Sunday, June 18, 2017

Geniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s by Humphrey Carpenter

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The other night I thought I was dying.  I am a bit on the melodramatic side, but not when it comes to money and Josh felt a visit to the ER was necessary.  Luckily for me we have a number of walk-in Emergency Room services around town, one of which was just around the corner.

Mostly it was my right side that felt as if I had either pulled all the muscles in that part of my back or my kidneys were on fire.  Then a series of thoughts raced through my head.

Am I going through kidney failure?  Are any of my family members a match and would they be willing to part with a kidney for poor little me?

It turned out to be kidney stones and I hope none of you ever have the misfortune of getting them.

Hopefully they are all gone.  I went to the gym today feeling so so because I had to get out of the house.  I'm also cutting down on the pain killers; they give me peculiar dreams.

On a brighter note, my parrot is screaming at me.  She has become spoiled by Grandma who has given her a lot of attention while she was visiting. She will have to wait until I finish this review.  On the computer, I am listening to a bird making far prettier but also sadder sounds (perhaps you should play it and reread my first couple of paragraphs).  It is the Maiden and the Nightingale by Enrique Grenados from his Goyescas.  These are love songs for the piano he made based on paintings by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya. I hope you enjoy listening. This performance is by the composer himself. He looks a bit like Salvador Dali in this photo doesn't he?

Geniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920sGeniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s by Humphrey Carpenter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was not without it good points. The first couple of chapters give us some history of the first Americans to visit Paris such as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. This was as informative as it was interesting. Then we get to the bulk of the book.

A lot of American writers traveled to Paris in the 1920s; for what reason will remain a mystery after you finish reading the book unless you find another source of information about the literary world in Paris and its attraction to Americans.

This book tells us nothing of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Beach, not to mention T.S. Eliot, Ford Madox Ford and Ezra Pound that isn't found in a thousand other sources.

He spends an inordinate amount of time on writers that have long ago disappeared. Has anyone heard of Robert McAlmon, Kenneth Adams or Kay Boyle? Me neither. They were writers, but I don't know if they were ever successful in their own time. Their writing is not known except perhaps for the most devoted readers of that era.

But they were all part of the group that their more famous counterparts made up and they all bar hopped together and spent most of the day drunk. I don't know if this is supposed to make us think what a jolly lot these bohemians were or that being bohemian is something glamorous and exciting, but to me it all sounded boring.

And not only that, they all seemed to loathe each other.  Hemingway took it out in his stories, but the others were also contemptuous of all the other writes.  They truly seemed a lost generation.

In fact by the time I finished reading the book I was surprised that any one of them was able to produce anything worth reading at all. I'll assume that they made their sober moments count. Or they were exceptionally talented writers even inebriated.

I did appreciate the map on the inside of the book's cover; having just visited Paris last Christmas, I could place their hang outs in my mind.

All in all, not a bad read, but I would certainly look to other sources for more thorough or original information.

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My question to the reader:  Can you tell me of a good source about Americans in Paris in the Twenties? Or any time?  One that can tell us why creative Americans gravitated to Paris?

Well, my work here is done.  I'm taking Hercaloo and a book outside to read and visit with the piggies.  A good day to all!


  1. Sp sorry to hear about your illness Sharon. I am glad to hear that you are feeing better. I never have had kidney stones but everyone says that they are excruciating.

    Though I am not sure about sources that cover the generation of American's in Paris in the 1920s, I thought Stacy Schiff's A Great Improvisation was an excellent account of Franklin's and Adams's time in Paris.

    1. Thanks,Brian. I am feeling better.

      I'll have to read Schiff's book. I read her Cleopatra and enjoyed it. I am interested in learning more about the relationship between the States and France. After visiting Paris this past winter I am only coming to realize how important and close that relationship has been historically. Have a good week!

  2. Sharon, I hope you feel 100% again soon; pain is a terrifying thing, and I hope you do not again experience that terror.

    As for "geniuses," I'm not sure I would put that label to that assortment of eccentrics and creators in Paris in the 20s. Still, it must have been a fascinating (but somewhat sometimes annoying) collection of personalities. My reading of the era has been focused on Hemingway, and I have read a bit about Stein; I came away from it all thinking I would not have liked either of them (but they probably would not have like me either). I wish I could recommend something useful to read about Americans in Paris in the 20s, but I come up empty beyond my Hemingway and Stein readings. I look forward to whatever others might suggest.

    Bottom line: Be well soon!

  3. Postscript. It is fiction, but The Sun Also Rises is a fascinating glimpse at Americans in Paris in the 20s. It is one of my all time favorite novels.

    1. Hi Tim. The author borrowed the title from a book by Robert McAlmon and also the Gershwin song, "An American in Paris. So even his title wasn't all that original. I've read a number of biographies by him and he is my least favorite biographer.

      The Sun Also Rises was Hemingway's nasty revenge on the group of people he traveled to San Sebastian with to see the bull fights. Especially Harold Loeb who he simply hated (he was the Jewish man in the novel).

      Still, I liked the novel when I read it. I need to read it again.

      Thanks for the well wishes. I'm feeling much better now and I'm seeing a doctor this week to make sure everything's A-OK. Have a good week.

  4. I'm glad you're feeling better. Kidney stones are terribly painful.
    The book looks like the kind I would enjoy. I'll have to check it out. Thanks and take care! :)

  5. terribly sorry to hear about your pain; my brother-in-law suffers from that and it is truly excruciating... i hope it has gone for good...
    i was going to ask how the little piggies were doing the last post but i forgot, which i seem to be doing more and more lately... Hercool is probably still upset about the tail feathers and blames it all on you... birds can be like that. yesterday we saw a herd of robins pestering a large barred owl in our back yard: amazing how they perform just like a fighter jet squadron, dive bombing and scarifying the poor old owl...
    i tend to agree re the 20's in Paris; they say good work was produced, but from what little i've read, it was mostly an excuse to be drunk and chase one another around... the painting scene may have been different, though: but not being an art critic, how do i know...

    1. Hi Mudpuddle. Thanks for the sympathy, I'm feeling a lot better today. It took a while to recover, though.

      Little Bear and Percy are stories all unto themselves. Little Bear has been getting out of his outside pen but only to run to Percy's pen and pester him. I then get to chase him all over the yard and finally back to his own pen. They're so adorable, though I can't stay mad at him.

      Hercaloo has forgiven me, I think, but is very, very spoiled and wants my undivided attention. I have to do a lot of my writing outside because she finds more things to amuse her there.

      We get robins here in the spring when they blanket our yard. They are all gone now except one little family. I am sorry for the owl. I love owls. I rarely see them. A few times I have heard one late at night outside my bedroom window.

      Now that you mention it, I would like to read more about the twenties' art scene in Paris. I know about some of the artists but that would make a good book. I think I will have to look around.

      You will be amused to know that I wrote this reply with Hercaloo straddling both hands bouncing up and down pretending to bite my fingers. She thinks this is a great game.

    2. it IS a great game, i'm sure...! i heard the most amazing recorder player on YOU tube yesterday; his name is maurice steger and is apparently well known.... you know how Vivaldi writes extended arpeggiated cadences for his solo instruments- there are some recorder works that have never been performed because they are so difficult; several years ago i went to the Portland Symphony and heard a Danish lady perform several of his sopranino concerti and was totally blown away by it... well, this guy, Maurice, plays everything about twice as fast as she did... he has some kind of method of double or triple tonguing that allows him to do it... the only drawback being that it's so fast you can't tell what he's playing, except for the fact that the notes are in the right chord progression... i've played enough of them myself that i was very surprised i couldn't follow along; all i can say is it was just incredible... and i must add, i don't whether it was actually very musical because of the speed... i'm fond of V's arpeggiation and find it quite musical, but not, i don't think, when rendered at light speed.... you can probably find him on youtube if you're at all interested...

    3. I have this recording, only not of Steger and you're right he simply blasts through those solo parts. Perhaps it is a bit fast, bordering on the frantic. I think my recording is more musical. Nevertheless he produces a lot of energy and it physically feels good to hear him. Does that happen to you, where you have an almost sympathetic response in listening. You can kinesthetically "feel" the music while you are playing. I'm listening to the recorder concerto RV 443, by the way.

      He also has such a clear pure sound. I hear no air. What they call a "fat" sound.

    4. yes, while listening intently, it seems like everything is fitting together just the way it's supposed to... somehow...
      have you played the harpsichord? with a recorder player?

    5. I would love to play with an early music ensemble. I can play the harpsichord and also the recorder (but only on a basic level). I have not had the opportunity to play any time lately, but would jump at the opportunity. Do you play the recorder, did you say? I think you did.

    6. it was my first instrument, but i never got to professional grade with it, mainly playing for my own pleasure.... i used to practice some Vivaldi concerti, Telemann, Handel, a bit of Bach, Santini, etc. i was too busy with the clarinet to spend the requisite amount of time with it...

    7. Playing for our own pleasure is really the only reason to play. "Professional" doesn't validate it. I am a professional musician but my love stems from personal pleasure not the fact that I get a paycheck from it. Besides, it's so competitive and you have to deal with insecure people who try to undermine what you do. That's something I deal with and have to be thick-skinned about, although I am not very thick-skinned. It's something that happens to everybody in the field, unfortunately. We're all a bunch of egotists.

      The clarinet is also very nice. I remember a couple from Yale that played 20th century music on clarinet and piano at a workshop I attended. It was so good. The clarinetist gave me a ride home. He was from Israel and so nice.

  6. Oh no sounds like some time of it. I love parrots <3 Which breed is it?

    The photo of the composer, have you ever watched Everybody Loves Raymond? I think he looks a tad like cousin Gerard :) xxx


    1. Hi Lainy. Thanks for visiting my blog! My parrot is a green Indian Ringneck; I think it is a girl because only the males have red rings and she has a light green ring. She is not speaking to me now because I won't let her chew my phone, which makes her pull a tantrum. So I have a few minutes to write without interference.

      I have not watched the show although I have heard of it, with Kurt Cameron, isn't it? There was definitely a look back in the 19th century where all the men kind of looked alike i.e. slicked down hair, parted in the middle, handle bar mustache. Did women really find that mustache attractive? :)

  7. I'm so glad you're on the mend, Sharon, that must have been awful to go through. I agree the photograph looks similar to Dali. I'm listening to his lovely Maiden and the Nightingale as I type, thanks for the introduction!

    1. Hi Marcia! Thanks for the well wishes.

      I think that piece is really quite beautiful, although ironically there are other recordings performed by other pianists that I prefer.

  8. I've heard that kidney stone pain is one of the worst pains you can experience, so my sympathy goes out to you across the miles! Take care & may they never recur!

    1. Thanks, Carol. I am happy to announce that I have changed my wicked ways and have cut way down on my caffeine intake and am drinking a lot more water. I am feeling better and have even slimmed down a little.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.