Sunday, July 15, 2012

Paris Was a Woman

Here is a book I have had on my shelf for ages. It's copyright is 1995 and I received it as a birthday gift that year. I had been to Paris the year before and was still reeling from the sensory overload of the city.

Paris Was a Woman is not a comfortable book. It is not uncomfortable to read, but to hold. It is a bit oversized and the pages are thick and glossy to accommodate its many lovely black and white photos making it is awkward and heavy.

But I picked it up this morning and began. Here are the women of the Left Bank of the 1920s, '30s and '40s. Most, as author Andrea Weiss writes, were lesbian or bisexual and all felt a primary emotional attachment, if not sexual, to other women.

Women with creative energy and varying degrees of talent, women with a passion for art and literature, women without the obligations that come with husbands and children, were especially drawn to the Left Bank and with never more urgency and excitement than in the first quarter of the (20th) century. It was not simply its beauty but that rare promise of freedom which drew these women to it.

So we have a chapter devoted to Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier as proprietresses of Shakespeare and Co. and La Maison des Amis des Livres. They were friends and they lived together for years. And then there is the famous couple Stein and Toklas. Profiled also are Janet Flanner who wrote for The New Yorker; the wealthy Natalie Barney; the novelist and journalist Djuna Barnes; American painter Romaine Brooks; and, others who lived and loved and wrote when Paris was a Woman.

It proves to be a fascinating study of independent, ardent artists.

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