A French Quarter Circle in the 1920s
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
This book began its life as the Fleming Lectures at Louisiana State University in April 2011. I was both delighted and intimidated to be invited to give those lectures—delighted because of the distinguished company of Fleming lecturers I would be joining, but intimidated . . . for the same reason. No doubt many other lecturers...
Introduction: Two Bills and a Book
In October 1926 two young men named Bill, an artist and a writer who shared an apartment in the French Quarter of New Orleans, decided to publish a little book. It was to be “a sort of private joke,” the artist said later, just his sketches of some of their friends and themselves, with captions and the writer’s introduction. They’d get it out in time...
In what follows, I have usually referred to the players by name. Most were colorful and memorable characters who deserve better than the anonymity of “one member of the circle,” or “a young artist.” But it may be hard to keep this cast of dozens straight, so let me briefly introduce them before I turn to the set and the drama. (You may want to dog...
The World of the Famous Creoles
Life in the Quarter
Hamilton Basso wrote that “if I never much hankered after Paris during the expatriate years, it was because, in the New Orleans of that era, I had Paris in my own back yard.” The Vieux Carré of his youth, he said, was “a sort of Creole version of the Left Bank,” and in six blocks or so, clustered around the cathedral of St. Louis, les bons temps did...
Making a Scene
Future Famous Creoles and others like them began to gather in New Orleans in the years during and just after World War I. Writers and artists and architects and anthropologists came to work at Tulane University or for the city’s newspapers, and they encountered likeminded natives, some just back from military...
The Difference Dixie Made
But there was no real risk of confusion. Being in the Deep South rather than New York or Paris had consequences. One, justly or unjustly, was that little of the French Quarter’s literature was respected and little of its art even widely known outside its region. Another, not surprisingly, was that its Bohemia...
Artists found material aplenty in the Quarter’s picturesque architecture and the nearby waterfronts and cypress swamps, while writers were taken with Louisiana’s fascinating cultural gumbo, but the presence of subject matter is not sufficient to explain why a Bohemian community was created in New Orleans, or why one was not...
For anyone familiar with other Bohemian scenes, one striking aspect of this one is the relative absence of rivalries, jealousies, backbiting, factions, and conspiracies. Cicero Odiorne was struck by the contrast with Paris, where, “underneath the brilliance, the spirit is that of the jungle.” Elizabeth Anderson and Lillian Marcus were...
The End of an Interlude
It may seem odd to attribute transformation and decline to a successful campaign for preservation. But in fact that’s a large part of what changed the French Quarter in ways that largely snuffed out its Bohemian aspirations. The common effort to preserve the Quarter papered over a cultural fault line. Just as Le Petit Salon’s desire to bring back...
The Annotated Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles
Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles is a good starting point for exploring the social circle around Spratling and Faulkner, but it is far from an exhaustive catalog. I kept running across people who could well have been in the book, including a few who seemed more suitable than some of those who made the cut. But no doubt Spratling and Faulkner...
I am grateful to Gaines Foster and the Louisiana State University Department of History for the lecture invitation that began this whole business, and for their hospitality in Baton Rouge. I also thank the staff of the LSU Press, who have been a delight to work with. Particular thanks to Rand Dotson, who was involved in this almost from...