“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, Mid-May, 1922, Hotel Venetia, Boulevard du Montparnasse, Paris

Having her Mom, Cora, 58, here for the past month or so has been a great distraction for American ex-pat poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, 30.

Cora and Edna are having a great time. Attending the Russian Ballet at the Opera House. Eating in the local cafes. Dancing at Zelli’s, the Montmartre Club. Mom is a big hit.

Cora Millay

Edna has moved them here from the original hotel she booked. As she explains in a letter to her sister,

because it [was] so cust expensive, and [we] are now in a cheap but not a very clean hotel…Two minutes from this bleeding kafe [the Rotonde] and just around the corner from the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens.”

Since Cora’s arrival, Edna has started seeing a Frenchman—whom Mom does not like. Not only does he borrow money, he shows up unexpectedly and takes Edna away from Cora. And he looks too much like her ex-husband.

Edna’s love life has been on the skids so far this year.

Millay spent the first part of the year in Vienna, living with a former boyfriend, only because he could split expenses. She’d gone through her income from the poems and Nancy Boyd stories she is sending back to Vanity Fair and the $500 advance from Boni and Liveright for a raunchy novel she can’t write.

Edna St. Vincent Millay poem in Vanity Fair, May, 1922

One of her beaus, fellow poet Arthur Ficke, 38, back in America, asked her why she hadn’t responded to the marriage proposal sent to her in a letter from Hal, writer Witter Bynner, 40, another of her conquests. She didn’t even remember a marriage proposal?! Hal is good-looking, well-traveled, a Harvard grad, rich. She wrote to him to ask if he wants to get married, and when she didn’t hear back right away she cabled him, “Yes!” She even told her sister that she was “sort of engaged.”

When Edna finally does get a letter from Hal, now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, exhausted from a recent cross-country lecture tour, he explains that of course she must know the whole marriage thing was a joke.

Edna wrote back instantly,

Oh, Lord—oh, Lord—Oh. Hal!”

Of course she knew it was a joke. Ha ha. The letters and cables she sent must have really frightened him. Thank God he hadn’t taken her seriously! Ha ha.


Then came the crushing blow. Arthur writes to say that he is finally leaving his wife. For his girlfriend. Not Edna.

Millay is thinking she might as well marry the French guy.

Arthur Ficke

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volumes I and II covering 1920 and 1921 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and also in print and e-book formats on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

In June I will be talking about the Stein family salons in Paris before and after The Great War at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Carnegie-Mellon University.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with, F. Scott 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.