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One thing has become abundantly clear since I worked my first book fair a year ago: these post-fair blogs have gotten harder to write. I’m no longer the wide-eyed book fair ingenue I once was, after all, fresh off the bus (or pickup truck, as the case may be) from Ohio and armed with a stranger’s gaze at life on this side of the display cases. The same array of minor catastrophes, clothing fails, relentless anxieties, and even, on occasion, small triumphs, still happen, of course, and I can only assume will continue to do so at every book fair I work, ever. Vic will go on being grumpy and morosely pessimistic before every show; other booksellers will, invariably, be helpful and generous, not to mention gratifyingly abundant in their teasing of Vic when he wanders off to scout other booths or simply dozes in his chair while I sweat through the set-up. We’ll do well, or we won’t, and I’ll probably never fully understand why. It’s not that these details are unimportant, just that they’ve lost the sheen of novelty. The honeymoon, in other words, is over. And yet, on this anniversary of my first year on the book fair circuit, having just closed out the Fall 2016 Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair with its usual vendors, in their usual booths, visited by many of the usual customers, what strikes me is not that all book fairs are essentially alike. It’s that the more things stay the same, or appear to, the more they change.

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The Sacramento fair is a well-run local show, tirelessly promoted by Avant Retro’s Jim Kay and reliably filled with customers. Free pizza and cold beverages on set-up day ensure a moderately happy (or at least, not overly cranky) group of booksellers, and Jim opens the doors bright and early on fair day proper for any latecomers. Dealers come to buy as much as to sell, manage their expectations accordingly, and are generally not overly disappointed one way or the other. As fairs go, it’s a steady workhorse, no more and no less, and this year was no exception.

kate-at-the-sac-fairThe temperature was already inching over 90 degrees when we pulled into the parking lot at the Scottish Rite Temple on H Street, but Q (Queue? surely that would be too ironic . . . ) and his fellow crewman were undaunted as they wheeled load after load of books and bookcases into the venue. Vic promptly went off to prowl any exposed stock, and I started in on cleaning out the display cases, sorting, and, in general, making myself useful. Bill Bastick of Asian Steppes, whose booth was situated as usual across the aisle, joked about my slave status, as is his wont; Michael Good (Michael Good Books) stopped by to ask what was taking me so long; Judith Mason (Cultural Images) pointed out a nonexistent fingerprint I’d missed; James Dourgarian (James M. Dourgarian, Bookman) asked if I’d brought any ice to soothe Vic’s aching muscles after his herculean labors on our booth; Kim Hafer Herrick (The Book Lair) gave Vic bourbon and me chocolate, thus ensuring both of our lifelong friendships; Taylor Bowie (manning the booth for John Michael Lang Fine Books) and I discussed books; and . . . er, well, both Laurelle Swan (Swan’s Fine Books) and Kol Shaver (Zephyr Used & Rare Books) pointed out that customers would have an easier time reading the titles of our books if they weren’t upside-down, observations they kindly made while Vic was out of earshot, and which I speedily remedied. All in all, it was the usual delightful camaraderie, and, eventually, I even managed to get the booth set up. And sold something while I was at it, too, getting our fair off to a promising start.

img_3235As you may know, Tavistock hasn’t always had the best of luck at book fairs, shall we say: my first Sacramento fair was resoundingly dismal, in fact, as were most of the following fairs we exhibited at. So I’ve learned to approach these with a certain amount of trepidation. Nevertheless, as the fair opened on Saturday with a steady stream of visitors to our booth, and purchases poured in from Vic’s successful scouting, I began to feel cautiously optimistic. I even had a good find, at least for myself: a copy of Books and Bidders snagged for a whopping $4, and now next in line on my reading list. Sales and crowds continued throughout the day, and while not all of the dealers I talked to had a successful fair, Tavistock did . . . really well. On all fronts. It was strange and wonderful, and for the first time, we left a fair with a spring in our step.

Does this mean we’ll magically do well in Seattle, too? Of course not. When I say I have no idea why one fair is better than another, I’m not joking. I’d like to think, though, that this might just be the beginning of a run of successful fairs for the good ship Tavistock, or that at the very least Vic will have more finds like this lovely 1976 poster supporting the land reclamation and establishment of the Mohawk community of Ganienkeh, in New York:

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To be catalogued shortly… if interested, please send us an email!

And as for that pesky problem of having become an old hand on the book fair circuit? I’ve lost my privileged outsider status, it’s true. But you know what? It’s more of a privilege than ever to get to hang out with fellow booksellers and bibliophiles for a day or two.

See you next time.

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We out!

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Happy International Literacy Day! All Hail the Printing Press

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As everyone (at least, everyone who is reading this blog) probably knows, the advent of the Printing Press in 1454 (the year the Gutenberg Bible was printed) instigated a major boom in reading and literacy worldwide. Suddenly even the common man could afford a booklet or even a book… there was no longer an aristocratic or religious hold on reading! Huzzah! But how much did it really and truly do? The results are endless. In honor of International Literacy Day, we’d like to take a look at the beginnings of printing for the masses and how it helped shaped the modern world.

A long, long time ago (not in a galaxy far away), in the 13th & 14th centuries, printing used a technique now known as “block-printing”. Characters and images were literally carved into a block of wood, ink was poured into the crevices, and then the block was pressed onto paper. You can imagine how time consuming and expensive this method was, as each block of words or pictures had to be carved by hand. As “trendy” as woodcuts are now in fine press items, back then they were almost a nuisance – the wooden blocks tended to break after too much use and once a single thing changed within the image an entirely new block would need to be created. As governments and businesses grew to realize the importance of written records in their lives, demand for an easier printing technique became apparent.

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Johannes Gutenberg

Though several print specialists were looking into faster & easier ways to print for the masses with moveable metal type, the first to make his mark was the well-known Johannes Gutenberg, an aristocrat from Mainz, Germany. Born in 1398, he was in his 50s when his fame spread far for his invention developed with an alloy of lead and tin that would be more durable and far easier to re-use when placed in a printing press. In his format, the reusable separate pieces of type would be placed in the press, and then the mirror images of each letter were carved in relief to create words. And since the letters could be rearranged into any format – the possibilities were endless! Any type of writing could be printed – finally printing was not only a technique used for the wealthy or the church.

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A printing press similar to the one that Johannes Gutenberg set up in the 1450s.

In 1452 at the age of 54, Johannes Gutenberg was finally able to get the necessary funds together to begin what would become his legacy – the Gutenberg Bible. He printed two hundred copies of his Bible in 1454 and sold many of them (for very large sums of money) in 1455 at the Frankfurt Book Fair (glad to know Book Fairs were enjoyed even so long ago!) According to one online source, the Bibles cost the equivalent of three years’ pay “for the average clerk.” (So available for the masses, but sort of not.)

In less than 50 years, over twenty-five hundred European cities boasted printing presses, and the technique grew and spread like wildfire. Of course its immediate effect was that it multiplied by hundreds the production of the written word, and also (quickly) cut the cost of books to an affordable treat. A large population of the world was hungry for information, and the printing press was able to give them what they needed. Though at first the texts still mainly dealt with religious subjects, they soon dealt with a variety of topics and were purchased and read by all kinds of people – scientists, students, businessmen and nobility all benefitted from the advance in printing technology. The advances in many fields (particularly in science and technology) were obvious – the propagation of knowledge in a form available to all manner of people made the sharing of ideas and observations all the more easy.

In a way, the advent of the printing press in the mid 15th century could easily be compared with the spreading of ideas via the internet currently. A quick and easy (not to mention cheap) way of spreading religious, scientific, political and moral thoughts and conceptions went “viral” and literacy rates worldwide boomed in the 1500s. On today, International Literacy Day, we should give thanks to the invention that (in a way) started it all! All hail the moveable type printing press!

A modern day printing press!

A modern day printing press!

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Happy Birthday to Mary Shelley… and the Birth of Frankenstein

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Once upon a time, there was a large house that sat alone on a cliff in the countryside. It contained more dark corners and cobwebs to count. On one dark and stormy night, inside that house a birth took place. One young lady (and a terribly naive young and handsome doctor) created a terrible creature that would come to haunt the world for years to come. His name… was Frankenstein.

(I was joking about the cliff thing. I have no idea if there were any cliffs or cobwebs about that weekend. In any case…)

Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in August of 1797. She was the daughter of the famous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the political activist William Godwin. The young Mary was raised by her father after her mother passed away only a month after her birth. Godwin raised his daughter in a relaxed well-off atmosphere, being sure to educate her thoroughly (in literature and the humanities, as well as his own political ideologies). In 1814 at the age of 17 she began a romantic relationship with a fan of her father’s – one Percy Bysshe Shelley. Unfortunately Shelley was already married and their relationship would cause both parties much heartache and also and pain for their loved ones. Mary and her stepsister Claire Clairmont traveled through Europe for a few months, where she became pregnant with Shelley’s child. The daughter was, unfortunately, prematurely born and passed away.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 1.58.24 PMFrom here the story only gets stranger and stranger – with reports that the three traveled around Europe for six weeks on foot reciting poetry and the great classics to each other, returning (when Wollstonecraft was reportedly with child) penniless and bedraggled. After returning, Mary and Shelley (with neither families on speaking terms with the young couple) lived together in a cottage in Bishopsgate. In mid 1816, numerous disheartening events took place – both couples endured suicides from each side of their relationships. Mary’s eldest half-sister Fanny committed suicide (long to have been thought to be because of her exclusion from the circle that Mary and Claire were a part of) by taking an overdose of laudanum in an inn in Wales. A couple months later, Shelley’s wife Harriet was found drowned in the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park, the result from her own suicide. Though both events undoubtedly shook the young couple, it did not detract from their hasty marriage a short three weeks after Harriet took her own life.

Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont had fallen in love with Lord Byron (despite his lack of affections towards her) and convinced the Shelleys to rent adjoining houses with the director on the shores of Lake Geneva. She resumed a sexual relationship with Byron, that eventually amounted to a daughter (and little else, as it was said that Byron could not stand her personality and constant desperation for him). In any case, this proved to be a most fruitful summer for Mary (or shall I say, Mrs. Shelley?) as it was here at Byron’s Villa Diodati that the group would meet and work on their writings.

Percy Shelley, the love of Mary's life!

Percy Shelley, the love of Mary’s life!

One night at Villa Diodati, Byron, Shelley, Mary, Claire and Byron’s young doctor John William Polidori made a pact to each write a ghost story. Though this caused Mary severe amounts of anxiety at her lack of ideas, she eventually became haunted by the image of a young man reanimating a corpse… and so Frankenstein was born! Though she began it as a short story, with Percy’s encouragement she fleshed the idea out into her first full-length novel. She would later remark on this summer of writing and editing as the time “when [she] first stepped out from childhood into life.”

This time of writing and intellectual stimulation did not last long, however. The Shelley’s were tormented by the deaths of all but one of their children – and just a few short years later Shelley would drown in a sailing accident off the coast of Italy. Though Mary Shelley continued to write throughout her lifetime – stories for ladies magazines, five volumes of “Lives” to the Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia, novels such as The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck in 1830, Lodore in 1835 and Falkner in 1837 – her primary concern was the welfare and well-being of her one surviving child, Percy Florence. She made sure he was brought up in a manner that would have suited his father, and the mother and son were close and very fond of each other. She became quite ill towards the end of the 1830s, and passed away over a decade later of what is suspected to have been an undiagnosed brain tumor. She was only 53 years old. A year later, her son and his wife finally opened her box desk, and are said to have found locks of her two dead children’s hair, a notebook with entries from both herself and Percy Shelley, a copy of on of his poems along with a silk satchel of his ashes and the remains of his heart.

Now that’s true love, eh?

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Welcome to the Biennial Reference Book Workshop with Tavistock Books (For All You Lazies Who Didn’t Sign Up)

1. Hooray! Another Reference Book Workshop! Who attended and how was the vibe of the event in your eyes?

This was like the 11th or 12th I’ve hosted this workshop since the first in 2001.  Due to space constraints, I limit registration to 7, which was attained this year shortly after the announcement but relatively late cancellations dropped us to 4 folk that actually attended.  Diane Black, Holly Chaffee, Zayda Delgado & David Guest.  Zayda a librarian at the beginning of her career at UC Riverside; the other 3 individuals are booksellers with varying degrees of experience in the trade.  This a typical mix of workshop attendees as the workshop is designed to help new[ish] booksellers who may not be familiar with the standard rare book bibliographies & references, but can also be useful to rare book librarians who need to know those works, as well as collectors just embarking on their collecting journey [though usually collectors have an interest in just one of the 4 subject areas].

I think the day went ok…  as I explain to all at the beginning of the workshop, it’s designed to just be a survey, and exposure thereto, of those basic references in four primary subject areas [English & American Literature, Americana, Childrens & Early Printed Books] which one will need in the daily course of business as a generalist antiquarian shop.  Which is to say, I know the divers volumes will begin to all ‘run together’ by the end of the first segment.  The challenge for me, as host, is to somehow be able to ascribe some aspect of uniqueness to each & every one such that the volumes retain their individuality.

I’ll leave it to the participants to say how successful I was at that effort!

2. How did this past Saturday differ from previous workshops?

Not much different really…  people ask questions, different paths are taken during the course of the day, other areas are explored.  Two of the individuals were from Nevada, so during the Americana section, I added a few Nevada refs that I thought they should know.  One thing I did note… during breaks all 4 individuals were scouring the shelves of the shop, to a degree more detailed than I had noted in the past few workshops.  True book people!

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The lunch group at Alameda’s Katsu Sushi House!

3. What is your favorite part of the day?

Lunch!

As you can imagine, I’m the primary talker during the day, and it can be a bit draining…  so at lunch, which I host, it’s a chance for the participants to chat with each other, with me, with Kate, and perhaps discuss other topics of interest, with those topics not necessarily being entirely relevant to the day’s subjects.  While we do introductions at the beginning of the day, lunch a time where we have an opportunity to say more than “Hi, my name is …. and I’m here to learn ….”.  So I get to find out more about the folks that have joined me for the day, while listening, not necessarily talking.  I find it relaxing & collegial.

4. What is the most useful part of the workshop for newbies? Or, would you recommend this workshop for newbies, over, say, RBS or CalRBS?

I’m not sure I can point to a specific aspect as ‘most useful’, as that is determined by each attendee, and as such, can be different for each individual.  I can say that when I hold up a certain reference book, and introduce it with “This reference book made me $5000” the booksellers usually perk up & pay attention.

Which segues into one aspect of the workshop I try to continually emphasis…  the web has lots of useful information available, but it has yet, in my experience, to supersede the reference book library.  In my opinion, it still takes both to successfully run a generalist antiquarian business.

While I wouldn’t recommend this workshop ‘over’ RBS or CALRBS, it does have the advantage of being 1 day, vice 5, and the cost is minimal, e.g., there is no entry fee, as I give the class gratis.  That said, I do tell people this the beginner version of Joel Silver’s week long ‘Reference Sources for Researching Rare Books’, and I encourage them to attend his class [RBS L-25] if they found mine interesting and/or useful.  Tavistock Books even offers a scholarship* to his class.

* here’s a link to the RBS Class description: <http://rarebookschool.org/courses/library/l25/>

**  a link to info regarding the Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship to L-25 (scroll to the bottom): <http://rarebookschool.org/admissions-awards/scholarships/>

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5. Kate’s opinion – this was your first Reference Book Workshop, right? Was there anything that you learned that you didn’t already know, even having been working for Vic for the last year? 

This was indeed my first reference book workshop, of any kind, and I’m glad I got to sit in on it. Despite the fact that I’ve had access to both Vic and his stellar reference library for over a year now, and am even in the process of inventorying that library, I learned plenty on Saturday. I haven’t yet handled all of the kinds of material that would require using each of the references Vic discussed with the class, for one thing — as with any bookshop, certain kinds of books are more likely to come through the door than others — so some reference titles were entirely new to me. Also, the workshop offered a chance for me to think critically about some of the references I only had a glancing familiarity with, and about bibliographic research in general. For instance, does McKerrow’s Dictionary of Printers & Booksellers, 1557 – 1650 cover instances of surreptitious publications? What exactly is the difference between Worldcat and OCLC? How can a bookseller research works by authors that might be un- or underrepresented in traditional “dead white men” bibliographies? And what makes a bibliography authoritative, anyway?

Not all of my questions were answered, naturally, but many were, and I’m happy to have food for thought. Plus, the attendees were great: interested and interesting people, and all, like me, simply trying to educate themselves about professional research materials and standards in the trade. So I can say, with absolute conviction, that it was the best reference book workshop I’ve ever attended/ eavesdropped on. And luckily for me, I get to pester the instructor any day I want from here on out . . . 

Closing remarks by V…

Finally, this may have been my last workshop….  they take a lot of energy, and I’m not the spring chicken I used to be.  Though on saying as much to Kate as we were cleaning up, she inquired, “How many times have you said that now?”  After a moment’s reflection, I replied “After each of the last 3.”  She just smiled.

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Happy 170th Anniversary to the Smithsonian Institution!

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In 1829 an English chemist and mineralogist name James Smithson died. This, in and of itself, should not have influenced the United States in any grand way… but it did! This English chemist, born in Paris and the illegitimate song of the 1st Duke of Northumberland donated all of his lifetime of earnings and his own inheritance to Washington, D.C. and the United States… despite never having been there. What came of this scientists idea of “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men”? Less than 20 years later the Smithsonian Institution was founded in Washington D.C. as an establishment that promoted further knowledge and learning for all men. In his will, Smithson dictated that his funds be left to his nephew and the nephew’s family… or in the event that the nephew had no surviving heirs, to the United States of America for a very specific purpose. 

A young Smithson from his days at Oxford.

A young Smithson from his days at Oxford.

James Smithson was born Jacques Louis-Macie in Paris, secretly, on an unknown date. He eventually became a naturalized UK citizen, and even studied chemistry at Oxford’s Pembroke College. After graduating from Oxford, Smithson considered himself somewhat of a nomad – he traveled extensively throughout the UK and Europe and published many papers on his findings. His “findings” covering all manner of topics – from the art and science of coffee making to the use of the scientific substance calamine in making brass. He studied other scientific topics over his lifetime, more to do with his chosen field of chemistry (like the make-up of human tears and snake venom!) Smithson was independently wealthy from an inheritance from his mother, and though he stayed quite busy throughout his lifetime in his studies, never had a career or a paying job. However, his travels did not diminish his wealth and at his death he was still very well-off. Smithson died in Italy in 1829. Six years later, his one and only nephew, Henry Hungerford, died, leaving no heirs. In his will, Smithson dictated that in the event that his nephew died without heirs, [Smithson] then bequeath the whole of [his] property… to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 1.12.09 PMThe United States was unaware of Smithson’s plans until his nephew passed away in 1835. The news was sent to President Andrew Jackson, who informed Congress of their lucky gift. A committee was set up almost immediately to begin planning the Smithsonian Institution. The funds from Smithson’s estate over the next few decades eventually totaled up over $562,000 (the money arriving as gold sovereigns in almost a dozen boxes, alongside Smithson’s personal belongings and scientific findings) – a total almost equivalent to $15,400,000 today!

In February of 1847, the Board of Regents (those put in charge of overseeing the new “Smithsonian Institution”) approved the seal for the institution. The institution opened that year and has remained an unbelievably popular establishment for research and knowledge ever since. These days, taking young children on field trips to the Institution (which has since expanded into a combination of 19 museums and galleries – all but 3 of which are still located in Washington, D.C.) is a common practice, as the collections include over 138 million artworks, artifacts and specimens. The Smithsonian Institution Libraries hold 2 million library volumes – and their Archives hold 156,830 cubic feet of archival material! Talk about an impressive library… the Smithsonian is an American institution with a wonderful history. Happy 170th Anniversary to the Institution!

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“You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.” A Look at Colette – Scandalous & Beloved French Writer

I readily admit that I am a fan of the badass literary woman. Give me Anais Nin, Marguerite Duras or Virginia Woolf any day – women who tell it like it is, who aren’t afraid to examine deep parts of the psyche, of feelings on sex, attraction, anger… any and all of the above. It is no surprise, then, that when I first read works by Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (best known by simply “Colette”), I immediately was attracted to her matter of fact statements on such taboo (at the time) subjects, and the lyrical quality of her prose. Today being the 62nd anniversary of her death, I thought it high time a blog was written about this amazing female literary giant. 

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 10.53.20 AMSidonie-Gabrielle Colette was born in January 1873 to a tax-collector/war hero (bet you didn’t think such a combo was possible…) and his young wife in the French region of Burgundy. Though at Colette’s birth the family was significantly well off, by the time she was able to attend school the family’s wealth had diminished substantially and she was only able to attend public school until she was 17. Though public school was not the ideal, it was still a reasonably substantial education for a girl in her social standing at the time. Shortly after leaving school, she married a well-known author of the day Henry Gauthier Villars (known as “Willy”) when she was 20 and he was 14 years her senior. Willy convinced her (as she later recollected) to begin writing, and her first four novels featuring the coming-of-age of her heroine Claudine were published under his name. The novels, (in English) Claudine at School, Claudine in Paris, Claudine Married & Claudine and Annie, were immensely popular and gathered significant wealth for Colette and Willy. Willy, a member of the avant-garde scene in Paris at the time (and apparently a bit of a libertine, as it were), introduced Colette to the artists and writers in Paris and encouraged her sexual explorations (even lesbian affairs) as fodder for her writing.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 10.49.34 AMUnfortunately when Colette and Willy separated and divorced in 1910, all of the royalties and rights to her Claudine novels were under his name, and therefore not in her power to use (or even have access to). Once the divorce was finalized, Colette spent many years touring around France working on the stage – sometimes impersonating her own character Claudine in new sketches. She spent this time in a series of relationships with other women, most notably her stage partner Mathilde de Morny (who was called “Missy”). They lived together openly for many years, though had to tone down their openness when an onstage kiss between the two caused a riot in 1907. It was during this time that one of her most famous novels The Vagabond was published, detailing a world where men rule all aspects of women’s lives. After her relationship with Missy ended in 1912, Colette married the Editor of the journal Le Matin – Henry de Jouvenel. In 1913 a daughter was born, and, finally settled down, Colette was once again able to devote herself to writing.

Our 1936 1st ed  #146 / 175 copy of Quatrieme Cahiers de Colette, SIGNED by Colette! See it here>

Our 1936 1st ed #146 / 175 copy of Quatrieme Cahiers de Colette, SIGNED by Colette! See it here>

Beginning in the 1920s Colette entered a most prolific writing phase of her life, and used her real-life experiences in her relationship with Jouvenel to write her next scandalous book Cheri - the story of a courtesan entering into a love affair with a significantly younger man, then devastated when the man takes a wife his own age (Colette was, at that time, having an affair with her sixteen year old stepson Bertrand de Jouvenel!). Her marriage to Henry ended in divorce in 1924, and she married her third (and final) husband Maurice Goudeket (sixteen years her junior) in 1925.

As The Vagabond helped establish Colette as a writer (remember, she received no credit for her earlier novels), her next novels (Cheri included) looked at subject matter often considered taboo in polite society – sexuality, married life, women’s struggles, prostitution – all are represented in some way in almost all of Colette’s writings. By 1944, Colette was already frequently esteemed as France’s greatest female writer – and only then did she publish the work that she would be best-known for in the future! In 1944 she published Gigi – a tale of a young girl being groomed to become a courtesan for a wealthy businessman and breaks with tradition and decency by marrying him instead! A few short years later it was made into a film, and then in 1951 adapted into a stage production, with the little-known Audrey Hepburn as the title role – handpicked and cast by Colette herself.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 10.51.29 AMCrippled by arthritis, Colette gradually lost her health and well-being, and passed away on August 3rd, 1954. She was the first French female writer to be awarded a state funeral – no small feat – and was laid to rest in Paris’ famous Pere-Lachaise cemetary, her contributions to literature and female authorship never forgotten!

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The Lost Generation: Expatriates Living in Paris in the Roaring 20s

Once upon a time, there was the Roaring 20s. There was plenty of jazz, shorter skirts and illegal booze all over the place.

The End.

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Just kidding! 

I could never stop a 20s blog with that – not when it is one of my favorite periods! (In an “I would live then only if I could live as Dorothy Parker” kind of way.) The 1920s saw an explosion of color and creativity all over the world, but no place more so than one of Vic’s favorite places in the world… Paris, France. Paris was the heart of the avant-garde movement – the center of the bohemian creative culture – and therefore it drew artists, authors and forward thinkers from all over the world… especially the United States. 

Stein and Alice B. Toklas in her Paris sitting room - second home to many of the Lost Generation.

Stein and Alice B. Toklas in her Paris sitting room – second home to many of the Lost Generation.

It was Gertrude Stein (today is, by the way, the 70th anniversary of her death), prominent literary “hostess” and celebrated figurehead of the 20s literary & artistic movement in Paris, who first thought up an expression for these expatriates living in Paris – “The Lost Generation.” It came to be a well-known phrase and widely used throughout those considering themselves part of this movement. Some of those people included members of any number of artistic circles at the time – Modernists, Dadaists, Expressionists, Surrealists, Cubists… all could be found in Stein’s sitting room at one time or another, asking her impression of their paintings, their films or their chapters. Today we’d like to look at some of the members of this “Lost Generation!”

The British Library hit the nail on the head in its online publication on the American writers living in Paris in the 20s when they said that “On the face of it, the sobriquet of ‘Lost Generation’ seems an odd collective description for a group of writers and artists who were among the brightest flowering of American literary talent yet to emerge on the international stage.” A very true statement – as “Lost Generation” implies a group of people either not recognized for what they are, or without a true home. Both of these statements were not true – they were very much welcome in Paris (as far as “homes” go) and they were recognized as the (often scandalous) trendsetters that they were. 

Some members of the Paris culture captured together... James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Andre Breton & Tristan Tzara some of those pictured!

Some members of the Paris culture captured together… James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Andre Breton & Tristan Tzara some of those pictured!

Stein was one of the first to emerge on the Paris scene, moving there in 1904 with her brother Leo (who hoped to pursue art) after abandoning her medical studies at Johns Hopkins University. Stein was there at the perfect moment – just in time to see every expatriate from all over the world move to Paris to pursue alternative lifestyles! Edith Wharton (one you perhaps did not know was part of the expatriate scene) arrived in 1906 and later on wrote The Age of Innocence in Paris. In the 1910s more and more artists and authors relocated, including Tristan Tzara (the Romanian-born father of Dadaism) and Andre Breton (French-born father of the shocking Surrealist movement and friend/student of Tristan Tzara). In the 1920s an influx of American born authors arrived, including many of the most well-known authors to date! F. Scott Fitzgerald & Ernest Hemingway were staples during the Parisian Roaring 20s (Hemingway used to have Stein proofread and edit his work – did you know that?) both setting several novels in this wild and artistic era. Other authors included James Joyce (Sylvia Beach of the Shakespeare & Co. Bookshop first published his novel Ulysses when no one else would), Sherwood Anderson, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, poet Ezra Pound, visionary author Franz Kafka, poet and author T. S. Eliot were all prominent figures in the 1920s. The 1930s would also prove to be an illustrative time for authors in Paris as writers like Henry Miller and Anais Nin joined the circle and offered their own unique and remarkable literary talents to the world. 

 

One of Picasso's 1920s works done in Paris.

One of Picasso’s 1920s works done in Paris.

And this is just the authors! Artists included many of the real “greats” such as Picasso, Modigliani, Braque, Cocteau and Duchamp, music geniuses like Igor Stravinsky and Erik Satie were worshipped in parallel next to Cole Porter! This was truly a time of greatness – so much in every field contained in one city. The most striking certainty of this “Lost Generation”, however, is that despite their wild and tumultuous lifestyles, constant partying and detestation of the restrictions and constraints demanded of Victorian and early 20th century life, their work (in all aspects – writing, art and music) shows an astonishing range of depth, profoundness, clarity and sincerity not often found in one sitting.

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