At the end of the third year of the 1920s…
In Ireland, despite living in the middle of a Civil War, and the death of his 82-year-old father this past February, poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, 57, has had a pretty good year.
He is enjoying his appointment to the newly formed Senate of the Irish Free State, engineered by his friend and family doctor, Oliver St. John Gogarty, 44, who managed to get himself appointed as well.
Irish Free State Great Seal
Much to Yeats’ surprise, the position comes with an income, making it the first paying job he has ever had. The money, as he writes to a friend,
of which I knew nothing when I accepted, will compensate me somewhat for the chance of being burned or bombed. We are a fairly distinguished body, much more so than the lower house, and should get much government into our hands…How long our war is to last nobody knows. Some expect it to end this Xmas and some equally well informed expect another three years.”
Indeed, although Senator Yeats has been provided with an armed guard at his house, two bullets were shot through the front door of his family home in Merrion Square on Christmas Eve.
82 Merrion Square
A few blocks away the Abbey Theatre, which he helped to found 18 years ago, is still doing well under the director and co-founder Lady Augusta Gregory, 70. John Bull’s Other Island, a play by his fellow Dubliner, George Bernard Shaw, 66, is being performed, starring part-time actor and full-time civil servant Barry Fitzgerald, 34.
George Bernard Shaw
Yeats has been awarded an Honorary D. Litt. From Trinity College, Dublin. He writes to a friend that this makes him feel “that I have become a personage.”
In England, at Monk’s House, their country home in East Sussex, the Woolfs, Virginia, 40, and Leonard, 42, are reviewing the state of their five-year-old publishing company, the Hogarth Press.
The road outside Monk’s House
They have added 37 members to the Press’ subscribers list and have agreed to publish a new poem by their friend, American ex-pat Thomas Stearns Eliot, 34, called The Waste Land early in the new year. Virginia has donated £50 to a fund to help “poor Tom,” as she calls him, who still has a full-time day job at Lloyds Bank. Eliot takes the £50, as well as the $2,000 Dial magazine prize he has been awarded in America and sets up a trust fund for himself and his wife Vivienne, 34.
The Hogarth Press has published six titles this year, the same as last. But most important to Virginia, one of them, Jacob’s Room, is her first novel not published by her hated stepbrother, Gerald Duckworth, 52. She can write as she pleases now.
Most interesting to Virginia at the end of this year is her newfound friendship with another successful English novelist, Vita Sackville-West, 30. The Woolfs have been spending lots of time with Vita and her husband, Sir Harold Nicolson, 36.
Sir Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West
Virginia writes in her diary,
The human soul, it seems to me, orients itself afresh every now and then. It is doing so now…No one can see it whole, therefore. The best of us catch a glimpse of a nose, a shoulder, something turning away, always in movement.”
In France, American ex-pats Gertrude Stein, 48, and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 45, are vacationing in St. Remy. They came for a month and have decided to stay for the duration of the winter.
Stein is pleased that her Geography and Plays has recently been published by Four Seas in Boston. This eclectic collection of stories, poems, plays and language experiments that she has written over the past decade comes with an encouraging introduction by one of her American friends, established novelist Sherwood Anderson, 46. He says that Gertrude’s work is among the most important being written today, and lives “among the little housekeeping words, the swaggering bullying street-corner words, the honest working, money-saving words.”
Geography and Plays by Gertrude Stein
The volume also contains her 1913 poem, “Sacred Emily,” which includes a phrase Stein repeats often,
Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”
Alice is thinking of using that as part of the logo for Gertrude’s personal stationery.
Stein and Alice are hopeful that Geography and Plays will help her blossoming reputation as a serious writer. For now, they are going to send some fruit to one of their new American friends back in Paris, foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star, Ernest Hemingway, 23, and his lovely wife Hadley, 31.
In America, free-lance writer Dorothy Parker, 29, has had a terrible year.
She did get her first short story published, “Such a Pretty Little Picture” in this month’s issue of Smart Set. After years of writing only the light verse that sells easily to New York’s magazines and newspapers, Parker is starting to branch out and stretch herself more.
However, her stockbroker husband of five years, Edwin Pond Parker II, also 29, finally packed up and moved back to his family in Connecticut.
Dorothy and Eddie Parker
Parker took up with a would-be playwright from Chicago, Charles MacArthur, 27, who started hanging around with her lunch friends from the Algonquin Hotel. He broke Dottie’s heart—and her spirit after he contributed only $30 to her abortion. And made himself scarce afterwards.
On Christmas day there were no fewer than eight new plays for Parker to review. She had to bundle up against the cold and spend the holiday racing around to see as much of each one as she could. And then go home to no one but her bird Onan (“because he spills his seed”) and her dog Woodrow Wilson.
New York Times Square Christmas Eve 1920s by J. A. Blackwell
As she gets ready to jump into 1923, Parker works on the type of short poem she has become known for:
One Perfect Rose
By Dorothy Parker
A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet–
One perfect rose.
I knew the language of the floweret;
“My fragile leaves,” it said, “his heart enclose.”
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.
Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.
To hear Dorothy Parker read her poem, “One Perfect Rose,” click here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMnv1XNpuwM
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.