American Writers in Paris
American Writers in Paris
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, American writers, musicians, and artists have chosen to reside in Paris, France, for a variety of economic and artistic reasons. Beginning with Gertrude Stein in the first decade of the century and reaching its apex during the era between the two World Wars, American writers expatriated to Paris seeking to take advantage of the city's inexpensive cost of living, as well as European openness to less socially restrictive lifestyles and more experimental literature.
Active duty in World War I introduced Paris to many American writers, musicians, and artists, including Ernest Hemingway and e. e. cummings, who returned to France after the war. The following two decades found such writers as Archibald MacLeish, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Carlos Williams, John Dos Passos, Hart Crane, Sinclair Lewis, and Henry Miller living in Paris. Artists, musicians, and writers from other countries also helped make Paris a cultural Mecca. Such writers as Ford Madox Ford, Wyndham Lewis, H. D., D. H. Lawrence, Samuel Beckett, and James Joyce; visual artists Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Salvador Dali, and Luis Bueñuel; and music composers George Antheil and Virgil Thompson relocated to Paris during this period, influencing and helping to advance such literary movements as modernism, Vorticism, surrealism, and Dadaism. Writings from this period were printed in the many periodicals and published by the many book companies that flourished. The relatively inexpensive cost of printing in France resulted in the inception and success of such influential magazines as The Little Review, transition, Broom, and Secession, and such book publishers as Contact, Black Sun, Plain Editions, and Three Mountains.
The receptive environment of Paris prompted many women and African-Americans to relocate there, with many finding avenues for their talents and lifestyles that America at that time would not permit. Women began successful publishing operations such as Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company, an enterprise begun as a sideline to Beach's bookstore located on the Left Bank of Paris's Seine River. Shakespeare and Company changed literary history by publishing the first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses. Woman writers included Stein, Katherine Anne Porter, Djuna Barnes, Mina Loy, Anaïs Nin, and Kay Boyle. Some of these women found that they were able to explore aspects of their sexuality—including lesbianism and bisexuality—in Paris, which American propriety of the 1920s and 1930s would not sanction. African Americans traveled to France to enjoy the freedoms that black soldiers experienced in Paris during World War I. Such writers included Jean Toomer and Claude McKay. Other African American writers who later moved to Paris included Richard Wright and James Baldwin.
Many of the American writers residing in Paris returned to the United States during the 1930s. The advent of World War II temporarily ended the migration of American writers to Paris. When the war ended, Wright and Baldwin relocated there, as well as novelists Peter Mathiesson and James Jones. The legacy of American writers living in Paris, however, follows no distinct literary pattern. Most of the writers concerned themselves with American themes and settings in their work written in Paris while adhering to no common style or outlook. But the work of this period is noted for its more graphic depiction of violence, sexuality, and profane language, which resulted in much of this work being banned in the United States for many years.
Dark Laughter (novel) 1925
Nightwood (novel) 1936
Year before Last (novel) 1932
Exile's Return (memoir) 1934
Think Back on Us. … A Contemporary Chronicle of the 1930s (memoir) 1967
The Bridge (poetry) 1930
Crosses of Gold: A Book of Verse (poetry) 1925
Poems for Harry Crosby (poetry) 1931
Sonnets for Caresse (poetry) 1925
Chariot of the Sun (poetry) 1928
Shadows of the Sun (poetry) 1928
Transit of Venus (poetry) 1928
Collected Poems (poetry) 1931
e. e. cummings
The Enormous Room (novel) 1922
John Dos Passos
Three Soldiers (novel) 1922
1919 (novel) 1932
The Best Times (memoir) 1966
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tender Is the Night (novel) 1934
Three Stories and Ten Poems (short stories and poetry) 1923
In Our Time (novel) 1924
The Sun Also Rises (novel) 1926
The Torrents of Spring (novel) 1926
A Moveable Feast (memoir) 1964
Dodsworth (novel) 1929
Lunar Baedecker (poetry)...
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Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: “Why Do Americans Live in Europe?” in transition, No. 14, Fall, 1928, pp. 97-119.
[In the following essay, various expatriate American artists from Gertrude Stein to Harry Crosby explain their artistic and economic reasons for relocating and working in Paris.]
transition has asked a number of Americans living in Europe to write brief stories of themselves—their autobiographies of the mind, self-examinations, confessions, conceived from the stand-point of deracination.
The following questions were asked:
1.—Why do you prefer to live outside America?
2.—How do you envisage the spiritual future of America in the face of a dying Europe and in the face of a Russia that is adopting the American economic vision?
3.—What is your feeling about the revolutionary spirit of your age, as expressed, for instance, in such movements as communism, surrealism, anarchism?
4.—What particular vision do you have of yourself in relation to twentieth century reality?
The United States is just now the...
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SOURCE: “City for Expatriates,” in Yale French Studies, Vol. 32, 1964, pp. 144-158.
[In the following excerpt, McMahon enumerates the reasons that individuals from different geographical locations of the United States removed themselves to Paris.]
Poor Strether had at this very moment to recognize the truth that wherever one paused in Paris the imagination reacted before one could stop it. This perpetual reaction put a price, if one would, on pauses; but it piled up consequences till there was scarce room to pick one's steps among them.
—Henry James, The Ambassadors
Of Paris and the American writer two things may be said: first, the city most often has done him an immense amount of good; second, he has had remarkably little influence in shaping his public's idea of the French capital as anything more than a place where immense good is done to people who need it. When we raise the question of Paris' value among literate people, we discover how deeply we are all possessed of a number of common and somewhat erroneous ideas: that Paris is an important theme in American writing, especially in the books produced by the Lost Generation; that American writers found in Paris a subject matter denied them by their own country; that Paris solved the problems of alienation which had forced a generation of American writers to leave...
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SOURCE: “After they've Seen Paree: The Expatriates of the 1920s,” in Expatriates and Patriots: American Artists, Scholars, and Writers in Europe, Duke University Press, 1968, pp. 251-275.
[In the following excerpt, Earnest credits such literary journals as The Little Review and The Dial, as well as the publication of The Education of Henry Adams, with the decision of American writers and artists to emigrate to Europe following World War I.]
Nothing before or since has equaled the mass expatriation of Americans of the 1920s. It has almost the quality of the instinctive migration of the lemmings. As Malcolm Cowley says, “… the younger and footloose intellectuals went streaming up the longest gangplank in the world.” And along with the intellectuals went the playboys, the recent college graduates, the art students, and the hangers on at the fringes of the intellectual world—everyone from Harry Crosby, who could have been a Morgan partner, to the girl from Iowa who wanted a free love life.
Some of them like Katherine Anne Porter and Stuart Chase went to Mexico; others like James Norman Hall, Charles Nordhoff, and Robert Dean Frisbee found refuge in Tahiti, but most of them went to France. Malcolm Cowley states it thus: “Indeed, to young writers like ourselves, a long sojourn in France was almost a pilgrimage to Holy Land.” The forerunners they honored...
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SOURCE: “Henry Miller's Democratic Vistas,” in The Expatriate Perspective, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1974, pp. 156-172.
[In the following excerpt, McCarthy examines the reasons Henry Miller left New York City for Paris in the early 1930s, and discusses Miller's depiction of the city as the antithesis of American racial segregation.]
When Henry Miller settled down in Paris in 1930, it was with no mere sense of being an expatriate. He believed that he had died and been reborn. From this time he dated his birth as a creative artist and the beginning of the “auto-hero,” “Henry Miller,” whose past and present being he was to examine throughout the whole decade of the thirties, which he spent mainly in Paris. From this time he became a citizen of the universe, occupant of that “enormous womb” that reached to and included the most distant stars. And from this time he began once more to be an American. He felt that he was American in a sense of the term that would have been meaningful to the great transcendentalist writers of America's literary renaissance. In Democratic Vistas Walt Whitman had tried to formulate anew what he felt to be the motivating ideals of America, and Miller's work gave expression to similar vistas: a recovered awareness of the roots of democracy in spiritual community; a reorientation in human as distinct from commercial and...
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SOURCE: “Eugene Paul Ullman and the Paris Expatriates,” in Papers on Language & Literature, Vol. 20, No. 1, Winter, 1984, pp. 99-118.
[In the following excerpt, Ullman—the son of painter Eugene Paul Ullman—uses his father's unpublished memoirs to present the multi-cultural milieu of Paris during the 1920s.]
It has been noted in some instances that the family of a deceased artist will manifest hostility to his memory, treating it and his work with scorn. In such cases we can intuit the artist's absorbing devotion to his art, to the detriment of those for whose welfare he is responsible. In other instances, an artist's children give their lives over to the cult of his creations, maintaining his fame or magnifying it posthumously. Without doubt, if an artist's significance for the history of art could be determined with certainty at his death, the course of action to be taken by his relatives would not be difficult to decide. Yet they could hardly decide with perfect foresight, for not only does each epoch alter the history of art, but an artist's relatives cannot be objective—for better or for worse—concerning his worth.
Faced with these limitations, I have chosen a middle course with respect to my father, preserving his works as much as possible without undue expense, but eschewing any commitment to his memory. There must have been a good reason...
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SOURCE: “A Comedy of Exiles,” in The Awakening Twenties, Louisiana State University Press, 1985, pp. 157-188.
[In the following essay, Munson, the former editor of the magazine Secession, recalls the writers and editors living in Paris and presents an overview of American critical reaction to the works being published during the 1920s.]
The “lost generation” of expatriates permanent and pro tem has been preserved for posterity in Hemingway's first and best novel, The Sun Also Rises. In it one encounters the emotional casualties of World War I, the playboys and young writers of the postwar period, the dabblers in the arts and the cafe sots that infested the Left Bank. The mood of the novel: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, and the earth abideth forever. … The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down.”
One of the first characters we meet in The Sun Also Rises is Harvey Stone who was derived from Harold Stearns, self-appointed recruiter for the exodus of writers from the United States in 1920/21. Harvey Stone is a café sot, who is always “borrowing” money and piling up saucers at the café. He goes out to the horse races. That is what the original of Harvey Stone did: in course of a few years of exiledom, Harold Stearns, who had left the states after editing a big symposium, Civilization in the United States, became...
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SOURCE: “Women of the Left Bank,” in Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900-1940, University of Texas Press, 1986, pp. 3-36.
[In the following essay, Benstock examines American female modernist writers living in Paris, believing that many of them were ignored unfairly by such American editors as Ezra Pound, whom she perceives as predisposed to give short shrift to women writers.]
Bryher (Winifred Ellerman)
Hilda Doolittle (H. D.)
Alice B. Toklas
These women were part of the artistic community that formed on the Paris Left Bank early in the twentieth century. Their literary contributions—which include major works of prose, poetry, drama, critical and journalistic essays, autobiographies, pensées, and memoirs—display wide-ranging interests and diverse talents. In...
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SOURCE: “The Great Migration: Parisian Aspects,” in Paris in American Literature, The University of North Carolina Press, 1989, pp. 136-163
[In the following essay, Méral examines several works inspired by expatriate life in Paris during the 1920s.]
THE RECONSTRUCTION OF PARIS
The Paris of the 1920s makes a relatively rapid entry into literature, with roughly two-thirds of the relevant works being written during the decade itself. There is no very clear break with the preceding period. Some writers disappear from the scene. Dorothy Canfield returns to America, like her heroine Matey Fort, while Dos Passos drops out of Montparnasse life to pursue his travels elsewhere. Others, like Edith Wharton, Elliot Paul, Gertrude Stein, and e. e. cummings manage a sort of transition. New writers arrive in the capital, and some, like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, could well have witnessed the events that took place at the end of the war had their military orders been different. Others, who arrive after the peace, to discover Paris or renew a previous acquaintance, include Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, William Carlos Williams, Elmer Rice, Donald Ogden Stewart, Thomas Wolfe, and Glenway Wescott.
A number of works by minor literary figures also throw light on the way Paris was perceived by American writers during this period. Maurice Samuel's novel The...
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SOURCE: “And Others Too,” in From Harlem to Paris, University of Illinois Press, 1991, pp. 129-144.
[In the following essay, Fabre discusses African-American writers living in Paris, including Jean Toomer, Claude McKay, and Walter White.]
The 1920s and 1930s were indeed the heyday of American visitors in France, both black and white. These included not only the wealthy set but also a small number of race leaders on partly official, partly pleasure, trips; a good number of artists and even more musicians; and most of the luminaries of the New Negro movement, starting with Alain Locke. Langston Hughes came even before he was an established writer, while Claude McKay initiated the fashion of living abroad. Even more than Anna Cooper, Jessie Fauset, or Gwendolyn Bennett, Countee Cullen was such an assiduous student of French culture that he spent his summers in Paris. But others also came and stayed: the older generation of Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson, and also Jean Toomer, John F. Matheus, Walter White, Eric Walrond, and others.
Of French ancestry on his mother's side, Jean Toomer occasionally recalled his French connections with a degree of pride, as when he wrote in 1930: “I am of French and English descent. … I have been associated in New York and Paris with some of the men who have been trying to bring about a renaissance in American art and life.”1 Yet when...
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SOURCE: “Modernism as Exile: Fitzgerald, Barnes, and the Unreal City,” in Imagining Paris, Yale University Press, 1993, pp. 185-242.
[In the following essay, Kennedy contrasts the depictions of French and American life in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night and Djuna Barnes's Nightwood.]
Gertrude Stein remarked that modernist writers and artists of her time had converged on the capital of France because “Paris was where the twentieth century was.” The city not only incorporated within its diverse cultural life the most distinctive projects and features of modernism, but (as her claim implies) it had also become a geographical sign of the modern. Other European cities—notably Vienna, Berlin, and London—had harbored important avant-garde coteries during the two decades bracketing the turn of the century, but by 1910, Paris had achieved preeminence as a site of modernist production. Stein suggests that she became an exile in order to position herself at the center of a historical phenomenon—as if the temporal (the twentieth century) had suddenly assumed a spatial form which might be located and occupied. The conflation of time and space in Stein's observation itself reflects a distinctively modern tendency to problematize categories of thought and perception. New ways of conceptualizing time, space, form, distance, speed, and direction emerged, as Stephen Kern has shown,...
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SOURCE: “Paris between the Wars,” in The Paris Review, Vol. 36, No. 130, Spring, 1994, pp. 283-303.
[In the following essay, edited by Thomas Dilworth, the Pulitzer-Prize winning composer reminisces about his relationships with Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and other figures he met in the literary and artistic circles of Paris.]
Virgil Thomson visited Paris in 1921 and lived there from October 1925 to August 1940. It was during his long stay in Paris that he became an important American composer. He is considered the first serious modern composer to set English to music without distorting its natural rhythms and inflections. In the 1930s Thomson helped to found the neo-romantic movement in music and painting centered in Paris. In 1928, in collaboration with Gertrude Stein, he wrote his first opera, Four Saints in Three Acts, which was produced in 1934. He went on to compose settings for several of Stein's texts and a second opera, The Mother of Us All, also with a libretto by Gertrude Stein. In the early 1930s he began to compose “portraits” after the model of her literary portraits. Upon returning to the United States, he became the music critic for the New York Herald Tribune. He continued to write music: a classical ballet, a third opera and scores for films, among them Louisiana Story, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize. He won the New York Critics Circle Award...
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SOURCE: “The Moment Remembered and Imagined: Autobiography,” in American Expatriate Writing and the Paris Moment, Louisiana State University Press, 1996, pp. 7-72.
[In the following essay, Pizer relies on the autobiographical writings of Ernest Hemingway (A Movable Feast),Gertrude Stein (The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas), and Anaïs Nin (The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1931-1934) to explore three American writers' perspectives of life in Paris during a time of cultural ferment.]
A MOVEABLE FEAST
The first impression left by Ernest Hemingway's memoir of his Paris apprenticeship is that it consists of a number of loosely connected anecdotal sketches dominated by the author's animus toward his fellow expatriates.1 With the exception of two sequences of sketches—those on Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald—each sketch is an independent unit with little evident relationship, either in subject matter or causality, to the adjacent sketches. The only immediately evident principle of form for the volume lies in the division of Hemingway's Paris experiences into two vaguely outlined temporal and geographical parts.2 The first portion of the book, until “Ford Madox Ford and the Devil's Disciple,” is loosely situated within the Hemingways' years at the place de la Contrescarpe, from their...
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Baily, William G. Americans in Paris, 1900-1930: A Selected, Annotated Bibliography. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989, 162 p.
Includes annotations for articles and essays from newspapers, magazines, and books, as well as annotations on painters and musicians.
Boyle, Kay, and Robert McAlmon. Being Geniuses Together: A Binocular View of Paris in the '20s. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1968, 392 p.
Reprints McAlmon's memoirs of Paris during the period when he controlled Contact Publishing, with additional chapters written by Boyle.
Carpenter, Humphrey. Geniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987, 246 p.
Focuses on a select few of the expatriate American writers with a chapter dedicated to brief biographies of others.
Cowley, Malcolm. Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s. New York: Viking Press, 1951, 322 p.
Identifies Cowley's friendships with such notable writers of the 1920s as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and James Joyce.
Fitch, Noel Riley. Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1983, 447 p.
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