Saturday, January 18, 2014

Paris in the Twenties

Zelda Fitzgerald
I recall Nancy Milford's Zelda: A Biography,
published in 1970, was the initial inspiration
for my imaginary Parisian life.

 There have been requests (TWO and that's enough, thank you) for a list of the books I've been reading  about Paris in the 1920s, the inspiration for the Modernism collection for Moda.

Zelda's story, a tragedy, raised
many questions about how women are to live their lives.
But oh the glamour!

I can read a book in a couple of days so I go through quite a few--mostly nonfiction and mostly biographies. I am lucky enough to live near a university library where I can check out 20 books at a time for six weeks. Every month or two I check out my limit and I never feel richer than when I have 20 unread books on the shelf.

Dorothy Parker
You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of 
Dorothy Parker by John Keats
1986, raised the same kinds of questions about
women's roles, mood and alcoholism.
Few answers and the down side of glamour.

 I have an electronic reader and I do read out-of-copyright books on my laptop too but I like hardback paper books.  My method in choosing books on a topic is just as old-fashioned. I use the cataloging system at a library catalog website, which in itself is a web of inter-related publications.

You can browse by the subject category and type in a word or three like Paris Social Life. I identify interesting titles that way and check out my local library holdings, the used book market and the ebooks.

As long as you are going to use a library catalog to identify interesting books it might as well be a good library catalog.
Harvard's is nice.

You can also browse by standard subject headings, defined by the Library of Congress.
For the books on Paris in the 1920s I found many biographies by looking at these subject headings:

Paris (France) Intellectual life-20th century

Paris (France) ---Social Life and Customs

Read more about Library of Congress subject headings here:

Gertrude Stein
 I just re-read Charmed circle: Gertrude Stein & company by James R. Mellow.

Once you find an interesting life you meet more interesting characters. To me the whole thing becomes a soap-opera-style network where characters show up and disappear in one biography and then I find they have spin-off biographies of their own...

Sara and Gerald Murphy with Cole Porter and friend

 Like the fascinating Murphys in Everybody Was So Young  by Amanda Vaill.

If you are talking about Paris in the 1920s there are some heavyweight male characters like Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway...but I'd rather read about the women--- like Pauline Pfeiffer in Unbelievable happiness and final sorrow: the Hemingway-Pfeiffer marriage by Ruth A. Hawkins.

Solita Solano and Djuna Barnes

 I enjoy sitting in the library stacks to see what books are shelved next to the one I found by call number in the catalog: The impulse purchase, so to speak, which rarely disappoints.

Elsa Schiaparelli 

 A friend just recommended Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me by Patricia Volk.

If you don't have a great library nearby you can identify the books and buy them online or ask your book store to find them.

Josephine Baker
I also hear there is a new biography of Josephine Baker.

Below is a rather random list of books that came to mind.
Some I liked, some I didn't. Some of the people are charming---others despicable.
But I love to visit the times and even a shallow character in a bumpily written book keeps me entertained.

Robert McAlmon Being geniuses together, 1920-1930. with supplementary chapters by Kay Boyle.
Exiles return; a literary odyssey of the 1920s  by Malcom Cowley
Four lives in Paris by Hugh Ford ;
Genêt, a biography of Janet Flanner by Brenda Wineapple.
Everybody who was anybody : a biography of Gertrude Stein by Janet Hobhouse.
Sylvia Beach and the lost generation : a history of literary Paris in the twenties and thirties  by Noel Riley Fitch.
Djuna : the life and work of Djuna Barnes / Phillip Herring
That summer in Paris; memories of tangled friendships with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and some others by Morley Callaghan
Man Ray: the rigour of imagination by Arturo Schwarz.

Here are three overviews
Expatriate Paris : a cultural and literary guide to Paris of the 1920s by Arlen J. Hansen.
Paris between the wars, 1919-1939 : art, life & culture by Vincent Bouvet & Gérard Durozoi
Americans in Paris, 1900-1930 : a selected, annotated bibliography / compiled by William G. Bailey

 This book is an overview of several decades, very readable as all McCullough's books are.
The greater journey: Americans in Paris / David McCullough.
Once I read that I started going back in time to reading about Paris in the 19th century: Bonapartes, 
Communes, the Franco Prussian War....

Wait a minute! The Franco Prussian War was no fun at all.

Back to glamour!

Lee Miller
Lee Miller: A Life by Carolyn Burke


  1. I enjoy reading books of those error, have read books on Zelda, Gertrude Stein and Dorothy Parker. I am at the library at least 3x a week. Libraries are treasures for me. Thanks for the recommendations.

  2. After seeing Midnight in Paris I became interested in that time period also. I loved reading "The Paris Wife" which was about Hemingway and of course Gertrude Stein and Scott and Zelda plus others. I would love to visit Paris now and walk the streets that they did. I will certainly read the book on Zelda now. She was very talented also.

  3. This era has intrigued me for a long time. One book I read recently was riveting "All We Know: Three Lives" by Lisa Cohen pub. 2012. The book covers the lives of Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland. Fascinating studies of complex women with very different accomplishments (or not) who so reflect their times.

  4. Don't forget inter-library loan!

    You brought back memories of the stacks of the Wichita U. library during summer because my friend's mother worked on campus and she took us to work and put us in the library in summer when school was out. She also let us use her card to check things out. We too found books by seeing what was next to what we liked, which at the time was the movies and movie stars. We branched out into reading also about the stage and acting. Didn't help us in school. Still, it was a fond memory and a good way to get to know a library.

  5. I still enjoy reading hard copy for fiction, it is how I get to sleep at night. The problem is, I keep falling asleep on my book and takes me forever to finish one, lol.


  6. I think I'll pull Everybody Was So Young off the shelf tonight. I love the Murphys and hope we may somehow be long lost relatives. Perhaps I'll re-read Living Well Is The Best Revenge (another tale of the Murphys) on my flight to Paris later this month... ~ Ellen Murphy

  7. I'm glad to find so many romantics sharing a love of this era. My sister Dr. Barkman, more grounded in reality, writes me:
    "Enough of those people already." She reminds me that Zelda's doctor described her as "a train wreck in slow motion," a perfect description of what I love to read about.

  8. I was going to say 'The Paris Wife' too. She really did suffer.

  9. Interlibrary Loan saves my life repeatedly out here in the heartland. I'm fascinated by the same period and women and want to thank you for this list. There are three here that I have not read, but will be doing so shortly! Merci beaucoup!

  10. Just imagine the VAST changes coming at the folks living in the 20's. Less than 50-55 years since the Civil War.

    After WWI, many people were questioning the lives lived by strict stern often outdated 'rules'. The youngers ones cut hair, dressed with so many undergarment etc. The politics! What with new inventions were coming out like they were being worked up on an assembly line! And many were!!!!

    And 1929 was just around the corner ...

    Thinking here

  11. It's not necessarily Paris, and it's not primarily about a woman, but it's the same era and involves a lot of the same circle (like Dorothy Parker and Aleck Woollcott): I always recommend Harpo Marx's autobiography. I'd always thought the period really shallow and I don't know, disheartening, maybe? but then I read his autobiography. He was really a good soul, that one.