“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’: 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.

In_our_time_Paris_edition_1924

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.