in Dublin I plan the rest of my visits. Next London, then Sussex, then on to Paris. Work, work, work.
After a day spent photographing Bloomsbury, I get an early train out to Lewes, in Sussex, and hire a taxi driver to take me around. We end up at Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Monk House, not long before closing.
The weather is lovely and so are the gardens. The couple who occupies it as a National Trust House, show the eager tourists around, and I enjoy the garden on my own. There are the Jacob Epstein busts of Virginia and Leonard; there is the shed at the back where she set up her own writing room; there is the path to the River Ouse where she drowned herself in 1941. Even though she had a room of her own, she felt unable to write.
I walk up the lane to the main road, and hail a taxi back to the train.
From London I head to Paris, the student way—by bus. I check into a small, cheap hotel on the Left Bank, and meet up with a professor I know from the States, Channa, and her American students on their first trip to Europe.
As Channa leads us over to the Luxembourg Gardens, I point out where the writers in the 1920s hung out together. These kids don’t know about Gertrude Stein—although, like them, and me, she was born in Pittsburgh—but they have read Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Café Deux Magots! Cafe du Dome! Le Dingo! The cafes where the writers wrote letters home, feasted on baguettes and onion soup, and drank cheap wine together. That the students understand.
1925, April-May, Coole Park, the West of Ireland
Lady Gregory, 73, is at Coole Park, getting ready for another summer of visitors.
William Butler Yeats, 59, has recently brought his children, Anne, just celebrating her sixth birthday, and Michael, almost four, for the first time. Yeats’ health has improved and he is finishing A Vision.
Yeats is no longer actively involved with their Abbey Theatre in Dublin, but Lady Gregory is, with the help of the manager, Lennox Robinson, 39. This year they become the first theatre in the western world to receive a government subsidy.
Augusta is preoccupied by her endless fight to keep the collection of paintings owned by her late nephew, Hugh Lane, in Ireland, although a codicil to his ambiguous will has left them to the National Gallery of England. Willie has agreed to help.
But Yeats is embarking on a new career as a Senator in the Irish Free State, preparing to take a stand this summer against the ban on divorce written in to the new Constitution.
1925, April-May, Monk’s House, Sussex
Virginia, 43, and Leonard Woolf, 44, are spending this Easter at Monk’s House which they bought at auction six years ago. The year began with Virginia sick in bed for two weeks, but the Woolfs have just returned from a trip to France to visit her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, 46, who owns a house a few miles away.
Now that Virginia is feeling better, the Woolfs plan an active social life in London for the rest of the spring and summer. Their Hogarth Press has just published her Common Reader, and they are excited about the publication in May of her fourth novel, Mrs. Dalloway. After that, Virginia is thinking of finally writing about her own family and the summers they spent at the shore in Cornwall, looking out at the lighthouse in the bay.
1925, April-May, Left Bank, Paris
The first published stories of American ex-patriate Ernest Hemingway, 25, are all the buzz in the cafes and bookshops.
Visiting this spring is the best-selling American writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 28, whose third novel, The Great Gatsby, has just been published by Scribner’s.
Fitzgerald walks into Le Dingo and sees Hemingway there, with a boyish-looking British woman and her heavily drunk companion, regular characters who frequent the bars and cafes of the Left Bank.
Scott orders champagne as he tells Ernest how much he admires his work. Hemingway begins to question the more successful writer, but Fitzgerald’s face turns grey and he passes out. The friends send him home in a taxi. Hemingway is not impressed.
But when they meet a few days later in Closerie des Lilas, Fitzgerald is sober, modest, and appealing. Hemingway agrees to take him to meet Gertrude Stein, 61. Others in Paris this spring might stop by 27 rue de Fleurus: Robert Benchley, 35, on holiday with his family; Vanessa Bell, here to see the Cezanne exhibit; Virgil Thomson, 28, staging Friday afternoon concerts of his own works.