THE EARLY 20th CENTURY

André Gide, a provocative figure throughout his long life, made his name at the turn of the century with brief, elegant novels pulsing with sexuality.  Gide’s leaning, homosexual, is seen in The Immoralist, published 1901, exploring a key theme in many of his works.

Colette had many lovers of both sexes, most notoriously the cross-dressing Marquise de Belboeuf. Her Claudine novels of 1900 to 1905 set the tone for her scandalous life and respected career.

Rainer Maria Rilke, the Prague-born poet, arrived in 1902 to write an article about Rodin, but ended up spending much of the decade. Paris became the birthplace of his major works of the period, including The Notebooks of Laurids Malte Brigge, his only novel.    

Gertrude Stein began her long, fruitful stay a year after Rilke, soon met Picasso and his circle, and launched her writing career.  

Guillaume Apollinaire, another Picasso familiar, known for his amazing critical grasp of everything “modern,” was also the poet of the enchanting “Le Pont Mirabeau.”
Edith Wharton, already successful thanks to The House of Mirth, arrived in 1906 with her husband Teddy. Two years later she entered into her only love affair, brief but passionate, which deeply influenced her writing. She remained in France, writing many novels, including her most famous, The Age of Innocence.

Marcel Proust was forty-two when he published Swann’s Way in 1913, but he made up for lost time in his final nine years, completing his vast multi-volume novel In Search of Lost Time before his death in 1922. 

Tristan Tzara, the Romanian-born “father of Dada” and his Dadaist followers made a splash at the start of les années folles -- the crazy years after the madness of World War I -- with their anti-establishment displays of disgust.  André Breton and his young literary and artistic comrades joined them early on, but split with them in 1922 to form their own Surrealist movement.
Ernest Hemingway spent the better part of the years 1922 through 1929 here with his wives Hadley and Pauline, working and socializing in expatriate cafés, writing his great early stories and the defining novel of the Montparnasse scene The Sun Also Rises
F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda spent five periods in Paris in the 1920s, he drinking too much and getting into ugly scrapes, she inching toward mental collapse. His story “Babylon Revisited” and his novel Tender is the Night are based on their expatriate lives.

Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company bookshop was the clubhouse for the Anglophone literary expatriates, most prominently James Joyce, her literary hero, whose novel Ulysses she courageously published.  Poet, Joyce booster, and energetic “little magazine” editor Ezra Pound was a key figure in the circle.  So was his friend Ford Madox Ford, who hired lovely Dominica-born Jean Rhys for his Transatlantic Review, published her first story, and became her lover. She based their ménage à trois-like relationship in her biting novel Quartet on their affair. 

Djuna Barnes, the Anglo-American lesbian community’s most gifted writer of fiction, wrote her dense and poetic novel Nightwood about the night world of gay, lesbian, and transvestite expatriate Paris.  

Langston Hughes, twenty-three, worked as a busboy in a jazz club in Montmartre, “the Harlem of Paris,” and wrote jazz-inspired poetry.  And on a tawdry side street off Rue Mouffetard, twenty-six year old George Orwell lived though the experiences which inspired his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London

Georges Simenon came to Paris from his native Belgium at nineteen in 1922, determined to write fiction. Two years later, he was doing well enough to move to the Place des Vosges. But his chance for real fame and fortune came in 1929, when he created the world-famous Inspector Maigret, the hero eventually of 103 novels.

François Mauriac, a committed Catholic all his life, came to fame in the 1920s with his relentlessly tense psychological novels such as The Desert of Love and Thérèse Desqueyroux about repressive bourgeois society in his native Southwest region.

André Malraux cut a more dashing figure as an archeological adventurer in Indochina, Prix Goncourt winner for his 1933 novel Man’s Fate about revolutionaries in China, and organizer of a fighter squadron supporting the Left in the Spanish Civil War.  

The most shocking writer of this period was Louis-Ferdinand Céline, starting with his dazzling and profoundly cynical first novel Journey to the End of the Night in 1932. He was never far from controversy from then on, particularly after writing anti-Semitic works in the late 1930s and hobnobbing with Nazi collaborators during the Occupation.

The 1930s was also the decade of Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin:  their literary-erotic- partnership, Miller’s miraculous birth as a writer at forty with Tropic of Cancer, her work on her intimate journal, and the exuberant times of the band of literary adventurers, Lawrence Durrell and others, who gathered around Miller at the Villa Seurat.
Joseph Roth, the novelist of the magnificent Radetsky March, was one of many German and Austrian Jewish writers who went into exile in Paris after Hitler’s assumption of dictatorial powers in 1933.   Walter Benjamin, the brilliant Marxist literary critic, philosopher, and peerlessly perceptive writer about Paris, was another. Both lives ended in tragedy.