Constellation of Genius: 1922: Modernism Year Oneby Kevin Jackson
Ezra Pound referred to 1922 as Year One of a new era. It was the year that began with the publication of James Joyce's Ulysses and ended with the publication of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, two works that were arguably "the sun and moon" of modernist literature, some would say of modernity itself.
In Constellation of Genius, Kevin/i>/p>/i>/i>
Ezra Pound referred to 1922 as Year One of a new era. It was the year that began with the publication of James Joyce's Ulysses and ended with the publication of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, two works that were arguably "the sun and moon" of modernist literature, some would say of modernity itself.
In Constellation of Genius, Kevin Jackson puts the titanic achievements of Joyce and Eliot in the context of the world in which their works first appeared. As Jackson writes in his introduction, "On all sides, and in every field, there was a frenzy of innovation." It is in 1922 that Hitchcock directs his first feature; Kandinsky and Klee join the Bauhaus; the first AM radio station is launched; Walt Disney releases his first animated shorts; and Louis Armstrong takes a train from New Orleans to Chicago, heralding the age of modern jazz. On other fronts,
Einstein wins the Nobel Prize in Physics, insulin is introduced to treat diabetes, and the tomb of Tutankhamun is discovered. As Jackson writes, the sky was "blazing with a ‘constellation of genius' of a kind that had never been known before, and has never since been rivaled."
Constellation of Genius traces an unforgettable journey through the diaries of the actors, anthropologists, artists, dancers, designers, filmmakers, philosophers, playwrights, politicians, and scientists whose lives and works—over the course of twelve months—brought a seismic shift in the way we think, splitting the cultural world in two. Was this a matter of inevitability or of coincidence? That is for the reader of this romp, this hugely entertaining chronicle, to decide.
In this “biography” of 1922, Jackson narrates the landmark year during which both James Joyce’s Ulysses and T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland first appeared in print. Jackson (The Worlds of John Ruskin) offers a month-by-month and even day-by-day narrative of that year’s cultural and political events, as modernists sought a radical reinvention of art and political upheaval spread worldwide. Though the story most extensively tracks the movements of Joyce, Eliot, and Ezra Pound, the cast of characters is enormous, including every significant cultural, artistic, and political figure of the time: Hemingway, Stein, Picasso, Breton, Cocteau, Proust, Chanel, Fitzgerald, Woolf, Wittgenstein, Lorca, Armstrong, Stravinsky, Mussolini, and many, many more. Providing brief, lively snapshots of these players, the story roves restlessly around the globe, from Hollywood to Paris to Moscow, leaping as far afield as Peru, China, and Australia. Jackson doesn’t attempt a new interpretation of modernism or even of its seminal works, aiming instead at a comprehensive, international story of modernism’s “year one” through deft sketches. Despite its manic shifts and cumbersome footnotes, this ambitious and approachable volume overflows with absorbing anecdotes and remarkable personalities. With clearly epic aspirations himself, Jackson casts the well-known story of modernism in a new and instructive light. Agent: Caroline Sloan, Cornerstone Rights (U.K.). (Sept.)
“Constellation of Genius . . . is that most counterintuitive of things, an insanely readable book about modernism. Indeed, I think it no disservice to Jackson to say that this is the primer [modernism] has been looking for: a way into its symbolic labyrinth.” Will Self, The Guardian
“A lively guide to modernism's heyday . . . Deft, elegant and illuminating. ” Literary Review
“[A] marvelous diary of a single year . . . You will be struck by some startling moment of import in a life of genius or an epoch-making event. ” Sunday Herald
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LAUSANNE – PARIS
T. S. Eliot was en route from Lausanne to Paris. He arrived on 2 January, rejoining his wife Vivien and remained in the city for two weeks. During the stay, Ezra Pound introduced the Eliots to Horace Liveright, the American publisher, and they had dinner with James Joyce. For about 10 days, Pound and Eliot worked closely together on the manuscript of The Waste Land. In mid January, Eliot returned to London – to his flat at 9 Clarence Gate Gardens.
At the very start of the working day, Douglas Fairbanks gathered all his colleagues together and declared: ‘I’ve just decided that I’m going to make the story of Robin Hood. We’ll build the sets right here in Hollywood. I’m going to call it The Spirit of Chivalry.’ Among those listening to this impassioned speech was the head of the Pickford-Fairbanks foreign department, Robert Florey, who later reported: ‘I will never forget the forcefulness with which Douglas made this pronouncement. He pounded his fist on a small table. Nobody said a word.’
Fairbanks went on to explain that he and his wife Mary Pickford were planning to buy a new studio – the old Jesse Hampton Studio on Santa Monica, which was surrounded by huge empty fields where the film-makers could re-create Nottingham, the castle of Richard the Lionheart, Sherwood Forest, Palestine, the Crusaders’ camp in France … They would make thousands of costumes, all based on authentic period designs, and shields, and lances, and … Finally, Fairbanks’s brother John worked up the nerve to ask just how much all this would cost the company (of which he was treasurer).
‘That’s not the point!’ Fairbanks replied. ‘These things must be done properly, or not at all!’
By midday, everyone was agreeing with him. Robin Hood must be made.
By the time of release (see 18 October), Robin Hood had cost $1,400,000. It was by far the most costly film that Hollywood had produced – almost exactly twice the bill for the previous record-breaker, Intolerance, which had eaten up $700,000. The Dream Factory was entering a new phase of ambition, accomplishment and hubris.
Marcel Proust saw in the New Year by staying up all night at a ball given by his aristocratic friends, Comte Étienne de Beaumont and his wife. Proust was now famous; he was also very ill (indeed, he was dying, and would not see out the year). The latter condition was only too familiar to the novelist, who might fairly have described his life, in Alexander Pope’s phrase, as a ‘long disease’. But fame was still a novelty.1
Proust enjoyed his fame, as much as his health permitted, though he had new sorrows, too. In January 1919 he took a blow from which he never fully recovered: his aunt announced that she had sold the building in which he had his legendary apartment, 102 Boulevard Haussmann, for conversion into a bank. He was forced to move out at the end of May, and spent most of the summer living at 8 bis Rue Laurent-Pichat, before finally settling at 44 Rue Hamelin.2
Still, he continued to work doggedly at revising and correcting the texts of his huge novel, though insomnia and fatigue made the work wretched. He asked his publisher, NRF, for help; for some unfathomable reason, they put the task of correcting proofs in the hands of André Breton. The proto-Surrealist was sublimely lazy at the task, but he adored the rhythms of Proust’s sentences and would read them aloud to his acolytes.3
If some of Proust’s ailments were psychosomatic in origin, all the approval his work received did nothing to ease them. In the autumn of 1921, he suffered a collapse, and began to exhibit signs of uraemia. Early in October, he accidentally poisoned himself with massive overdoses of opium and veronal. But he kept on revising; and when his symptoms permitted, he continued to go out into society. On 15 January 1922, he attended the Ritz ball, where he was treated to a demonstration of the fashionable new dance steps from Mlle d’Hinnisdael. He was impressed: ‘Even when indulging in the most 1922 of dances, she still looks like a unicorn on a coat of arms!’
The 25-year-old André Breton4 and his wife Simone, née Kahn, moved into a two-room studio flat on the fourth floor of an unassuming building at 42 Rue Fontaine, in the northern part of the 9th arrondissement.5 Downstairs was a cabaret called Le Ciel et L’Enfer; hence playful references, ever since, to the Bretons occupying ‘the rooms above Heaven and Hell’.6
In 1922 Breton had published little, and was still hardly known outside a small coterie. Born in Normandy, he had begun training as a doctor and psychiatrist. During the war, he spent the early part of his military service in a psychiatric hospital in Nantes, where, in February 1916, he met an extraordinary young soldier, Jacques Vaché, whose weird sense of humour and general air of rebellion impressed him profoundly.7
Both in the company of Vaché and on his own, Breton began to develop an exotic sensibility and an idiosyncratic set of hobby horses. His touchstones from the past included the likes of Rimbaud, Jarry and Lautréamont.8 But he was also alert to many contemporary influences. One was Dada, the anarchistic anti-art movement, which he first encountered in January 1919, at almost exactly the time of Vaché’s death.9 Another influence was the body of theory being developed by Sigmund Freud.10
Breton began to realise that he was creating something he could not as yet adequately define, and for which he had no name.11 Still, some five years before the official birth of the movement in 1924, he was assembling key members of his team: Soupault, Aragon, Eluard.12
For the meantime, though, Breton was content to join forces with Tristan Tzara as he brought Dada to Paris in a series of rowdy provocations. More prosaically, he quit his medical studies and sought work in publishing: Gallimard not only took him on for a while, but paid him extra money to help Proust with the corrections of The Guermantes Way, which they had agreed to publish. To the young man’s surprise, Proust was wholly affable to Breton, and welcomed him cordially to long editing sessions at 44 Rue Hamelin late at night.
The Gallimard position did not last long, but after a period of scratching around for part-time jobs, Breton struck lucky. He had been introduced to Jacques Doucet, a wealthy 67-year-old haute couturier and self-appointed patron of the arts, who was the most successful dress designer in Paris after Coco Chanel and Paul Poiret. Doucet had a large and rapidly growing collection of modern manuscripts and paintings in his private collection, based at 2 Rue de Noisiel in the 16th arrondissement. The collection was now of such a size that it required cataloguing; besides, the uneducated Doucet needed the advice of connoisseurs for his future purchases.
Breton, they both agreed, was the ideal man for the job. He took his work seriously, carried it out with intelligence and flair, and used it to help his friends, persuading Doucet that it would be wise to buy first editions and manuscripts from members of his gang. (He was quite right.) When, towards the end of January 1922, Louis Aragon decided to abandon his own medical studies, Breton persuaded Doucet that he would make an ideal co-curator. With a steady income, Breton could now afford a home.
In fact, the apartment at 42 Rue Fontaine was far more than simply a place to sleep in. As Mark Polizzotti puts it, the studio flat
acquired a permanence that soon garnered the aura of legend … it became a symbol, as much a part of the history of Surrealism as Breton himself. It was ‘his crystal, his universe’, as his daughter later said; the site of many of the group’s evening gatherings and the showcase for his various collections.
It was the HQ of the Surrealist movement.13
As soon as he moved in, Breton began to furnish the studio, mainly with paintings by artists he had ‘discovered’ or who shared his preoccupations: Giorgio de Chirico’s The Child’s Brain (1914), for example, which he had first glimpsed in a gallery window from a bus; he was so impressed that he jumped off the bus and ran back to see it more closely. There were also works by Max Ernst, Picabia, Man Ray, Derain, Marcel Duchamp, Picasso, Braque, Seurat.
He also festooned the rooms with artworks and objects from Africa and Oceania – masks, dolls, carvings. It made a powerful impression on visitors, one of whom said that ‘Every painting, every object sent out an exceptionally powerful emanation, a hallucination, which adhered to it like a shadow wherever it was put.’ In short, 42 Rue Fontaine became a private museum, or, more exactly, a modern-day Cabinet of Curiosities – the richest and strangest of such collections in the history of Surrealism.14
Within weeks of moving into the new flat, Breton had established a routine of quite bourgeois regularity. Immediately after work, usually from about 5.30 to 6.30, he would meet with other members of the embryonic movement, and then have dinner at a cheap restaurant. The company would then go back to number 42, where they would play the games and conduct the experiments that were leading them towards their revelation. André and Simone would then retire to bed, while Aragon and others went on a bar crawl through the neighbourhood. This quiet, domestic life became the soil that nurtured the wild and savage growths of Breton’s imagination.
And there was a revolution to be managed. On 3 January 1922, Breton published a note in the journal Comœdia, announcing an ‘International Congress for the Determination and Defence of the Modern Spirit’ (see 17 February).
The courageous Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest H. Shackleton died of a massive heart attack. He had found it hard to settle back into everyday life after his exploits and ordeals; like Tennyson’s Ulysses, he wished for one last great voyage.15
1922 was the year of radio. Up till now, radio technology had been used almost exclusively for the sending and receiving of one-to-one messages – as we would now call it, ‘narrow-casting’. But in the early months of the year, a period that has been called the ‘Broadcasting Room’, station after station came on the air, in the USA and around the world.
The first American AM station launched during the boom was KQV-AM in Pittsburgh, which aired on 9 January.16
The young American journalist Ernest Hemingway (b. 21 July 1899; he was not yet 23) and his new wife Hadley moved into a smallish fourth-floor flat at 74 Rue Cardinal Lemoine, just off the Place Contrescarpe. They had arrived in Paris a couple of weeks earlier, on 22 December 1921, and had been staying at the Hotel Jacob. Paris would be their base for the next two years, though they both travelled a great deal throughout Europe during this period.
In his memoirs, Hemingway tends to exaggerate the degree of their cheerful poverty in Paris. Their flat cost only 250 francs – about $18 at 1922 exchange rates – and their income from Hadley’s marriage settlement alone was a guaranteed $3,000 a year. In addition, Hemingway had a salary from his job as foreign correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star. Since he estimated that a Canadian or American could live comfortably on $1,000 a year, this was ample.17
Thus pampered by the exchange rate, the Hemingways had enough money to employ a maid, who came and cleaned in the mornings and cooked dinner for them on the nights they did not eat at restaurants. Their flat was, though, a little on the cramped side, and Hemingway soon resorted to renting an office on the Rue Mouffetard. Here he kept regular working hours, and so managed to escape the common fate of those who came to Paris to pursue artistic visions and ended up simply drinking and talking about the work they were going to do.
A new nightclub, Le Bœuf sur le Toit, opened in the Rue Boissy d’Anglas. Its proprietor was Louis Moyses, who named it after a recent musical entertainment written by Jean Cocteau in collaboration with Erik Satie and Darius Milhaud. Wildly popular within just a few days of opening, it rapidly established itself as a major Parisian institution, almost immediately taking over from Cocteau’s previous hang-out, La Gaya, as the place to see and be seen. In 1922 and the years that followed, Le Bœuf was ‘the very cradle of café society’, with a reputation to match or exceed that of Maxim’s or the Moulin Rouge. For Paris, the ‘Roaring Twenties’ – les années folles – really began on this evening.
If not the greatest genius of his age and his native city, Cocteau was certainly their most representative figure – the man who set the tone of Parisian modernity and embodied its heady, stylish spirit. Elegant, fastidious, witty, eclectic, fanciful, he was a delightful talent in his own right and a sharp-eyed, energetic promoter of talent in others. He had plenty of enemies – Breton despised him, and often did his best to make Cocteau’s life miserable – but a regiment of powerful friends, too. His major biographer, Francis Steegmuller, suggests that Cocteau ‘invented’ the Paris of the 1920s, and though this is an amusing hyperbole, it is not without a hard centre of truth.
It was Cocteau, for instance, who was credited with introducing the Parisian fad for drinking American-style cocktails (people punned on the verbal similarity of Coct-eau and cock-tail); Cocteau who enthused loudly over the ‘universal genius’ of Charlie Chaplin; Cocteau who gathered together and promoted Les Six: a group of rising young composers – Francis Poulenc, Germaine Tailleferre, Louis Durey, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger and Georges Auric – who, though usually grateful for his skills as a publicist, sometimes declared that, apart from a shared dislike of Debussy and fondness for Satie, they had little in common. And then there was jazz … No doubt Paris would have embraced the new American music soon enough, but Cocteau did his very best to promote the budding love affair – writing jazz criticism for L’Intransigeant, inviting the Billy Arnold jazz band over from London (the first ensemble ever to play a concert hall in Paris) and even improvising jazz himself at the piano of La Gaya.
In 1922, Jean Cocteau would celebrate his thirty-third birthday. A gay dandy, greatly influenced by Oscar Wilde, he had first come to public attention with a collection of poems published in 1909, when he was barely out of his teens. It was at around this time that he encountered and was enthralled by the Ballets Russes, for whom he became something of a mascot. He was inspired by Diaghilev to turn his hand to drawing and stage design; he was also charmed by the overtly camp artistic milieu of the Ballets, which Stravinsky, a committed lover of women, grumpily referred to as a ‘homosexual Swiss Guard’. Diaghilev was a crucial figure in Cocteau’s artistic development; his challenge to the young Parisian to achieve something major – ‘Astound me!’ – is his single most famous utterance.
Cocteau rose to that challenge with Parade,18 a collaboration with Picasso19 and Erik Satie. Cocteau followed this coup with more poetry, and more entertainments for the stage: the original Bœuf sur le Toit, and the tragicomic Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel, which mingled Greek dramatic conventions and contemporary vaudeville. By the start of 1922, he was a full-blown celebrity.
But his private life was not as glittering as his public career. He was in love with a much younger man; indeed, with a boy, since Raymond Radiguet was only 16 when he turned up at Cocteau’s apartment at 10 Rue d’Anjou in June 1919.20 For the next four years, until Radiguet’s death from typhoid in 1923, their bond was as intense as it was volatile. Were they ever lovers in the physical sense? Hard to say. Radiguet was a chronic chaser of women, and often rose up in rebellion against Cocteau’s maternal cares and ambitions for him; it may be that the couple never had sex.21
The opening night of the Bœuf sur le Toit was the occasion for one of Radiguet’s small rebellions. According to contemporary accounts – one by Jean Hugo, and one by Nina Hamnett – Radiguet pained Cocteau dreadfully by choosing this otherwise triumphant night to stage a temporary defection. When Nina Hamnett arrived at the bar at about 11 p.m., she discovered a small group of smartly dressed people gathered around Cocteau and Moyses: the Picassos, Marie Beerbohm, Marie Laurencin … but no Radiguet. Thirsty for more and stronger booze, and irritated with Cocteau’s behaviour, Radiguet had made his way to the bar to join Constantin Brancusi, the Romanian sculptor. Brancusi was fed up too, so the two men went off with Hamnett to Montparnasse.
After a bit of wandering, Brancusi proposed that they go to the Gare de Lyon to have a midnight bouillabaisse. They did so, but the dish was not to their taste, so the two men decided to go off in search of a better one – in Marseilles. Ditching Hamnett, they boarded the night train southwards. Alas, when they arrived in Marseilles, they found that the local version of the dish was not greatly to their taste either, so after a protracted bout of heavy drinking they got on a boat to Corsica. For about a week they stayed in a huge, freezing hotel, keeping themselves warm (or under the illusion that they were warm) by drinking gallons of Corsican brandy. They finally made it back to Paris, and the Bœuf, ten days later. Cocteau was furious; Brancusi never went back to the nightclub.
Despite this personal upset, Cocteau had every reason to be delighted with the launch of the new night spot.22 ‘Le Bœuf’, as it became abbreviated by the cognoscenti, was soon the compulsory watering-hole for all of Cocteau’s admirers and co-conspirators: Morand and Milhaud, Radiguet, the Hugos, Pierre Bertins, the Picabias, and the other members of Les Six. In Cocteau’s own account: ‘The Bœuf became not a bar at all, but a kind of club, the meeting place of all the best people in Paris, from all spheres of life – the prettiest women, poets, musicians, businessmen, publishers – everyone met everyone at the Bœuf.’23
Men were expected to dress in black tie; women wore the most exclusive designer clothes: Chanel, Lanvin, Vionnet. Bohemians and aristocrats, avant-gardistes and traditionalists mingled freely, and all could dance and flirt with the gorgeous youngsters who adorned the dance floor. The club inspired at least two books about the period – Au Temps du Bœuf sur le Toit by Maurice Sachs, and Quand le Bœuf Montait sur le Toit by Jacques Chastenet – and was mentioned in countless others. In addition to the Cocteau clique, those who were drawn there included Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, the Prince of Wales and Arthur Rubinstein. In later years, its clientele was even more glamorous: Charlie Chaplin, Coco Chanel, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway and the Aga Khan.
Within a year, Le Bœuf was ‘the navel of Paris’. Proust, though seriously ill, could not bear to be left out, and demanded that his friend Paul Brach accompany him there for dinner. The night did not go well; a rowdy group of gay men started a drunken argument with Brach, and Proust felt compelled to challenge one of them to a duel. In the event, a grovelling letter of apology the next morning brought an anticlimactic end to the exchange.
Insulin was first successfully used to treat diabetes.
Erich von Stroheim’s film Foolish Wives, the first high-profile cinema release of the year, had its premiere. It was the most expensive film Hollywood had produced to date, thanks to von Stroheim’s spendthrift ways, which would become notorious throughout the twenties. Initially budgeted at an already hefty $250,000, Foolish Wives eventually cost, by the director’s own estimate, $750,000. Von Stroheim was never noted for his modesty, but that estimate seems on the cautious side, since his studio, Universal, later claimed that the actual cost was over a million.24
It’s hardly surprising that expenses should have spiralled out of control, since von Stroheim insisted on creating a vast and lavish replica of Monte Carlo in California, complete with massive casino interiors. In the course of production, the young Irving Thalberg – later to be one of the key figures in Hollywood history, and immortalised in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon – was appointed as head of production, and though Carl Laemmle was awarded sole credit as producer of Foolish Wives, Thalberg undoubtedly played a major part in disciplining his director’s wilder fancies and so bringing the work to screen in playable form.25
What is most striking about Foolish Wives today is von Stroheim’s intense narcissism: he is in just about every major scene, spectacularly natty in his white military tunic and jodhpurs, officer’s cap constantly at a jaunty angle, rimless monocle in eye, outsize cigarette in mouth. When first we encounter him, he is consuming a Nietzschean breakfast: a tumbler of bull’s blood for an eye-opener, lashings of oozy caviar in place of cornflakes. In terms of style, the film is a mixture of plain, quasi-documentary set-ups (particularly when showing the peasant communities in the countryside around Monte Carlo) and highly inventive, occasionally expressionist shots, such as the scene at the counterfeiter’s house which is slashed by alternating bars of black and white – the shadows of a Venetian blind. Perhaps the strangest touch is that the film’s victim-heroine is often seen to be reading a novel. Title: Foolish Wives. Author: Erich von Stroheim.26
Cocteau – at first still plainly nervous and jittery, thanks to Radiguet’s impulsive flight with Brancusi – had lunch with Valentine and Jean Hugo. After lunch, Ezra Pound arrived and, as Jean Hugo recalled,
read and sang his opera on François Villon to the three of us … He wanted me to do the decorations. Cocteau giggled all the time, as anything to do with the Middle Ages and Gregorian music seemed then quite ridiculous to him. Pound must have noticed he was being made fun of, and the decor was not mentioned again.
Nor was Radiguet’s absence mentioned. When the boy finally returned, Cocteau forgave him after a brief period of chilliness. Since Brancusi was not gay, there was no hint that Radiguet and he had been lovers; none the less, Cocteau never again mentioned Brancusi in any of his writings on modern art.
Evelyn Waugh ‘commenced scholar’ at Hertford College, having won the college’s history scholarship – worth £100 per annum, a fair sum – in examinations late the previous year. Most of his contemporaries had come up at the usual time, the previous October, and had already formed their friendships, so that Waugh was forced to seek out new friends elsewhere; he regarded himself as a lone explorer of this exotic new land. His late arrival also meant that all the good rooms had been taken, and he was established in a small, dark set next to the buttery on the ground floor. This was dangerous because it meant that his room was in use as a handy stop for drinkers and idlers at all times of the day and night.27
Despite this inconvenience, Oxford struck the young Waugh as a paradise. ‘I can say little because I am too happy,’ he wrote to a friend. ‘Life is good and Oxford is all that one desires.’ The place would teach him many lessons that had nothing to do with history. As part of his rapid transformation from bookish child to budding aesthete, he learned to ride a bicycle, to smoke a pipe, and to speak in the required Oxford slang, which included the habit of adding the diminutive ‘-er’ or ‘-ers’ to words, so that the Bodleian became ‘Bodder’.
Formerly temperate, Waugh also began to drink and to buy fine clothes, paintings, first editions and other trinkets that were all well beyond his means. After doing the minimal amount of study necessary to maintain his scholarship by scraping through ‘History Previous’ at the end of his second term, he then resolutely set about doing no work at all until just a few weeks before his finals, in 1924. One root of this dedicated idleness was his hatred for his tutor, C. R. M. F. Cruttwell, Dean of Hertford.28 The antipathy between Dean and undergraduate was entirely mutual: Cruttwell referred to Waugh as ‘a silly little suburban sod with an inferiority complex and no palate’. Waugh recruited his new friends to a long campaign of persecution, which included spreading the rumour that Cruttwell enjoyed sex with dogs. At one point, he bought a stuffed dog from a toyshop and placed it in a position where it could be seen – or ogled – from Cruttwell’s rooms.
Oxford was a place of such charms to Waugh that when he was obliged to spend the Easter vacation at home with his father in the suburbs,29 he complained of being driven to a state of melancholy madness, and counted off the days until the new term like a prisoner awaiting the end of his sentence. But the intoxications, literal and spiritual, of his early months at Oxford were only a pale anticipation of the pleasures to come after the long summer vacation.
Declaration of the Irish Free State, under the terms of the 1921 treaty negotiated by Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith with Winston Churchill and others. Collins became chairman of the Irish Provisional Government. The year would see a terrible civil war, the assassination of Collins and, eventually, Irish independence. It was one of the bloodiest in Ireland’s history.
The premiere of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Pastoral Symphony.
Of the three works submitted by Francis Picabia to the Salon des Independents, only one – Tabac-Rat/Dance of Saint-Guy – was accepted. That they admitted this piece is rather surprising, since it consisted of little more than an empty picture frame with string stretched across its surface, with the title written on small labels fixed to the string. Picabia intended the work to be shown free-standing, so that spectators could walk behind it and be seen as the subject of the picture by others; the artist had himself photographed in just that way. Picabia, using the occasion for publicity, fired off a series of protests to the newspapers, and hung the two refused works on the wall of the Bœuf sur le Toit: Chapeau de Paille, and La Veuve Joyeuse, to which was attached a photograph by Man Ray of Picabia behind the wheel of his car.
The Picassos shared a box with the Hugos and Georges Auric at the first night of Skating Rink, music by Honegger, abstract set by Fernand Léger. As one of Picasso’s biographers observes, ‘it was the most original, startling, and modernist decor since Parade’. As so often, the traditionalist section of the audience greeted the piece with jeers and general uproar. But on the same night, on the far side of the Atlantic, another musical premiere was meeting with a much warmer reception.
Krazy Kat: A Jazz Pantomime, by the Chicago-based composer John Alden Carpenter (1876–1951), premiered at the New York Town Hall. It was the first time that a concert composer had ever used the word ‘jazz’ in a title. The production was eagerly anticipated, if only as a double novelty: a ballet suite boasting jazz elements, and inspired by a newspaper comic strip: George Herriman’s beautiful saga of a cat, a mouse, a dog and a brick. It is possible that some of the inspiration may have come to Carpenter from an article by Carl Van Vechten on ‘The Cat in Music’ in Musical Quarterly.30 But the direct motivation had been Carpenter’s young daughter Ginny, who adored the comic.
When Carpenter made a trip to Los Angeles in 1917, he arranged to meet Herriman and brought Ginny, then aged 12, with him. Ginny dropped Herriman a curtsey, and said, ‘I’m very pleased to meet you.’ Herriman grinned, and replied, ‘Miss Carpenter, you’re very easily pleased.’ Four years later, Carpenter wrote to Herriman asking him if he would care to work together on a concert piece. Herriman replied:
I’ve never had any idea that these few humble characters of mine would ever have been asked to mingle with the more aristocratic arts, and I must say it is all very shocking to me. I can’t imagine K. Kat, I. Mouse, O. Pupp, and J. Stork cavorting and pirouetting en ballet to save my life. However, let’s hope the audience doesn’t get their cue from Ignatz [the mouse] and pack a few bricks in with them – with evil intent.
Herriman agreed to write the scenario and design the costumes and scenery. Gilbert Seldes, who later wrote a pioneering article about Herriman in his book The Seven Lively Arts, developed his interest in popular culture as a direct result of working as a volunteer publicist for the Carpenter ballet. The tale was simple: Krazy, waking from a slumber, sees a poster for a ball, pulls on a ballet skirt and begins to dance. Joe Stork brings on a mysterious parcel, which Krazy opens, discovering a vanity case. He/she (Krazy’s gender is an enigma) begins to apply make-up. Ignatz hovers menacingly, but Officer Pupp chases the wicked rodent away. Krazy launches into a Spanish dance; Ignatz, disguised as a Mexican catnip merchant, presents Krazy with a bouquet of the feline drug. Krazy goes into a ‘Class A fit’, which modulates into a Katnip Blues. Ignatz finally hurls his eternal brick and escapes. The stunned Krazy, as in the strip, has a moment of brick-induced ecstatic recognition – Ignatz has proved his love again! – and goes back to sleep. Officer Pupp patrols, and all is right with the world.
Jazz influences aside, Carpenter’s work most closely resembled recent compositions by the likes of Prokofiev (who had befriended Carpenter during his long stays in Chicago), Ravel and Les Six, with its witty but none the less poignant melodies. In part, too, it was a kindly parody of the Ballets Russes. The premiere was a great hit with the audience, who ‘could not get enough of Krazy Kat. They applauded and demanded encores.’ The critics were, by and large, lukewarm, the starchier ones saying that Carpenter’s music was as bad as jazz itself, the more fashionable saying that it was either not as good as jazz, or simply not good jazz. And even some of those who otherwise enjoyed the work thought it might have been better done, with a different star. Seldes said that he thought only Chaplin could have done justice to the role of Krazy.
Shortly after his return to London in the middle of January, Eliot caught influenza and took to his bed, from where he wrote to his old friend Scofield Thayer, the editor of the literary magazine The Dial.31 Sir John Hutchinson had taken over from Eliot as author of the Dial’s ‘London Letter’ for a trial period, but the one column he contributed had been spiked. Eliot agreed to take the post up again, but asked if the format could become one of ‘more general rumination on London’ rather than reviews of particular books.
He also referred to a ‘poem of about 450 lines, in four [sic] parts’, and wondered if the Dial would be interested in publishing it. Thus began a long and vexed series of negotiations which were only settled by the late autumn of 1922. On 24 January, he wrote a cordial letter to André Gide, and a business note to Richard Cobden-Sanderson, whom Eliot had recently approached about the possibility of being publisher of a magazine to be financed by Lady Rothermere.
Christian K. Nelson took out a patent on the Eskimo Pie.
In the garden of Jacques Villon in Puteaux, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp displayed fragments of their latest experiment with film, using spirals attached to an upright bicycle wheel. One of those present at the event was Henri-Pierre Roche, who noted that the effect was ‘impressive and quite fantastic’.
Virginia Woolf wrote to E. M. Forster:
Every one is reading Proust. I sit silent and hear their reports. It seems to be a tremendous experience, but I’m shivering on the brink, and waiting to be submerged with a horrid sort of notion that I shall go down and down and down and perhaps never come up again.
Like Proust, Virginia Woolf seemed to be dying. Outside a limited circle of friends and admirers, she was still all but unknown. Her two novels to date had sold poorly, and though she had published many reviews and articles, most of these had appeared anonymously, in The Times Literary Supplement. Her health was poor, and her husband Leonard was warned by her doctors that she might not have long to live. Her condition in the early months of 1922 certainly gave him good reason to feel alarmed: she was struck down by repeated bouts of severe flu, she frequently ran high temperatures, and she suffered from a heart murmur. She kept to her bed in Hogarth House for most of the first part of the year, working only occasionally. When well enough, she helped the émigré writer S. S. Koteliansky with his translations from Dostoevsky. Meanwhile, despite repeated arguments between the two men, Leonard continued to run the Hogarth Press with Ralph Partridge.32
Pope Benedict XV died.
Ezra Pound sent an important letter to Eliot, datelined ‘24 Saturnus An I’.33 Certain phrases from this letter have long since passed into literary history:
The thing now runs from April … to shantih without break. That is nineteen pages, and let us say the longest poem in the Englisch langwidge. Don’t try to bust all records by prolonging it to three pages further …
Complimenti, you bitch. I am wracked by the seven jealousies …
It is after all a grrrreat littttteray period.
Eliot replied on or about the 26th: ‘Complimenti appreciated, as have been excessively depressed. V. sends you her love and says that if she had realised how bloody England is she would not have returned.’
Pound’s response, circa the 28th, made an unexpected allusion to Joyce’s prudishness. From time to time, Eliot had produced a series of obscene verses detailing the wild sexual exploits of a King Bolo. Most of Eliot’s close friends seemed to find them funny, but Pound cautioned: ‘You can forward the Bolo to Joyce if you think it won’t unhinge his somewhat sabbatarian mind. On the hole he might be saved the shock, shaved the sock.’
Virginia Woolf’s fortieth birthday. She had been born just over a week earlier than James Joyce (see 2 February).
Agatha Christie (1890–1976) published her second novel, The Secret Adversary. She had made her debut two years earlier with The Mysterious Affair at Styles – the novel which introduced the world to one of her two immortal detectives, Hercules Poirot.
Franz Kafka’s health was also poor. He had lived through what he described as a ‘breakdown’ – Zusammenbruch – as bad as anything he had ever experienced. He suffered from dreadful insomnia, and a sense that his inner clockwork was radically out of time with that of the outer world: ‘the inner one runs on at a devilish or demoniac or in any case inhuman pace, the outer one limps along at its usual speed…’ He later told his closest friend, Max Brod, that he felt he had been on the verge of madness.
Like Eliot, he had been granted a three-month period of sick leave by his employers, the ‘Institute’ – that is to say, the ‘Arbeiter-Unfall-Versicherungs-Anstalt für das Königreich Böhmen in Prag’: an association for providing insurance to working people.34 On 27 January, he travelled for the final stage of his sick leave to Spindelmühle, a winter resort near the Polish border.35 He tried to rally his physical and mental strength with tobogganing and mountain walks, and made cautious attempts at learning to ski.
It was here that he began work on his last major novel, The Castle.
After a seven-month stay in the city, Duchamp left for New York. He supported himself for the first few months of his stay there by giving French lessons, and with a friend founded a short-lived company for dyeing fabrics. Meanwhile, he continued to work on the major work of his idiosyncratic career, The Large Glass.
The writer Henri-Pierre Roche (mainly remembered for his novel Jules et Jim) attended a delightful meal hosted by the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi:
Dinner at Brancusi’s, splendid. His famous purée of cold beans with vinegar and garlic. His grilled steak. He’s everywhere, cooking, serving, doing everything … There are two violins. Brancusi and Satie take turns to play duets and tease each other. Our jaws are aching with laughter. A galop for the larger members. Brancusi’s agility. Nice people and great men: he and Satie.
Thayer wrote from 1 Habsburgergasse 2, Vienna, urging Eliot to hurry with copy for the April issue of The Dial and offering flattery: ‘… allow me to state that you are The Dial’s favourite foreign correspondent not excepting the indefatigable Ezra. Write about what you damn well please.’ He also offered a flat rate of $150 for Eliot’s long poem, sight unseen, to be published in the magazine.
Bertrand Russell wrote to his former lover Ottoline Morrell recording the changes that had taken place in his life since the birth of his first son, John Conrad,36 on 16 November 1921 – probably, he thought, the happiest day of his life, since he had yearned to be a father for the better part of twenty years. He told her that he was ‘amazed to find how much passionate affection one can give to a little creature who as yet is only stimulated to activity by greed and stomach ache’. This unfamiliar sense of happiness proved durable, and John remained the centre of Russell’s emotional life for years to come.
Russell, who would turn 50 on 18 May 1922, had spent a good part of the previous year lecturing in philosophy in Peking (Beijing).37 He had been accompanied on the trip by his lover Dora Black, who was already several months pregnant when they arrived back in England on 26 August 1921. Russell rapidly contrived a divorce from his first wife, Alys, and married Dora on 27 September.
Russell, Dora and John Conrad were now living in a small terraced house in Sydney Street, Chelsea, decorated with the rugs they had brought back from their recent visit to China, and by the wooden furniture that Russell had bought from Ludwig Wittgenstein in 1919. Russell’s claim that he hardly did anything save write and dote on his boy must be qualified by the well-documented fact that he was also enjoying a reasonably full social life, including frequent dinners – alarming to the unsophisticated Dora – in Bloomsbury with the Woolfs, John Maynard Keynes and Ottoline Morrell. And his genuine delight in being with his son was compromised – even, it might well be said, poisoned – by his new craze for ‘scientific’ child-rearing: in other words, child-rearing according to the precepts of behaviourism as espoused by John B. Watson, whose work Russell had begun to study in 1918.38
At the Hugos’. Valentine Hugo, née Gross, was a painter, but more celebrated as a leading beauty of the day, ‘one of the ornaments of le Tout-Paris’, as Steegmuller puts it in his Cocteau biography. Cocteau called her ‘his swan’. Her husband, Jean, a descendant of Victor Hugo who she had married in August 1919, became friendly with Cocteau after his return from the Front. The couple often hosted evenings for the poet and his admirers. Cocteau read aloud from the manuscript of Le Diable au Corps, which was nearing completion. Among the listeners were Picasso and Olga; the Beaumonts; and Radiguet. Madame de Beaumont fell asleep, but the rest were astonished. Cocteau had been right all along, they agreed: the novel was a work of genius.
Copyright © 2012 by Kevin Jackson
Meet the Author
Kevin Jackson has written and edited more than twenty books, including The Book of Hours, Invisible Forms: A Guide to Literary Curiosities, and The Worlds of John Ruskin. He has written for The New Yorker, Granta, The Sunday Times (London), The Guardian, and Vogue, among other publications. He lives in Cambridge, England.
Kevin Jackson has written for The New Yorker, Granta, The Sunday Times (London), The Guardian, and Vogue, among other publications. His books include The Worlds of John Ruskin, The Book of Hours, and Invisible Forms: A Guide to Literary Curiosities. He lives in Cambridge, England.
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