“Such Friends”:  100 years ago, December 31, 1921/January 1, 1922, Ireland, England, France and America

At the end of the second year of the 1920s…

In Ireland, at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, still run by one of its founders, Lady Augusta Gregory, 69, the company is finishing up, with a matinee and evening performance today, the run of a double bill including A Pot of Broth by one of its other founders, Irish poet William Butler Yeats, 56. The Abbey has been performing this little one act about gullible peasants since it was written over 15 years ago.

Throughout the country, violent atrocities are committed by the Irish Republican Army and the British Black and Tans, while in Dublin, in a huge leap forward for Irish independence, the government of the Irish Free State is finally coming into being.

Newspaper headline, December 8

*****

In England, near Oxford, Yeats is encouraged by the news of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, giving Ireland, including 26 of the island’s 32 counties, Dominion status in the British Commonwealth. He writes to a friend that he expects the Irish parliament, the Dail, will ratify the treaty, but

I see no hope of escape from bitterness, and the extreme party may carry the country.”

With the establishment of the Irish Free State, Yeats and his wife Georgie, 29, are thinking of moving back to Dublin in the new year with their two children, Anne, 2 ½, and the recently christened Michael Butler Yeats, four months old.

In Sussex, Virginia, 39, and her husband Leonard Woolf, 41, have come to their country home, Monk’s House, for the holidays.

The Hogarth Press, the publishing company they have operated out of their home in the Richmond section of London for the past four years, is steadily growing. In total they published six titles this year, a 50% increase over last.

A book of woodcuts by a friend of theirs, Roger Fry, 55, that they brought out just a few months ago is going in to its third printing.

They have hired an assistant, Ralph Partridge, 27, who was at first helpful. Now he works in the basement, sleeps over during the week and has a bad habit of leaving the press and metal type dirty, which drives Leonard crazy. Partridge’s profit-sharing deal has increased from last year, but is only £125.

Before they came down here to ring in the new year, the Woolfs had a visit from their friend, one of their former best-selling writers, Katherine Mansfield, 33. They discussed excerpts from a new work, Ulysses, by Irish novelist James Joyce, 39, to be published in Paris in a few months. Mansfield agrees that it is disgusting, but she still found some scenes that she feels will one day be deemed important.

Katherine Mansfield

About three years ago, Virginia and Leonard were approached about publishing Ulysses, but they rejected it. They don’t regret their decision.

*****

In France, Paris has become home to over 6,000 Americans, enjoying being let out of the prison of Prohibition back home.

Writer Gertrude Stein, 47, who has lived here for almost 20 years, has been laid up recently after minor surgery. She is still writing, working on Didn’t Nelly & Lilly Love You, which includes references to her birthplace, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, and that of her partner for the past 14 years, Alice B. Toklas, 44, Oakland, California, and how the two of them met in Paris.

The author at Gertrude Stein’s house in Allegheny, Pennsylvania

Because she recently visited the nearby studio of another American ex-pat, painter and photographer Man Ray, 31, who just moved here last summer, Gertrude works into the piece “a description of Mr. Man Ray.

*****

In America, New York free-lance writer Dorothy Parker, 28, is attending, as usual, the New Year’s Eve party hosted by two of her friends from lunches at the Algonquin Hotel—New York World columnist Heywood Broun, 33, and his wife, journalist Ruth Hale, 34. Their party is an annual event, but bigger than ever this year because it is being held in their newly purchased brownstone at 333 West 85th Street.

Parker notes that they are directly across the street from one of the buildings that she lived in with her father.

Building across the street from the Brouns’ brownstone

Dottie is here alone. Her friends don’t expect her husband, stockbroker and war veteran Eddie Pond Parker, 28, to be with her. They joke that she keeps him in a broom closet back home.

She’s enjoying talking to one of her other lunch buddies, top New York Tribune columnist Franklin Pierce Adams [always known as FPA], 40, who is professing his undying love for Parker. While sitting next to his wife and keeping an eye on a pretty young actress in a pink dress.

All the furniture except for some folding chairs has been removed to make room for the 200 guests and a huge vat of orange blossoms [equal parts gin and orange juice, with powdered sugar thrown in]. No food or music. Just illegal booze.

As the turn of the new year approaches, the guests join the hosts in one of their favorite traditions. Dottie and the others each stand on a chair.

At the stroke of midnight they jump off, into the unknown of 1922.

Thanks to Neil Weatherall, author of the play, The Passion of the Playboy Riots, for help in unravelling Irish history. 

“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, Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and in print and e-book formats on Amazon. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

Early in the new year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses at the Osher Lifelong Learning programs at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

On February 3, 2022, we will be celebrating the 148th birthday of my fellow Pittsburgh native Gertrude Stein, at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill. To register for this free event, or to watch it via Zoom, go to Riverstone’s website.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon 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.

Have a Happy New Year! We will be chronicling what was happening in 1922 right here…

“Such Friends”:  100 years ago, October, 1921, Hotel La Maison Blanche, 3 Traverse des Lices, Saint Tropez, France

The friends from London’s Bloomsbury neighborhood are settling into this hotel on the French Riviera.

Hotel La Maison Blanche

As soon as painter Vanessa Bell, 42, arrives, she writes to their friend, economist John Maynard Keynes, 38, back home, asking him to send them a dozen packages of oatmeal, 10 seven-pound tins of marmalade, four pounds of tea, and “some potted meat.”

Vanessa is here with her former lover, art critic Roger Fry, 54, who has received a letter from Vanessa’s sister, novelist Virginia Woolf, 39, reporting on a recent evening at her country home in Sussex: 

T. S. Eliot says that [James Joyce’s novel Ulysses] is the greatest work of the age—Lytton [Strachey] says he doesn’t mean to read it. Clive [Bell, Vanessa’s husband] says—well, Clive says that [his mistress] Mary Hutchinson has a dressmaker who would make me look like other people.”

Also here for the winter is Vanessa’s partner, painter Duncan Grant, 36, who has arrived via Paris.

Visitors or not, Vanessa intends to spend her time here working on still lifes and interiors, in preparation for her first solo show next spring.

Vanessa Bell’s Interior with a Table

“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 in print and e-book formats on Amazon. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

This fall I will be talking about Writers’ Salons in Dublin and London Before the Great War in the Osher Lifelong Learning 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 F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.

“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, March 8, 1921, Hogarth House, Richmond, London

She’s feeling rather pleased with herself.

Novelist Virginia Woolf, 39, has just brought out her first collection of short stories, published by her and her husband, Leonard, 40, at their own six-year-old Hogarth Press.

Monday or Tuesday is one of the more ambitious projects they have tackled, having started with individual stories. This is full book length, with some pieces that have appeared before and some new.

Her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, 41, did a woodcut for the cover, which she has done for many of Hogarth’s books. This time they also had Vanessa do a few more for the inside pages.

Monday or Tuesday with cover by Vanessa Bell

Virginia feels that both the writing and the art are up to her high standards.

However.

The printing is a mess.

The Woolfs trusted McDermott’s Prompt Press, which they have used before, and what they got is what Virginia describes to a friend as “an odious object…[which leaves] black stains wherever it touches.” And all 1,000 copies are filled with typographical errors.

That problem is no trouble to fix. They’ll correct the typos for the Harcourt Brace American edition and never use McDermott again.

The problem she is having trouble fixing is her third novel, Jacob’s Room. Virginia is trying to continue the experiments with style she used in the newer short stories in Monday or Tuesday. But working here in the Woolfs’ house in Richmond, with the business of the Hogarth Press going on all around her—it’s just not coming.  She likes to write in her head when she walks out on the Sussex countryside surrounding their country home, Monk’s House. Earlier this month she wrote in her diary,

If I were at Rodmell I should have thought it all out walking on the flats. I should be in writing trim.”

But this short story collection is giving her confidence. She writes in her diary now,

And I’m not nearly as pleased as I was depressed; & yet in a state of security; fate cannot touch me; the reviewers may snap; & sales decrease…[I have overcome my fear of being] dismissed as negligible.”

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volume I, covering 1920, is available in print and e-book versions on Amazon. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

This summer I will be talking about The Literary 1920s in the Osher Lifelong Learning programs at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

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 F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and e-book formats.

“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, Mid-January, 1921, Dundrum, Dublin; and Oxford, England

Lolly Yeats, 52, owner and business manager of Cuala Press, run out of her home in Dundrum, was intrigued by some things she observed on a recent visit to the Oxford home of her brother, Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, 55, his wife, Georgie, 29, and their daughter, one-year-old Anne.

Lolly Yeats by her father, John Butler Yeats

She knows Willie is proud of his English home, so she didn’t say anything. But all of their plates are a dark color, with no pattern. And, odder still, because the couple doesn’t own or like silverplate, their cutlery is made out of horn?!

Lolly had written to her father, painter John Butler Yeats, 81, living in New York City, asking if he ever had to drink soup from a flat spoon?! Or use a fork with only a couple of prongs to eat a piece of meat?!

However, she did appreciate her sister-in-law’s attempts to brighten up their place with brightly colored cushions, and the nice touch of putting both note cards and stamps in each guest’s room.

The Yeatses seem to be doing well, having just returned from a successful lecture tour of the States last year. But Lolly feels that the check she will be sending Willie for his royalties from his Cuala Press publications—which should be almost £500—will be greatly appreciated.

*****

In the Yeatses home in Oxford, Georgie is looking forward to their upcoming trip around the south of England, including revisiting Stone Cottage in Sussex where they spent their honeymoon almost four years ago. But recently she has been feeling sick in the mornings, and thinks she had better tell Willie that she might be pregnant again. She knows he has been hoping for a boy.

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

My “Such Friends” presentations, The Founding of the Abbey Theatre and Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, are available to view for free on the website of PICT Classic Theatre.

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 F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions. Early this year I will be talking about Perkins, Fitzgerald and Hemingway in the Osher Lifelong Learning program at Carnegie-Mellon University.

“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago, Summer, 1920, London, Bishopsbourne, and East Sussex, England

At 74 Gloucester Place in Marylebone, London, publisher and editor Harriet Shaw Weaver, 43, is thrilled to have received a letter from the American owner of the Paris bookshop, Shakespeare & Co., Sylvia Beach, 33.

H Weaver

Harriet Shaw Weaver

Having just met Irish writer James Joyce, 38, Beach wants to buy as many books as she can from Weaver’s Egoist Press, which supports Joyce. Weaver is writing back to offer Shakespeare & Co. a 33% discount and free shipping. She knows this is going to be a good deal.

Later in the summer, Weaver uses an inheritance from her aunt to set up a trust to fund Joyce. She had submitted his latest work in progress, Ulysses, to many publishers, including London’s Hogarth Press, run by Virginia Woolf, 38, and her husband Leonard, 39, but no one wants to touch it.

A few stops east on the Metropolitan Railway, and a short walk from Euston Station, a luncheon is being held at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury to honor art critic and painter Roger Fry, 53, on the occasion of his private showing of 81 paintings at London’s Independent Gallery. His Bloomsbury friend, fellow painter Duncan Grant, 35, had returned from his two-month trip to France and Italy with two cases of paintings that Fry had done while he was there.

Roger Fry c. 1910

Roger Fry

Fry appreciates his friends’ attempt to cheer him up because, despite fairly low prices for all his works, neither the reviews nor the sales are going well. Earlier in the summer he had written to a friend,

It’s almost impossible for an artist to live in England:  I feel so isolated.”

After an easy Underground ride from nearby Russell Square station, south on the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square station, it’s a short walk to the New Theater. The first play by actor Noel Coward, 20, I’ll Leave It to You, is getting good reviews. Coward stars in his own play, which has just transferred to the West End from a successful run up north in Manchester.

noel_coward_young

Noel Coward

The London Times is excited:

It is a remarkable piece of work from so young a head–spontaneous, light, and always ‘brainy.’”

And the Observer predicts:

Mr Coward…has a sense of comedy, and if he can overcome a tendency to smartness, he will probably produce a good play one of these days.”

But this one closes after only 37 performances.

London tube map 1921

London Underground map

From Leicester Square station, heading south down the Hampstead Line, changing to go east on the District Line, the Cannon Street station is in the heart of the City, the financial capital of the country. At the Cannon Street Hotel, a group of radical socialists have gathered for the first Congress of their newly formed Communist Party of Great Britain.

The publisher and editor of the socialist Worker’s Dreadnought newspaper, Sylvia Pankhurst, 38, and one of her reporters, Jamaican Claude McKay, 30, both attend. But Sylvia decides the Communists are way too right wing for her taste, and votes against affiliating with the Labour Party.

Communist Unity Convention 1920

Communist Unity Convention, Summer 1920

Farther south down the District Line, near the West Kensington station, poet Ezra Pound, 34, is back in London after spending time in Europe specifically to introduce his new find, James Joyce, to the literary society of Paris. Pound gives a brown paper package with old clothing and shoes to his friends, poet T. S. Eliot, 31, and painter and writer Wyndham Lewis, 37, to pass on to Joyce on their upcoming trip to Paris.

Farther south, the District line terminates in Richmond. A few blocks from the station in Hogarth House on Paradise Road, the Woolfs are feeling overwhelmed by the success of their Hogarth Press.

The sales flooding in up until now have been primarily from word of mouth among their Bloomsbury friends. Who also send along their manuscripts for the Woolfs to publish.

They’ve recently taken their first ads in national papers such as the Times and the Manchester Guardian and magazines such as the Nation and the New Statesman. Leonard is closing out the account for Eliot’s Poems, and finds they have made a small profit of £9.

This summer they are planning to bring out Reminiscences of Count Leo Tolstoi, by Maxim Gorky, 52, translated by their friend S. S. Koteliansky, 40.

hogarth-house

Hogarth House, Richmond

This is quite a landmark for the Woolfs and their five-year-old company. Not only is it the first Russian translation they have published, with an initial run of 1,250 it is also the first time they have used an outside commercial printer from beginning to end. Up until now they have been setting type, printing and binding, all on their own in their home. Now they have become a true publishing house, not just a small press.

Virginia writes to a friend,

The Hogarth Press is growing like a beanstalk and [Leonard and I] think we must set up a shop and keep a clerk.”

Later in the summer she confides to her diary that Leonard is

on the verge of destruction. As a hobby, the Hogarth Press is clearly too lively & lusty to be carried on in this private way any longer. Moreover, the business part of it can’t be shared, owing to my incompetence. The future, therefore, needs consideration.”

****

About a two-hour drive southeast of Richmond is Bishopsbourne, Kent. At his house, Oswalds, Polish-born novelist Joseph Conrad, 62, is writing to his American benefactor, Irish-American lawyer, John Quinn, 50, in New York.

Oswalds Kent

Oswalds, Bishopsbourne, Kent

Quinn was not happy that Conrad went back on his promise to sell the manuscript of his latest novel to Quinn. But Conrad explained that he had hurriedly sold it to another collector to get cash quickly, and Quinn was understanding. Conrad writes, “

I am glad you take my arrangement as to the MSS. so well…I had many claims on me, and I have some still…—not to speak of my wife’s prolonged disablement.”

Conrad is comforted by the fact that after his death his copyrights will help support his wife Jessie, 46, and their two sons. One of whom is named for Quinn.

Quinn writes back to re-assure him,

You are far from the end of your time…You are one of the leading writers living in the world today and still producing work that is worthy of your best…There is no falling off there [in Conrad’s latest novel The Rescue]! It is a fine thing, one of your best things.”

*****

Seventy miles farther south, in Rodmell, East Sussex, the Woolfs are spending the last half of the summer at their country home, Monk’s House, still worried about overworking at Hogarth.

monk's house from road

Monk’s House, Rodmell, Sussex

Their young friends, painter Dora Carrington, 27, and her lover Ralph Partridge, 26, have  come to stay for a weekend, and the Woolfs talk to Partridge about working for them. Virginia writes to Fry, back in Bloomsbury, that she and Leonard

now think of setting up a proper printing plant and doing all production ourselves—that is with a manager…[Or else close it] as we can’t go on with it as we’ve been doing.”

By the end of August the Hogarth Press has hired Partridge as a part-time assistant for £100 per year and 50% of their net profit.

A twenty-minute drive away, at Charleston Farmhouse, Virginia’s sister, painter Vanessa Bell, is hosting the usual summer assemblage of Bloomsbury creatives.

Charleston farmhouse_exterior_photo_credit_grace_towner better

Charleston Farmhouse, Firle, Sussex

Julian, 12, her son with her estranged husband, art critic Clive Bell, 38, has set off his airgun by mistake and a bullet has gotten stuck in a chair.

According to one of their friends, up in his room Clive is

pretending to read Stendhal.”

Down the hall, economist John Maynard Keynes, just turned 37, is working on his latest book, A Treatise on Probability while continuing to edit the Economic Journal.

Vanessa and her partner, Duncan Grant, are working on a huge project. Keynes has commissioned them to create new murals for his rooms at King’s College, Cambridge. They have decided to produce eight allegorical figures, alternating male and female, to fill almost a whole wall, representing Science, Political Economics, Music, Classics, Law, Mathematics, Philosophy and History. They are advising Maynard on every detail of the interior decoration of the sitting room, right down to the color of the curtains.

Duncan has just returned from a visit to his aging parents up in Kent, and is a bit concerned about his father’s welfare. He tells Vanessa that in the nursing home the Major, 63, is

spending most of his time alone and hardly ever speaking at meals.”

Duncan hopes Virginia and Leonard could make use of his father on some Hogarth Press project.

Overall, Duncan writes to a friend back in Bloomsbury,

Life here is very quiet.”

Studies for murals in Keynes rooms

Drawings for Vanessa and Duncan’s murals for Keynes’ Cambridge sitting room

“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.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

In 2020 I will be talking about writers’ salons before and after the Great War in Ireland, England, France and America in the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning program.

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

 

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, March 10, 1920, Bloomsbury, London

Painter Vanessa Bell, 40, is furious. And “amused.”

She has just received a letter from her friend, writer Madge Vaughan, 51, wife of her cousin, William, 55, the headmaster of quite posh Wellington College.

Vanessa and her sister, novelist Virginia Woolf, 38, have always been fond of Madge. But she definitely lives a much more traditional life than Virginia and Vanessa do.

Madge is interested in possibly renting out Vanessa’s country home, Charleston in Sussex, for a family holiday, so she is staying there herself to try it out. Madge is well aware of Vanessa’s bohemian living arrangements—with her husband, art critic Clive Bell, 38, her gay lover, painter Duncan Grant, 35, and their daughter, Angelica, 14 months old. But apparently actually being in the home with the well-blended Bell and Grant families makes Madge uncomfortable.

charleston photo

Charleston Farmhouse

In her letter to Vanessa she says,

I love you and I am faithful to old friends…I have set my back against slander and chatter and fought your battles always through the years. But I love, with increasing passion, Goodness, purity and homeliness and the hearts of little children are the holiest things I know on earth. And a question gnaws at my poor heart here in this house. It came stabbing my heart that day when I saw Angelica. I would like to meet you as a woman friend face to face at some quiet place and to talk it out. I don’t feel I could come and live here with Will and the children unless I had done this.”

Madge Vaughan

Madge Vaughan

Vanessa writes back,

Why on earth should my moral character have anything to do with the question of your taking Charleston or not? I suppose you don’t always enquire into your landlords’ character. However, take it or not as you like…As for the gossip about me,…I cannot conceive why you think it any business of yours. I am absolutely indifferent to anything the world may say about me, my husband or my children…[Neither Clive nor I] think much of the world’s will or opinion, or that a ‘conventional home’ is necessarily a happy or good one, that my married life has not been full of restraints but, on the contrary, full of ease, freedom and complete confidence…”

NPG 4331,Vanessa Bell (nÈe Stephen),by Duncan Grant

Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant, 1918

Thanks to Peter Monteith, Assistant Archivist at King’s College, Cambridge, for help with dating these letters.

“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.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

In 2020 I will be talking about the writers’ salons in Ireland, England, France and America before and after the Great War in the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning program.

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

“Such Friends” 100 years ago, January 1, 1920…

 

America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history and there was going to be plenty to tell about it. –F. Scott Fitzgerald

fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

That was 100 years ago. So here we are again. At the beginning of the Twenties. Will this be a similar decade?!

There’s one way to tell:  To look back at certain points and document what was happening a century before, with the artists and writers who were “Such Friends”:

William Butler Yeats and the Irish Literary Renaissance,

Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group,

Gertrude Stein and the Americans in Paris, and

Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table,

in Ireland, England, France and America.

As the new decade begins…

Irish poet W B Yeats, 54, is getting ready to go back to the United States on his third American lecture tour, this time with his wife, Georgie Hyde-Lees, 28. They are leaving the baby Anne, just 11 months old, back in Ireland with his sisters.

Yeats and Geo 1923

Georgie and William Butler Yeats

Hogarth Press owners, novelist Virginia Woolf, about to turn 38, and her husband Leonard, 39, have been celebrating the holidays at Monk’s House in Sussex, which they bought last year at auction. This coming year, they want to spend more time outside of too-busy London.

Va and Leon

Virginia and Leonard Woolf

In Paris, American writer Gertrude Stein, 45, and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 42, are still getting back to normal after the Armistice. Their apartment, on the Left Bank near the Luxembourg Gardens, had hosted salons for all the local painters before the Great War. Who will come now?

Gert and Alice with the paintings

Alice B. Toklas and her partner Gertrude Stein with Picassos

Vanity Fair writers Dorothy Parker, 26, Robert Benchley, 30, and their “such friends” are lunching regularly at the Algonquin Hotel in midtown Manhattan. And trying to drink up in the last few weeks before the Volstead Act—Prohibition—goes into effect. It won’t slow them down.

parkerbenchley cartoon

Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley

Join me on a journey through the “Literary 1920s,” tracking these characters in their place and time, 100 years ago. Happy New Year!

“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.

In 2020 I will be talking about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins and his relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and others in both the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University’s Osher Lifelong Learning programs.

Manager as Muse, about Perkins and his writers, is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle 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’: Woolf Works

When the Royal Ballet premiered Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works last year, I left it too late, and by the time I tried to book it was sold out. Bummer.

So when it came around again, I was determined to get in early. Got tickets for the first matinee, first day. Off to London.

Having never been to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, I allowed plenty of time to get there. And it’s a good thing because the refurbishment construction leads to signs and arrows pointing you to the main entrance, outside Covent Garden.

Once I found it, the search for lunch began. It’s usually best to head away from the theatre, but right next door was a lovely French-looking restaurant, La Ballerina, with a set price menu that included salmon. Sold.

Lunch doesn’t usually start until 1 pm over here, so when I poked my head in ten minutes before noon, I had the place all to myself. But the closer it got to show time, the more it filled up.

After a lovely light but filling lunch, I joined the queue to find my way to my seats up in peanut heaven. Thank God there was a lift.

Part of the attraction of this trip was a chance to see the Royal Opera House for the first time. I can report that it looks exactly like a very royal opera house. More surprisingly, my cheap seats turned out to be relatively comfortable, and gave a clear view of the ornate ceiling, the filled seats and, most important, the stage.

royal-opera-house

The Royal Opera House from the other side

Although about half the audience was the usual stale, pale and female arts matinee crowd—including me—I was thrilled to see so many who didn’t fit any of those demographics. On either side of me were Asian university-age students. A quick scan of the house showed a younger average-age crowd than I had expected. Was the attraction Virginia Woolf’s works? Or the original score by Max Richter? Or was this the usual Royal Ballet Saturday afternoon audience?

Although everywhere I had been on this London weekend was freezing cold, inside and out, here, settling in for a three-hour ballet with two long intervals, the theatre was a bit warm. And you who know me know, I’m never too warm.

The first piece—I Now, I Then—was based on Woolf’s 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway, one of my favorites. As in the novel and film The Hours, Clarissa and Virginia were merged into one. The movement between the younger and older versions of Virginia in print dresses and her husband Leonard in tweedy suits visually echoed the novel.

leonard-and-va-woolf-works

I now, I then, Act One of Woolf Works

During the 30-minute interval—intermission to my fellow Americans—I tried to read the detailed program [£7; you can order ahead with your tickets]. Was the tiny type another way to attract a younger audience? Because anyone over 40 wouldn’t be able to read that in any light.

The middle piece—Becomings—based on Orlando, Virginia’s 1928 tribute to her lover, Vita Sackville West, started off quite darkly. And stayed that way. I could see the dancers who were downstage in spotlight, but there were others back in the shadows. Not waiting to come on dancing, but dancing. Why, if we can’t see them? This was contrasted with the amazing laser effect at the very end. Could have spread that illumination out a bit more, if you ask me.

Between the warmth and the darkness, I could feel my eyelids doing that dip they do when you’ve been driving too long. The second interval allows 30 minutes to get up and walk around. A chance to see the building and have a shot of that standard British theatre-accompaniment, a yummy, tiny tub of ice cream.

Back in our seats a half hour later, the young ones around me were pulling up reviews of the ballet on their phones. Thank God they haven’t been looking at them during the show.

The final section—Tuesday—based on The Waves, opens with a huge video mural across the length of the stage of…waves. It’s quite effective, but the waves seem to stop waving after the first few minutes.

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Tuesday, Act Three of Woolf Works

In this piece, the dancers are much better lit. And the voice of Gillian Anderson gives an emotional reading of Woolf’s last writing, the note she left behind for Leonard before walking into the River Ouse in Sussex:

…You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came…’

But if you are that happy, why take your own life? Why? I’m sure Leonard asked the universe this same question when he read that note. Now we can understand this as an indication of how mental illness is indeed a ‘terrible disease.’

As the dance ends, the audience bursts into applause. Unlike the earlier pieces, the finale includes bows from all involved. First the young kids. Bow. Then the members of the company. Bow. Then the principals. Bow some more. Then everybody! More bowing. More clapping. A bit more bowing. Did we forget anyone? More bowing.

Done.

A lovely afternoon in a beautiful theatre, with enthusiastic companions, and beautiful art.

Woolf Works is going to be broadcast to theatres in the UK later this month. But I highly recommend taking in real, live, theatre.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

woolf-works-poster

Woolf Works poster