“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, early August, 1921, en route to London; and back in Paris

Irish-American lawyer John Quinn, 51, is sailing back to New York, via London.

On this European trip he has concentrated on just Paris—not Ireland, not England, which he visited in the past few years. And his focus has paid off.

Travel Guide, London-Paris

He sent his ambassador [and lover], Mrs. Jeanne Foster, 42, ahead to arrange meetings with painters and their dealers.

She did a magnificent job. As a result, he’s coming back with arrangements to buy a sculpture and three paintings by Spaniard Pablo Picasso, 39, as well as works by Romanian painter and sculptor, Constantin Brancusi, 45, and French painters Andre Derain, 41, and Andre de Segonzac, 37.

More important to Quinn, he has developed personal friendships with the artists and their dealers.

John Quinn and Constantin Brancusi

Quinn also visited the English-language bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, owned by American ex-patriate Sylvia Beach, 34. He had advised her to move from her “shabby” location and Quinn approves of her new site on rue de l’Odeon. From here she plans to publish the monumental novel Ulysses by Irish ex-pat James Joyce, 39. Quinn is supporting Joyce financially by buying up the manuscript as it is written. Support the artist as well as the art.

Now Quinn is going back to the law office he thinks of as a prison.

*****

American novelist Sherwood Anderson, 44, and his wife Tennessee, 47, are heading back to his New York job, half-heartedly doing public relations for an independent movie company, via London.

His first trip to Europe has been what he’d dreamt of. After he visited Shakespeare and Company, Beach introduced him to Joyce and they had a few lunches together. Unfortunately, to get the conversation started the first time, Anderson asked Joyce what he thought of Ireland. Bad move.

Anderson told Beach he will spread the word among his American literary friends about her upcoming publication of Ulysses. Sherwood gave Sylvia a list of names and as many addresses as he could remember for her to use to solicit subscriptions. He even added personal notes to the prospectuses she is sending out.

Sherwood thinks of the job waiting for him in New York as a joke. He still has some advertising accounts to bring in income, but he’s not in a rush to go back to Chicago.

*****

American writer Edmund Wilson, 26, is heading back to his New York job, managing editor of Vanity Fair, via London. He enjoyed his time in Paris these past few weeks but doesn’t think he really got a feel for the city.

Vanity Fair, August 1921

Wilson spent most of his time tracking down and trying to lure back his former lover from New York City, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, 29, living in Paris as Vanity Fair’s European editor. Wilson has pushed and published her work in the magazine. But it’s clear that Millay has moved on from Edmund. To some British newspaperman.

Last month Wilson wrote to one of the magazine’s other editors,

I found [Millay] in a very first-rate hotel on the Left Bank and better dressed, I suppose, than she has ever been before in her life. You were right in guessing that she was well cared for as she had never been before…[She] told me she wanted to settle down to a new life:  She was tired of breaking hearts and spreading havoc.”

*****

American novelist Sinclair Lewis, 36, is heading to Paris from London.

Last year his sixth novel, Main Street, was a bestseller. However, he lost out on the Pulitzer Prize to The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, 59. Apparently, Main Street, with its focus on the hypocrisy in a small Midwest town, didn’t fit the jury’s criteria of a novel “which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life.”

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

Lewis is bringing along another American writer whom he has just met in London, Harold Stearns, 30, whose book America and the Young Intellectual is coming out this year. Lewis plans to spend only a few days in Paris, but Stearns is going to stay on in Montparnasse, on the Left Bank.

*****

Over on the Right Bank, American composer Virgil Thomson, 24, is settling into Paris and his temporary residence at the home of a French family on the rue de Provence.

At the beginning of the month, Virgil had bid a not-too-sad farewell to his fellow students in the Harvard Glee Club. The group has just completed a triumphant tour of France, with Virgil as accompanist. He was also the understudy for the conductor, and actually got a chance to step into the maestro’s shoes one night. Now they are all heading back to America.

Except Virgil. With his well-earned scholarship, he is going to stay here in Paris for a whole year.

Virgil has, of course, already been to Shakespeare and Company in rue de l’Odeon and signed up for Beach’s lending library. He is planning to move closer to the studio of Nadia Boulanger, 34, with whom he will be studying composition. His new residence at 20 rue de Berneis, a 10-minute walk from Boulanger, is in a less than desirable neighborhood. The street, and the building, are overwhelmed with what Virgil refers to as “daughters of joy.”

Nadia Boulanger’s studio, 36 rue Ballu

“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 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.

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.

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

“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, June, 1921, en route to and in Paris

Everyone’s coming to Paris…

Harvard undergraduate Virgil Thomson, 24, is thrilled to be headed to Paris for the first time on the European tour of the Harvard Glee Club—the first such extensive tour by any American university choral group. He’s the accompanist, but also an understudy for the conductor, Dr. Archibald T. “Doc” Davison, 37, who has led the 63-year-old choir for the past two years.

The Glee Club will be traveling through France for four weeks, then three more weeks in Switzerland and Italy. Playing 23 concerts at major venues in 12 major cities.

Harvard Glee Club logo

But what Virgil is looking forward to most is staying on in Paris after the Glee Club goes back to America.

This tour came about because French history professor Bernard Fay, 28, who had been at Harvard, managed to get the French Foreign Office to issue an official invitation to the Club.

In addition to meeting their steamer when they dock at 2 am, Fay will be able to introduce Virgil to those in Paris who he needs to know, particularly French composers such as Darius Milhaud, 28, and Francis Poulenc, 22.

Thanks to a teaching fellowship, Virgil will be staying on in Paris for a full year to study composition with renowned composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger, 33. What an opportunity. He’ll be staying with a French family at first, but then hopes to find his own flat near Boulanger’s studio on the Right Bank.

Nadia Boulanger

*****

Artist Marcel Duchamp, 33, on the other hand, is heading for home.

Marcel has been living in and around New York City for the past six years. After his painting Nude Descending a Staircase was such a big hit at the 1913 Armory Show, he was able to finance a trip to the States and leverage his newfound fame to acquire artist friends and valuable patrons, Walter, 43, and Louise Arensberg, 42. As owners of the building where he has a studio, the Arensbergs agreed to take one of Duchamp’s major paintings, The Large Glass, in lieu of rent.

Duchamp’s English wasn’t good at first, but supporting himself by giving French lessons helped to improve it quickly.

Marcel feels it’s time to go back home to Paris. Even just for a few months.

The Large Glass by Marcel Duchamp

*****

After a stop in London, the Fitzgeralds are now in Paris.

In England, Scott, 24, wasn’t particularly impressed with his fellow Scribner’s novelist John Galsworthy, 53, whom he met at his home in Hampstead.

Scott and his wife Zelda aren’t really impressed with Paris either. The managers of the Hotel Saint-James-et-d’Albany where they are staying complain when Zelda blocks the elevator door on their floor so it will be available for her.

The real problem with this trip, though, is that Zelda is sick all the time. And pregnant.

*****

American novelist Sherwood Anderson, 44, and his wife, Tennessee, 47, on the other hand, are having a ball on their first trip to Paris. They’ve seen a terrific exhibit of work by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, 39. Visited Chartres. Met American ex-patriate poet Ezra Pound, 35. They were more impressed by the Chartres cathedral than they were by Pound.

What Sherwood is really looking forward to, however, is using the letter of introduction he just received from the American owner of Shakespeare & Co., Sylvia Beach, 34, to meet her friend and fellow American, writer Gertrude Stein, 47. He has read some of Stein’s pieces in the “little mags” that he’s found back in Chicago and has learned so much from her radical style.

In exchange, Sherwood is helping Sylvia send out prospectuses to all the Americans he can think of, soliciting subscriptions for her upcoming publication of Ulysses, the scandalous novel by the Irish ex-patriate, James Joyce, 39.

Prospectus for Ulysses

*****

Recent Yale graduate Thornton Wilder, 24, and his sister, Isabel, 21, both writers, have been in Paris since the beginning of the month. During his recent eight-month residency at the American Academy in Rome, where he studied archaeology and Italian, Thornton started on his first novel, The Cabala.

Now that they are in Paris, Thornton and Isabel are signed up as members of Shakespeare & Co.’s lending library and they have made friends with Sylvia, thanks to a letter of introduction he carried from his friend, poet Stephen Vincent Benet, 22.

Sylvia has offered to introduce Thornton to Joyce, whom he has seen in her shop.

Thornton refused. Joyce always looks as though he doesn’t want to be interrupted.

Right now, Thornton’s biggest concern is finding a new place to live. The Hotel du Maroc, where they have been since they arrived, is crawling with bedbugs.

Thornton Wilder, Yale University graduation photo

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volume I covering 1920 is available on Amazon in print and e-book versions. 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.

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 e-book formats.

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

How Could Gertrude Stein Write The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and What’s with Those Brownies?

[A Secret Sisterhood:  The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf, by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney [Aurum Press, 2017], is now out in paperback. Midorikawa and Sweeney run the blog, Something Rhymed, about female literary friendships, so it seemed this would be a good time to post a piece I wrote a few years ago about the famous duo, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Although they were much more than friends.]

If an autobiography is someone’s own life story, how can one person write an autobiography of someone else? Did Gertrude Stein goof in her title?

If you want to read it yourself—and it’s a great, fun read—skip the ending of this blog which gives away Gertrude’s ending.

And besides, Gertrude could do anything she wanted. She was a genius. And Alice knew it.

Gertrude Stein was an American writer who spent almost her entire adult life living in Paris with her partner—Yes, they were gay!—Alice B. Toklas, also an American. They were so close that their joint biographer Diana Souhami [Gertrude and Alice, I. B. Tauris, 2009] says that from the day they met,

“They were together until Gertrude’s death. They never traveled without each other or entertained separately, or worked on independent projects.”

Like me, Gertrude was born in Pittsburgh, PA, although Alice said she should have been born in Oakland, CA. Her family moved west to the Bay area when Gertrude was only a baby. Dad made a bunch of money on the San Francisco trolley car system and then died. Her oldest brother Michael was such a good money manager that she and her other brother, Leo, were able to move to Paris right after the turn of the last century, live pretty well and collect art. They were known around town as the crazy Americans who wore sandals and bought weird paintings by unknown artists—Picasso, Braque, Matisse.

Stein family

The Stein family

Leo and Gert are the first two on the left.

Alice also grew up in San Francisco, although the two did not meet until she came to visit friends in Paris in 1907, soon after the San Francisco earthquake. When she was introduced to Gertrude, she says she heard bells ring. She always heard bells ring when she met a genius, and Gertrude was her first genius. The second was Picasso, whom Gertrude introduced Alice to the next day.

After Alice moved in, Leo felt it was getting a bit crowded in their apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus on the Left Bank of Paris, so he moved out soon after.

Gertrude would sit up late at night at her writing table, under a Cezanne, trying to do in written portraits what Cezanne had done on canvas. Alice would get up early, type up the copy, note some changes in the margin, plan the meals and chores for the day, and dust the paintings. She said she learned all about the paintings by dusting them. In the evenings they would host salons and invite the artists to come see their paintings, hanging two deep on the walls.

Gert and Alice with the paintings

Gertrude and Alice at home with the paintings

During World War I Gert and Alice ordered a car from the States—they called her Godiva—and volunteered for the Red Cross ambulance service. They were both honored for their work by the French government after the war.

When the war ended in 1918, the GIs came back to the States with tales of the beauties of France and were slapped in the face with Prohibition. What better plan than to go right back to Paris where it was really cheap to live and you could drink? As a result, Americans flooded Paris in the 1920s. They sat around drinking in cafes, got into brawls in the street, and were the subject of nasty letters to the editors by the French. No wonder they hate us now.

Some of Gertrude’s avant-garde writings were being published back home in the States, so the American writers came to her house to listen to her expound on her theories of modernistic writing and eat Alice’s little cakes.

Novelists Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, the photographer/painter Man Ray, and the composer Virgil Thomson were among the creative people who would come to the Saturday night salons. Alice would answer the door, ask who had sent you, and, if she let you in, she might allow you to sit within the charmed circle around Gertrude. But your wife would be ushered into a separate corner of the large room to chat with Alice.

“I had often said that I would write, The wives of geniuses I have sat with,”

says Alice in the Autobiography.

The line

“A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”

appeared in one of Stein’s poems written in the early twenties, “Sacred Emily.” Ever on the lookout for ways to promote Stein’s brand, Alice took the phrase and arranged it in a circle to appear on Gertrude’s stationery, creating a logo for her work.

Gertrude's letterhead

Gertrude’s letterhead, designed by Alice

At the end of the 1920s, Alice got tired of cleaning up after the messy writers. Some of them, like Thomson, received Gertrude’s personal engraved cards with a note from Alice:

“Miss Stein declines further acquaintance with Mr. Thomson.”

That was that.

Virgil and Gert working together

Gert and Virgil working together on the opera Four Saints in Three Acts

Gert kept badgering Alice to write the story of her life, because she had had the privilege of spending most of it with geniuses, but Alice was too busy taking care of Gertrude. So in 1932, at their summer home in the French countryside, in six weeks Gertrude sat down and wrote her most popular book.

Friends of hers in the States arranged to have it published by Harcourt Brace and, at the age of 58, Gertrude Stein was a huge hit. Her friends convinced her and Alice to come on a triumphant tour of the country they had both left behind almost 30 years before. When they arrived in New York, Gertrude’s name was up in lights in Times Square and the newspaper headlines read:

Gerty Gerty Stein Stein Is Back Home Home Back.”

She introduced Alice as “my secretary” everywhere they went, although Alice ran all the details of the tour like the control freak she really was.

Back in Paris during World War II, they invited American soldiers to come to their salon.  They got to know a lot of writers and painters who turned out to not be as talented or famous as the ones who had come earlier.

After World War II, the US government sent Gert and Alice on a tour of American bases in Europe but towards the end, Gertrude became really ill. Rushed to the American Hospital in Paris, she was operated on but they found that her cancer was too far along.  Before she died, she turned to Alice and said,

“What is the answer?”

Alice didn’t say anything.

“In that case, what is the question?”

Alice was devastated but devoted the rest of her life to guarding Gertrude’s memory. In her old age Alice began doing some writing herself, mostly memoirs. Neither she nor Gertrude had ever been devout Jews, and Alice started practicing Catholicism with the rationale that she would be reunited with Gertrude in heaven. When she checked in for a retreat at a convent, at the age of 83 still chain-smoking Pall Malls, a copy of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita fell out of her suitcase.

Alice finally died at the ripe old age of ninety and is buried in Pere Lechaise cemetery.  She’s not anywhere near Jimi Hendrix; she’s right where she always was—directly behind Gertrude, for eternity.

gertrude stein grave

Gertrude’s grave

What’s with those brownies?

 

The writers and artists all remembered Alice’s cooking fondly and in the 1950s convinced her to put together a cookbook of her own recipes as well as others from the people who came to the salons.

Painter Brian Gysin, who was just a passing acquaintance, sent along the recipe:

“Haschich Fudge

(which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)

This is the food of Paradise…it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR…”

Alice was in a hurry to get her manuscript to the publisher, and hadn’t tested any of the recipes, so she just slipped this one in.

Right before publication, someone at the American publishing house pointed out that hashish was a controlled substance, and Alice was mortified. It was taken out of the American edition, but her British publisher left it in. Some clever reviewers felt that this explained a lot about Gertrude’s writings.

There was a Peter Sellers movie in the 60s based on this myth—We Love You Alice B. Toklas. But neither Gert nor Alice ever needed drugs to alter their view of reality.

 

The ending of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas:

 

“I am a pretty good housekeeper and a pretty good gardener and a pretty good needlewoman and pretty good secretary and a pretty good editor, and a pretty good vet for dogs and I have to do them all at once and I find it difficult to add being a pretty good author. About six weeks ago Gertrude Stein said, it does not look to me as if you were ever going to write that autobiography. You know what I am going to do. I am going to write it for you. I am going to write it as simply as Defoe did the autobiography of Robinson Crusoe. And she has and this is it.”

me-at-stein-house

Gertrude Stein’s house, on the North Side of Pittsburgh, and me

To read more about American writers, Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

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

 

 

 

On the Left Bank of Paris, in June, 1927…

…ex-patriate American composer Virgil Thomson, 30, is excited to begin his next project. He has commissioned fellow American Gertrude Stein, 53, to write a libretto for an opera. And now he has received her text.

Gertrude has been working on this since March and, as he expected, having already set some of her shorter works to music, it’s not exactly traditional.

Virgil and Gert working together

Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein working together

Stein and Thomson had decided that the subject would be saints. Maybe four.

Gertrude has written a story about 20 of them, although focusing on two, St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Teresa of Avila. Virgil is thinking that he may have to write parts for two St. Teresas. And maybe a master and a mistress of ceremonies could actually sing Stein’s stage directions.

Overall, he likes it. Virgil can see in Gertrude’s characters the creative people they all know on the Left Bank, who come to Stein’s salon on rue de Fleurus.

From Four Saints in Three Acts by Gertrude Stein

Pigeons on the grass alas.
Pigeons on the grass alas.
Short longer grass short longer longer shorter yellow grass. Pigeons
large pigeons on the shorter longer yellow grass alas pigeons on the
grass.
If they were not pigeons what were they.
If they were not pigeons on the grass alas what were they. He had
heard of a third and he asked about it it was a magpie in the sky.
If a magpie in the sky on the sky can not cry if the pigeon on the
grass alas can alas and to pass the pigeon on the grass alas and the
magpie in the sky on the sky and to try and to try alas on the
grass alas the pigeon on the grass the pigeon on the grass and alas.
They might be very well they might be very well very well they might
be.
Let Lucy Lily Lily Lucy Lucy let Lucy Lucy Lily Lily Lily Lily
Lily let Lily Lucy Lucy let Lily. Let Lucy Lily.

Beagles on the grass

In the late 1970s I was privileged to meet Virgil Thomson and shake his hand. Thank you, David Stock. RIP.

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

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

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’