Paris Between the Wars – “F” is for F. Scott Fitzgerald


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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1921
F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1921

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, who is considered by many to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1896. He was named after his famous second cousin, the man who wrote the lyrics to our national anthem.

At a prestigious Catholic prep school in New Jersey, a priest noticed his talent with the written word and encouraged him to pursue his literary ambitions. Fitzgerald honed his craft as a writer while at Princeton, but his coursework suffered as a result, and he was placed on academic probation. In 1917, he dropped out of school to join the Army.

Fitzgerald was Camp Sheridan outside of Montgomery, Alabama, where he met Zelda Sayre, the “golden girl,” in Fitzgerald’s terms, of Montgomery society. When World War I ended in 1918, Fitzgerald moved to New York City, hoping to launch a career in advertising that would be lucrative enough to convince Zelda to marry him. His book, This Side of Paradise, was accepted by Scribner’s in 1919 and became an instant success, launching his career as a writer.

Paris in the 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald’s development. He traveled often to Europe, mostly Paris, and became friends with many members of the American expatriate community in Paris, especially with Ernest Hemingway. Fitzgerald began working on his fourth novel during the late 1920s but was sidetracked by financial difficulties and by his wife’s schizophrenia. Tender is the Night was finally published in 1934, but critics, who had waited nine years for the followup to The Great Gatsby, had mixed opinions about the novel. The novel did not sell well upon publication but, like the earlier Gatsby, the book’s reputation has since risen significantly.

An alcoholic since college, Fitzgerald became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, which had undermined his health by the late 1930s. He died of a heart attack in Hollywood on December 21, 1940. Fitzgerald was 44 years old.

It was written in a New York Times editorial after his death that Fitzgerald “was better than he knew, for in fact and in the literary sense he invented a generation…”

This Side of Paradise bookGatsby bookTender is the Night book

Paris between the Wars – “B” is for Sylvia Beach


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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Sylvia Beach
Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach was born as Nancy Woodbridge Beach in Baltimore, the daughter of a clergyman. When she was 14, her family moved to Paris upon her father’s appointment to the American Church in Paris. She lived for many years between the United States and Europe, until, at the end of World War I in 1918, Beach returned to Paris to study French literature.

Her first intention was to open a book shop in New York and offer contemporary French works to American readers, but financial challenges prevented her from achieving her dream. Instead, she took advantage of cheaper rents in Paris and opened an English-language bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. The store functioned as a lending library as well as a bookstore, and was the center of Anglo-American literary culture and modernism in Paris. Writers including Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein spent a great deal of time there, and the shop was nicknamed “Stratford-on-Odéon” (referring to its street address) by James Joyce, who used it as his office.

Though her business suffered during the Great Depression of the 1930s, her support for and encouragement to both American and French writers paid off, as they rallied around to keep the shop open.

Beach and Hemingway

She died in Paris in 1962.

Oh! The Places I’ve Been – “P” is for PARIS


It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen Paris. When I look at these photographs, I’m transported back in time. Walking around the city with a paper map in one hand. Envying the French women and their style, so effortless. The scent of buttery croissants. Ghosts of Victor Hugo, Ernest Hemingway, Maurice Chevalier. Painters. Gypsies. Tourists. Lovers.

photo by M. Reynolds
photo by M. Reynolds

Notre-Dame Cathedral (above). The ubiquitous Eiffel Tower (below).

photo by M. Reynolds
photo by M. Reynolds
photo by M. Reynolds
photo by M. Reynolds

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” (E. Hemingway)

And to end with a video. Here is a Spaniard (Julio Iglesias) singing a song about the sea (La Mer), better known to many of you as “Beyond the Sea,” sung by Bobby Darin. This is from 1976, hence the disco vibe. I love it, but then, I belong to a different time.

H is for Hemingway


 There could be no other for me today.  Probably no other writer has influenced me more, no other writer provided me with a new world into which I could escape, even for a short time, than Ernest Miller Hemingway.

He’s almost too big for this short daily post.  Foreign correspondent in Paris – dream job.  The 1920’s – best time.  I admired his daring adventures from the safety of my armchair.  I forgave him his multiple spouses, chalking it up to human weakness.  I read “A Moveable Feast” shortly before I left home for my junior year of college in Switzerland, and re-read it several times during that year.   “A Moveable Feast” wasn’t even published until 1964, three years after Hemingway took his own life.  The book was derived from memoirs, pulled together from a trunk full of notebooks Hemingway had filled during his years in Paris.

At a good café on the Place St.-Michel, Hemingway orders a café au lait, then a rum St. James (and another), then some oysters with a “strong taste of the sea,” washed down with a carafe of dry white wine, all while writing, warm and drunk and dry inside the café.

Lean, hard, narrative prose, said the New York Times.  Spare and tight, learned from his years as a war journalist.  Making the words count.

“I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” (EMH)