“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, December, 1922, on the newsstands of America

When Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, 37, was published a few months ago, it was met with mostly positive reactions.

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

H. L. Mencken, 42, literary critic for Smart Set, found the main character to be a symbol of everything wrong with American culture: 

It is not what [Babbitt] feels and aspires that moves him primarily; it is what the folks about him will think of him. His politics is communal politics, mob politics, herd politics; his religion is a public rite wholly without subjective significance.”

In The New Statesman, Rebecca West, just turned 30, declared that Babbitt “has that something extra, over and above, which makes the work of art.”

Fellow novelist H. G. Wells, 56, told Lewis that it is

one of the greatest novels I have read…I wish I could have written Babbitt.”

Somerset Maugham, 48, wrote to say that he felt that

it is a much better book than Main Steet.

Edith Wharton, 60, to whom the novel is dedicated, wrote from one of her villas in France,

I wonder how much of it the American public, to whom irony seems to have become unintelligible as Chinese, will even remotely feel?…Thank you again for associating my name with a book I so warmly admire and applaud.”

But now in December, Edmund Wilson, 27, has his say in Vanity Fair, comparing Lewis unfavorably to Dickens and Twain, and stating that Lewis’ literary gift “is almost entirely for making people nasty.”


Last month The Dial published “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot, 34, and in this month’s issue the publisher, Scofield Thayer, just turned 33, announces that Eliot is the second recipient of the magazine’s annual Dial Prize of $2,000.

In the same issue, Eliot has a piece about the death of English vaudeville star, Marie Lloyd, aged 52, which depressed Eliot terribly. In October, almost 100,000 mourners attended her funeral in London.

Marie Lloyd

This issue of The Dial also contains Edmund Wilson’s praise of “The Waste Land,” an in-depth piece about Eliot’s importance as a poet:  

He feels intensely and with distinction and speaks naturally in beautiful verse…The race of the poets—though grown rare—is not yet quite dead.”

Eliot is pleased with Wilson’s review, but unhappy that Wilson called his fellow ex-pat Ezra Pound, 37, an “imitator of [Eliot]…extremely ill-focused.” Eliot considers Pound to be the greatest living English-language poet.


In The Nation this month, Dial editor Gilbert Seldes, 29, is also enamored of “The Waste Land,” comparing it to Ulysses by James Joyce, 40, published earlier this year: 

That ‘The Waste Land’ is, in a sense, the inversion and the complement of Ulysses is at least tenable. We have in Ulysses the poet defeated, turning outward, savoring the ugliness which is no longer transmutable into beauty, and, in the end, homeless. We have in ‘The Waste Land’ some indication of the inner life of such a poet. The contrast between the forms of these two works is not expressed in the recognition that one is among the longest and one among the shortest of works in its genre; the important thing is that in each the theme, once it is comprehended, is seen to have dictated the form.”

Eliot sends Seldes a nice note thanking him for the review.


Outlook magazine, on the other hand, features “A Flapper’s Appeal to Parents,” asking parents and society as a whole to be more understanding of these dancing females who spend “a large amount of time in automobiles.”


First described by American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, 26, the flapper grows up in his story in this month’s Metropolitan magazine, “Winter Dreams,” about a midwestern boy in love with a selfish rich girl, who marries someone all wrong for her. When writing the story, Fitzgerald cut some descriptions to save them for his third novel, which he is working on now.

Metropolitan, December


The December Smart Set has the first short story by one of America’s most-published and most popular poets, Dorothy Parker, 29, whose “Such a Pretty Little Picture” describes a man living a monotonous life in the suburbs, just cutting his hedge. Similar to her best friend, fellow Algonquin Round Table member Robert Benchley, 33, who lives in Scarsdale with his wife and two sons.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

Early next year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, and about The Literary 1920s in Paris and New York City at the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book 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”:  100 Years Ago, August 16, 1920, Westport, Connecticut

It’s been a wild summer, thank God.”

Zelda Fitzgerald, 20, is writing to a friend.

Her husband, F. Scott, 23, has been spending long hours working on his second novel, The Flight of the Rocket. He has described it to his publisher, Charles Scribner, II [“Old C. S.”], 65,

How [the hero] and his beautiful young wife are wrecked on the shoals of dissipation is told in the story….I hope [it] won’t disappoint the critics who liked my first one [This Side of Paradise].”

Zelda manages to drive into New York City fairly often, with and without her husband. And carry on a bit of an affair with Smart Set magazine co-editor, George Jean Nathan, 38, whose specialties are absinthe cocktails and married women.

Mencken and Nathan

Smart Set editors H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan

Recently, Nathan had invited both Fitzgeralds to a midweek party at his West 44th Street apartment at the Royalton Hotel, so Scott could meet Nathan’s fellow editor, H. L. Mencken, 39. The young novelist was thrilled to get to know one of his literary heroes, who rarely shows up at these midtown Manhattan parties. Nathan had managed to procure three cases of bootleg gin for the occasion.

Zelda is describing what she remembers of the party to her friend,

I cut my tail on a broken bottle and can’t possibly sit on the three stitches that are in it now—The bottle was bath salts —I was boiled—The place was a tub somewhere.”

Zelda has no idea how she ended up in Nathan’s tub, but she has been known to take impromptu baths at parties before.

A few weeks ago, Scott had written to his agent,

I can’t seem to stay solvent—but I think if you can advance me $500…I’ll be able to survive the summer.”

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the book, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s, to be published by K. Donnelly Communications. For more information, email me at kaydee@gpysyteacher.com.

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

This fall I will be talking about writers’ salons in Ireland, England, France and America before and after the Great War in the Osher Lifelong Learning programs at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University.

My presentation, “Such Friends”:  Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, is available to view on the website of PICT Classic Theatre. The program begins at the 11 minute mark, and my presentation at 16 minutes.

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’: 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.


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.