GENIUSES TOGETHER: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s by Humphrey Carpenter

GENIUSES TOGETHER: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s

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A colorless rendering of what is by now yawningly familiar material--how Hemingway claimed he reassured Fitzgerald about his masculine equipment; James Joyce's tennis shoes and bottle-bottom glasses; Harold Steams cadging drinks and touting horses at La Rotonde, etc. Even the title, the author admits, is ""shamelessly stolen from Robert McAlmon's memoirs of Paris in the 1920s."" Carpenter, the author of several insightful biographies (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Inklings, W.H. Auden), here seems to be merely vamping till his next major work (a biography of Ezra Pound) is ready. Carpenter centers his narrative on the rise of Ernest Hemingway and contrasts Papa's rigorous work habits with the hedonistic abandon of most of his Paris contemporaries. It is a valid tool for investigating the period. The author undercuts his thesis, however, by eventually minimizing the impact and importance of Hemingway's works, pointing out that they underwent a critical and popular eclipse later in Hemingway's life. His means of bolstering this position is idiosyncratic, to say the least. Listing what he calls ""the chief authors to emerge in this decade,"" he includes Thomas Wolfe and John Stein-beck, as if Look Homeward, Angel and The Grapes of Wrath have not suffered constantly diminishing reputations since their first appearance. The familiarity of much of the material and the arbitrariness of Carpenter's literary positionings might have been less damaging had the author couched his narrative in a livelier prose. Unfortunately, the writing here is little more than serviceable. Readers seeking an insight into the Paris of the 20's would do well to stick with the prime sources: Samuel Putnam's Paris Was Our Mistress, Stephen Longstreet's We all Went to Paris, even McAlmon's Being Geniuses Together.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 1987
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin