The Real Midnight in Paris

April 21, 2016

A History of the Expatriate Writers in Paris That Made Up the Lost Generationthe real midnight in paris elitere

Several months ago I wrote a Romanian review for Woody Allen’s film, Midnight in Paris, which is one of my favourite movies of all time. Due to this amazing film and also due to my fascination with the City of Lights, I bought a short literary guide in e-book format, entitled The Real Midnight in Paris, written by Paul Brody.

The author explains who the expatriates were and why they settled in Paris after the Great War ended instead of returning to their homeland. “This group of young artists, most of them born between 1895 and 1900, would become known as the Lost Generation. In 1920s, Paris, they were all between 20 and 30 years old and eager to test the boundaries of life” (p. 1). As the previous quote already suggests, these young people had a strong interest in arts, especially literature that brought them together as well as “the seismic shift in culture that signalled the painful birth of the Modern World” (Idem).

Probably no one anticipated then that the First World War and the Second World War would dramatically change the way people used to live, their culture in general, politics, mentalities and so on. But the Great War was the first historical event where most of the men belonging to the middle class had to fight. We should mention here writers such as Ernest Hemingway or Wilfred Owen, who died in the line of duty. Thus, traumas, disillusions and frustrations linked to the war not only left their mark on the young survivors’ minds, but they also influenced and shaped the works they created.

Moreover, these intellectuals, who came from restrictive and conservative countries, saw Paris as the refuge they needed, due to the “climate of intellectual freedom and experimentation was unlike anywhere else in the Western world” (p. 2). Because of this, thousands of American and European expatriates flocked to the City of Lights, where they could experiment, share and debate with other artists their outstanding ideas in the now famous literary salons, cafes and publishing houses. Besides the modernity and freedom for artists and their arts, Paris also reminded them of the Old World, with its charming boulevards and the ornate buildings of the 19th century, that became the cliché image of the Romantic Paris, which some of us love and others hate.

In the first two chapters, you will read about the historical background of the Great War, the post-war effects that led artists and writers like those who will establish the Avant-garde movement to move to Paris, the most important Salons, Cafes and Bookshops – such as Sylvia Beach’s bookshop Shakespeare and Company and “Gertrude Stein’s Saturday evening salons” (p. 13). In such gathering places, literature and art radically deviated from the traditional norms and principles, thanks to the outburst of various movements we still recognize today: Cubism, Dadaism or Surrealism. Next, you will learn which historical factors put an end to the Lost Generation, then Paul Broody gives you some essential information about the Forerunners of the Lost Generation such as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce. Later on, in the chapter Primary Representatives of the Lost Generation, you will read about Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and other writers and artists. The final factual chapter ends the study with the Critical Reception regarding the works of the Lost Generation.

Before I go, I must add that this study was pretty good. Some would say it is too short, but I think that, for a beginner, it is a guide that gives you a taste of the 20s and if you are longing for more, you have the seventh chapter where you can find enough titles for further reading, such as the works of the main writers of the Lost Generation. If you need to better understand this literary period, but don’t want to read too much, this guide may be the book for you.

by Alina Andreea Cătărău

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