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Paris Was Our Mistress

by Samuel Putnam

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402632,503 (3.67)8
“A very distinguished sidelight on the passing literary scene, perceptive, humorous, entertaining, written by a critic and editor who was one of the group of which he writes.” —Kirkus.    
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Literary and artistic Paris in the 1920s and 30s has developed into an interest for me. It's interesting to see how the same basic cast of characters changes with each telling of the same, but also not quite the same story. For the most part, the story was told by those (mostly American, with the exception of Jimmy the Barman who was a Brit) who made up the expat society -- those of the Dome and the other terraces in Montparnasse. A few, such as Sylvia Beach and Gertrude Stein, who did not frequent the bars also have told important stories. But there are only a few expats who actually spoke French and mixed with the French writers and artists. Sylvia Beach was one, and I have yet to read her memoir. Elliot Paul was another and his book, The Last Time I Saw Paris is probably the most charming of all the books I've read so far in that he doesn't talk at all about the other writers and expats, but just about the people who inhabited the small neighborhood where he lived. Kay Boyle, who, together with Robert McAlmon, describe their experience in the Paris of those years, spoke French, was married to a Frenchman, and had a very different experience of Paris than the rest of the expats who she eventually joined. Her account is also more interesting (and more personal) than most.

Here we have Samuel Putnam, who also spoke French (among several other languages), mixed with the French, and once again had a different take on that era. He was a literary critic, a journalist, a writer, an editor, and a translator. His friendships were broader than most of the other expats and thus his stories have more variety. In addition to the usual cast of characters such as Ford Madox Ford, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrud Stein, Ezra Pound and Harry Crosby, he knew and tells us about Jean Cocteau, Louis Aragon, Pablo Picasso, and Marc Chagall. But his best story of all is about Luigi Pirandello, an Italian writer I never heard of but whose story I found very moving.

Putnam was a literary critic and a fair amount of what he writes about has to do with literary criticism. Those parts didn't interest me, mainly because I didn't really understand what he was saying. But for me, the rest -- the stories and anecdotes -- more than made up for that. ( )
  dvoratreis | May 22, 2024 |
3396 Paris Was Our Mistress: Memoirs of A Lost & Found Generation, by Samuel Putnam (read 27 Jan 2001) The author was part of the expatriate scene in Paris and Europe from about 1927 to 1934, and much of what he discusses in this book, insofar as it dealt with art, was of little interest to me. His account of writers--Hemingway, Pound, Henry Miller, Joyce, Pirandello, etc.--was of more interest, and his conclusion--kind of an appreciation of U.S. when he came back--was good to read. ( )
  Schmerguls | Nov 25, 2007 |
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“A very distinguished sidelight on the passing literary scene, perceptive, humorous, entertaining, written by a critic and editor who was one of the group of which he writes.” —Kirkus.    

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