discovering expats of the 1920s

This summer I was stuck in 1920s Paris.  Not a bad place to be really. It started when I saw the movie Midnight in Paris, and next, reading the wonderful historical fiction book, The Paris Wife, about Ernest Hemingway and expat Paris life through the imagined eyes of his first wife, Hadley Richardson Hemingway.

While it’s a welcome break from Renaissance Italy (see my previous post about my favorite books set in Italy ), I admit I  go completely crazy overboard have the slightest tendency to obsess when it comes to learning and reading about a particular period in history, especially when it 1)happens in one of my favorite European cities and 2) is filled with writers, cafes and expats.

So because I am completely intrigued by Hemingway at the moment (I know there must have been a sensitive soul behind the game hunting, boxing, and bullfighting), and I love his spare writing and consider myself a part of the expat community  (past and present), I’m reading anything I can get my hands on from him about  “the lost generation” – those expat artists and writers of the ’20s that changed American art and literature.

The expat lifestyle is charmed,  I think those of you who are expats (or ex-expats like me) would agree. You meet people you normally don’t. You do things and have special privileges you wouldn’t back home .I found myself playing croquet in all white, at a villa that belonged to Mussolini. (hello?) But present day expat life doesn’t hold a candle to what was going on in Paris in the 1920s. Picasso. Dali. Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ezra Pound. Hemingway.  The Murphy’s Villa America in the Cap d’Antibes.They hung out in cafes and ate oysters, and wrote, and partied. Apparently, the American dollar went much farther in those days. They drank absinthe.

Here are some of my favorite reads and resources to start discovering fellow expats from the 1920s through the eyes of Ernest and Hadley Hemingway.

The Paris Wife

Hadley Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife (or “Paris” wife) was with him prior to publishing his first book, when they were poor, or as Hemingway says, before the rich arrived and everything changed. (she is in the middle of the picture). Through this book, we can imagine Ernest Hemingway as seen by his first wife, who adored him, but later was forced to let him go when he fell in love with another woman (how dare you, Pauline??).

The Moveable Feast

This book was written much later in Hemingway’s life as a memoir of sorts about his time in Paris in the 20s,  It is a series of sketches  about other famous writers, artists, and those in the Paris expat social scene from Hemingway’s point of view (and memory). It’s also tragic,  as it reads as a sort of love poem to first wife Hadley about a life he clearly idealized with her. Many years later he acknowledges he “wishes he died before he loved anyone other than Hadley.”  Note: There are two published editions. The most current is supposed to be the most accurate, since the book was not completed before he took his life (and his grandson believes the editor, Hemingway’s wife at the time, did not represent his work as he would have wanted). And if you only read one chapter, read the one when he first met F. Scott Fitzgerald and later they go on a road trip together outside Paris. It is hilarious.

The Hemingway Project (web site)

I found this web site when trying to research more about Hadley. You can listen to actual audio tapes of Hadley (as an older woman) talking about her life with Ernest Hemingway in the ’20s. Hearing her voice over the crackles of an old audio cassette, is thrilling, particularly after reading The Paris Wife. Other than this website and the book, I can’t find an image or other information about her following her marriage with Hemingway, which leads me to believe she  lived a very private life in her later years. (UPDATE** I have found two photos of Hadley as an older woman in the biography, Hadley, by Gioia Diliberto)

The Sun Also Rises 

 Published in 1926 and one of Hemingway’s first successes-  The Sun Also Rises is another book that allows you a peek into the lost generation, based on a 30-something reckless group of American and British expats (sound familiar?) traveling to Spain to watch bullfighting. The characters are based on real people and action based on actual events.

Midnight in Paris teases us about the very human tendency to be nostalgic for the past, with a gentle reminder to live in the present. I plan to do that. Right after I move on to Gertrude Stein.


8 responses to “discovering expats of the 1920s

  1. I love this!!! It’s always amazing to read books set in different culture AND in another era. I also went through a Hemingway phase, I was a senior in high school and had always dreamed of someday traveling to Spain. In fact, I had begged my mom to send me to Spain for my 15th birthday, but it was not to be. 7 years later…guess what? 😉 Funny how life turns out sometimes.

    I have to re-read Hemingway. You reminded me of just how much I loved going through that Hemingway phase. 🙂

    • I’m curious how bullfighting has changed in spain since his days…seemed pretty brutal back then. do they do that in your parts, or only in pamplona?

      • It is still a big deal in Andalusia, and some of Spain’s known celebrities do tend to be famous bullfighters, but the tradition is decreasing more and more with the years. Many people simply aren’t interested in it, and others find it cruel. Most of the Plaza de Toros in the small towns are abandoned and haven’t been used for anything other than parking lots for ages, though the ones in big cities, like the one in Sevilla, is well-known and maintained for touristic purposes. I definitely do think that it is now a dying tradition.

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