LITERARY EXPATRIATES IN PARIS
Throughout much of the twentieth century, Paris was widely viewed as the cultural capital of the western world. As such, it exercised a magnetic attraction upon several generations of artists and intellectuals, large numbers of whom migrated to the French capital from all over the world. The number of English-speaking expatriates was especially impressive. Like the thousands of tourists who flocked to Paris, they were stirred by the city's physical beauty, its sense of history, its fine restaurants and sidewalk cafés, and its lively and sometimes even decadent nightlife. Unlike more casual visitors, however, the expatriates came to stay, at least for a time (some for only a few months, others for many years). They were commonly self-exiles, who chose to leave a homeland they considered artistically, intellectually, politically, racially, or sexually limiting or even oppressive. They were drawn to Paris by the reputed vitality of its artistic and intellectual scene, by its apparent tolerance for innovation and experimentation, by the high respect accorded the artist by Parisians of all classes, and by the accompanying level of freedom allowed the individual in his or her search for identity and artistic voice.
There was a pronounced ebb and flow to the migration of expatriates to Paris. Two fairly distinct waves can be discerned. The first wave lasted roughly from the end of World War I to the onset of World War II. Expatriate activity during that period was highest in the 1920s and was associated with what Gertrude Stein called "the Lost Generation," which referred to the alienation of the young men and women who had lived through and sometimes witnessed firsthand the devastations of the recent war in Europe. Activity tapered off dramatically after the stock market crash of 1929, as the ensuing economic depression forced many expatriates to return home. The onset of a new European war in 1939 and the German occupation of Paris in the following year brought their presence to an abrupt and virtually complete end. During the twenty-one years of the first wave (1919 to 1940), however, the number of English-speaking authors who lived as expatriates in Paris was large and included some of the most important literary figures of the time. Among them were Sherwood Anderson, Djuna Barnes, Samuel Beckett, Kay Boyle, John Dos Passos, Lawrence Durrell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein.
A second wave of foreign writers, artists, and students descended on Paris in the aftermath of World War II. The new expatriate community was especially active in the 1950s and early 1960s. In addition to the general factors noted above, many of the new expatriates were motivated to come to the French capital by a sense of nostalgia for the experiences and achievements of the Lost Generation of the 1920s. The most celebrated figure among the new group was undoubtedly Samuel Beckett, who wrote with equal facility in both English and French. He had been in Paris since the late 1920s and had worked closely with Joyce. In the late 1940s he was on the verge of becoming an international literary celebrity. Among other expatriates active during this period, three groups may be distinguished. There was a group sometimes called the "Merlin juveniles" (the name given them by Beckett, who worked with them), which included Alexander Trocchi, Christopher Logue, Patrick Bowles, and Richard Seavers. All were associated with the important expatriate periodical Merlin and were instrumental in the founding and early history of the Olympia Press. There was also a contingent of soon-to-be-famous American Beat writers, among them, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and William Burroughs, who established themselves in a small, seedy, no-star hotel just off the Seine, known since that time as the "Beat Hotel." Lawrence Ferlinghetti might also be included in this group. He had gone to Paris in 1948 to study for a doctorate in literature at the Sorbonne, and while there he wrote some of his early poetry. He had, however, already returned to the United States and founded City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco (1953) by the time Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso arrived in Paris in the late 1950s. Finally, as in the first wave of expatriates in the 1920s, there was a sizable number of African American artists in Paris after World War II. Among the better-known writers in this group were Richard Wright (originally sponsored in France by Gertrude Stein), James Baldwin, and Chester Himes.
During both waves, the expatriates added much to the energy and excitement of the cultural life of Paris, thereby drawing even more expatriates (and, inevitably, tourists). They formed their own communities, living mostly on the Left Bank of the Seine with the center of gravity shifting from Montparnasse in the 1920s to Saint-Germain-des-Prés and other areas closer to the river in the 1950s and 1960s. Within these neighborhoods, the expatriates had their favored meeting places, most importantly cafés. In the 1920s and 1930s, these included the Dôme, the Select, the Rotonde, and others in Montparnasse. In the period after World War II, allegiances shifted more to cafés such as the Flore, Aux Deux Magots, the Mabillon, and the Pergola in the Saint Germain-des-Prés area or the Tournon, a short walk away, across from the Luxembourg Palace.
During both periods, the literary expatriates depended very much on the presence in Paris of a substantial number of English-language presses, periodicals, and bookstores, whose fortunes and very existence were in turn tied to the ebb and flow of the writer community. The presses were generally small but included such famous names as the Contact Press (of American poet Robert McAlmon), the Three Mountains Press (of William Bird), the Hours Press (of Nancy Cunard), the Black Sun Press (of Harry and Caresse Crosby), the Obelisk Press (of Jack Kahane), and the Olympia Press (of Maurice Girodias, son of Kahane). They published most of the Paris expatriate writers, often before they were well known elsewhere (as in the cases of Ernest Hemingway's and Henry Miller's first books). Most of the early presses of the first wave disappeared with the onset and deepening of the Depression (some well before). Only the Obelisk Press survived through the 1930s, ending with the death of Kahane in 1939. In 1945 it was revived by his son, Maurice Girodias, and it evolved into the Olympia Press after 1953. The latter publishing house was highly successful in the late 1950s and early 1960s with its publications of Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, Vladimir Nabokov, Jean Genet, and William Burroughs as well as an extensive line of erotica (many authored by members of the Merlin group).
The lives of the expatriate periodicals followed similar patterns. Among the more important ones of the first wave were The Transatlantic Review (edited by Ford Madox Ford and, for one issue, Ernest Hemingway), This Quarter (edited by Ernest Walsh, Ethel Moorhead, and later Edward Titus), and transition (edited by Eugene Jolas). Sometimes called "little magazines," these periodicals carried poetry, short stories, and other brief prose writings of all the significant expatriate writers, from Stein and Hemingway to Pound and Joyce. (For example, the well-known fragments from what Joyce usually called "A Work in Progress," which would later be incorporated into his Finnegans Wake [London, 1939], appeared in all three of these periodicals.) Only transition survived the onset of the Depression, lasting until 1938.
During the period of the second wave following World War II, new English-language periodicals appeared, two of which deserve special mention: The Paris Review and Merlin. The former, founded in 1952 under the editorship of George Plimpton, drew heavily on the expatriate community for its writers and its editorial staff. It emphasized the writings of European as well as American writers. Its ties to Paris diminished rapidly, however, after Plimpton returned to the United States in 1956 (where the magazine continues to flourish). Merlin, decidedly more experimental and avant-garde in content, proved more short-lived. Published in seven issues between 1952 and 1954, it was edited by Scottish expatriate Alexander Trocchi with the collaboration of a motley international group that included American Richard Seaver (a few years later to become editor of The Evergreen Review in New York), Englishman Christopher Logue, and South African Patrick Bowles. Merlin (and especially Seaver) did much to bring the recent work of Samuel Beckett to the attention of English-language readers. In 1953, they joined with Maurice Girodias and the new Olympia Press to publish a new series called the "Collection Merlin." The series would eventually include a distinguished list of titles, notably Beckett's novels Watt (1953) and Molloy (1955) and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (1955).
In addition to the publishers and periodicals, the English-language bookstores were an invaluable support to the expatriate community. After World War I and throughout the period of the first wave, the most important of them was unquestionably Sylvia Beach's famous Shakespeare and Company. Encouraged by her lifelong companion, Adrienne Monnier, owner of the bookstore La Maison des Amis des Livres, Beach opened her own store in 1919 on the Left Bank. After a brief stay on the rue Dupuytren, she moved to a location across from the shop of Monnier on the rue de l'Odéon. Both a bookstore and a lending library, Shakespeare and Company quickly became a center of activity in the growing expatriate community. In addition to selling and lending books, the store served as the sales address and principal Paris distribution point for many of the local English-language publishers and periodicals. Beach befriended, advised, and lent books to countless expatriate writers, among them Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and Robert McAlmon, who even used the shop as his mailing address. But Beach's most famous association was with James Joyce and the publication of his novel Ulysses. Employing the printing services of Maurice Darantière in Dijon, Beach published the first edition under the imprint of Shakespeare and Company in 1922. Throughout the 1920s, she published and served as distributor of nine of the first eleven printings or editions of the novel before Random House took over responsibility for new editions in the early 1930s. With the onset of the Depression and the decline in both expatriate and tourist numbers, the shop's business began to drop off. By 1937, the situation was so serious that Adrienne Monnier and some of her French friends established "Les Amis de Shakespeare and Company" to raise funds to allow the shop to survive. Beach attempted to stay on after the German occupation of Paris but finally closed her shop in late 1941 after a Nazi officer threatened to confiscate her books. She declined to reopen the shop after the war but did continue to lend books from her apartment to a new generation of expatriate writers, among them American Richard Wright.
The post-World War II wave of English-speaking expatriates was served by several new bookstores, the most important and longest surviving of which was Le Mistral, located on the Left Bank just across the river from Notre Dame. Founded by American George Whitman in 1951, the shop was later renamed Shakespeare and Company in memory of Sylvia Beach. In the tradition of Beach, Whitman not only sold books; he also lent them. His shop also provided a quiet and comfortable place for visitors to meet, talk, listen to readings, or just find a quiet corner to sit and read. The shop also served as a distribution point (and sometimes mailing address) for many of the locally published periodicals and books. In the late 1940s, Whitman was a close friend of fellow student and aspiring poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. When the latter opened City Lights Bookstore, he modeled it very much after that of his Paris friend. Both stores remain open today and the two men continue to be good friends.
The second wave lost its momentum as the 1960s progressed. With the exception of Beckett, the more avant-garde writers began to go elsewhere, notably New York, San Francisco, and London. In 1968, the Olympia Press closed its doors in Paris and disappeared completely after a brief attempt to reopen in New York. The increasingly conventional atmosphere of Gaullist France after the collapse of the student revolt in 1968 (not to mention the rapidly rising cost of living) undermined the attractiveness of Paris to many of the younger avant-garde writers and artists. At the same time, conditions in other countries were becoming more appealing. The United States, for example, emerged from the repressive atmosphere of the McCarthy era of the early 1950s to see censorship go into decline with a number of important court victories (notably in the cases of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, Allen Ginsberg's Howl, and William Burroughs's The Naked Lunch). With the civil rights movement, the Kennedy presidency, and the Vietnam War, the country experienced a period of great political and social upheaval and cultural vitality. Cities such as New York and San Francisco became the places to be. Young American writers and artists could begin to feel the same sort of artistic excitement and the same possibilities for freedom of expression at home that many had once sought abroad.