Posts tagged “world war 1

Gerald and Sara — Many Fetes

Posted on July 23, 2014


 Photo:  © Estate of Honoria Murphy Donnelly/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

I’ve been preparing a new class for LSU Continuing Education that I’ll teach this fall about the Lost Generation. Although it will discuss how World War I impacted the mindset of people in this time and influenced creative disciplines from writing to painting and dance to theater, it will also look at some of the personalities that became so famous — and infamous — during this era.

Obviously, my class will hear about Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. But it will also learn about Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, the Ballets Russes and many others that were pushing the creative envelope in one of the world’s greatest cities — Paris, France. And it will also learn about some lesser-known, but no less influential folks, like the dancing couple up above. They’re Gerald and Sara Murphy, they were American and well-to-do and they mingled with pretty much everyone who was anyone creatively during this period. Ever heard the saying “Living Well Is The Best Revenge”? Well, Gerald Murphy coined it, and anyone in the Murphys’ orbit knew that few lived better and more interesting lives than that particular duo. Random facts about them: They were perhaps the first people in France to own a waffle iron, they had one of the best private collections of African-American spiritual music (which they sang in perfect two-part harmony at their cocktail parties), and they used to enlist Man Ray to shoot their family portraits.

Here is a 1962 profile written about the couple in The New Yorker.

The bottom line is that these were people you really needed to know. And I can’t wait to introduce them to my class in September.

One of the reasons why I can’t wait to talk about the Murphys is because you don’t really hear about the them a lot, unless you read very deeply about the Roaring Twenties. But you might have come across them (sort of) and not realized it, if you’ve ever read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1934 novel Tender Is The Night.

Many scholars agree that Fitzgerald modeled Dick and Nicole Diver after the Murphys for about the first half of the book, recreating their very charmed life in Paris and on the French Riviera for his readership. In the second half of the book, the Divers seem to become an entirely different couple and I’ll be talking about who that couple was and why scholars seem to think Scott seemed to have no qualms about such a mashup in his manuscript. He dedicated his book to the Murphys, but when they first read it, they felt betrayed.

One year after Tender’s publication, the Murphys were undergoing a terrible family tragedy. At that time, Gerald wrote Scott, saying “I know now that what you said in Tender in the Night is true. Only the invented part of our life — the unreal part — has had any scheme any beauty. Life itself has stepped in now and blundered, scarred and destroyed. In my heart I dreaded the moment when our youth and invention would be attacked in our only vulnerable spot…”

The Murphys have a wonderful and ultimately tragic story that I look forward to telling in about a month and a half from now, one that provides an interesting framework for a time and a people who may have felt likewise blundered, scarred and destroyed. If you’re in the Baton Rouge area, I hope you’ll consider taking the class to find out more about them. If not, please stay tuned here as I share anecdotes, pictures, videos and music that I’ll be featuring in the class.

And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask away in comments.

World War I and Veterans Day

Posted on November 11, 2013



World War I ended on November 11, 1918 and a year later President Woodrow Wilson honored the nation’s veterans with the first Armistice Day. Wilson said that the holiday, now known as Veterans Day, would give people cause to reflect on “the heroism of those who died in the country’s service . . . because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

As we pause to reflect on the sacrifices of American service men and women, Europe prepares for the centennial of “the war to end all wars.” Yesterday, The New York Times featured a travel piece about the “rich tapestry of events” planned at museums and battlefields such as Verdun. The BBC reported that war buffs will lead to big business in places like Ypres, Belgium, which is seeing a boom in hotel construction and memorabilia. And, various groups have begun collecting and digitizing pictures, letters, postcards and other souvenirs from the conflict in order to explain its long-term impact on the modern world.

Curious about World War I? There has been a library’s worth of books written on the subject. But here are ten tomes to get you started:

1. The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before The War by Barbara Tuchman: Tuchman explores the quarter-century before the war’s outbreak, tackling the haves and the have-nots, the decline of the Edwardian aristocracy, the music of Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky, the Dreyfus Affair and more.

2. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark: Clark looks at the events and relationships that led Europe and the world into a brutal conflict.

3. The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan: MacMillan’s recently published history is another exploration of the march toward war, exploring how a continent awash in peace and prosperity could wind up in a fight that transformed the modern world.

4. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman: This beautifully written, Pulitzer Prize-winning classic recounts in vivid detail the very first month of fighting, showing how it shaped the course of the entire war.

5. Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings: Hastings blames Germany for the war’s outbreak and argues that the country’s defeat was vital to the freedom of Europe.

6. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque: Billed as “the greatest war novel of all time,” it is the fictional account of a German soldier who faces the war’s horrors and vows to fight against the hate that has meaninglessly pit him against other young men of his generation.

7. To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild: Hochschild’s New York Times-bestseller asks why so many nations got swept up into the violence of the war, why cooler heads couldn’t prevail, and whether we can avoid repeating history.

8. The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 by Alistair Horne: Horne looks at the ten-month battle that claimed the lives of 700,000 men, showing how the fight was less about defeating the enemy and more about bleeding him to death.

9. The Great War: July 1, 1916. The First Day of the Battle of the Somme by Joe Sacco: Sacco, a cartoonist, depicts one of the most infamous days in the war wordlessly with this 24-foot-long panoramic drawing.

10. Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World by Margaret MacMillan: MacMillan looks at the men and women who converged on Paris after the war in order to shape the peace.

Again, this is by no means a comprehensive list of the World War I-related titles out there. Anything I missed that you love? If so, what is it and what makes it great? Please let me know in comments. Or, share your thoughts about what Veterans Day means to you.