"Nineteen forty-six was a good time - perhaps the best time - in the twentieth century. The war was over and there was a terrific sense of coming back, of repossessing life. Rents were cheap, restaurants were cheap, and it seemed to me that happiness itself might be cheaply had." Broyard made his first bid for happiness by moving in with a young painter, the difficult and challenging Sheri Donatti - a protegee of Anais Nin - who never wore underpants and who "embodied the new trends in art, sex, and psychosis." Broyard tells their story; by turns ...
"Nineteen forty-six was a good time - perhaps the best time - in the twentieth century. The war was over and there was a terrific sense of coming back, of repossessing life. Rents were cheap, restaurants were cheap, and it seemed to me that happiness itself might be cheaply had." Broyard made his first bid for happiness by moving in with a young painter, the difficult and challenging Sheri Donatti - a protegee of Anais Nin - who never wore underpants and who "embodied the new trends in art, sex, and psychosis." Broyard tells their story; by turns comic and poignant, while describing along the way his meetings with Caitlan and Dylan Thomas, Delmore Schwartz, Dwight MacDonald, Maya Deren, William Gaddis, and other writers and artists just beginning their careers. He opens a bookstore on Cornelia Street ("If it hadn't been for books we would have been entirely at the mercy of sex. Books steadied us, they gave us gravity."). He goes to the New School and listens to Eric Fromm, Karen Horney and Meyer Shapiro ("I went to him as students, twenty years later, would go to India."). He tries going to a psychoanalysist ("I never gave him a chance. l had a literature rather than a personality."). In dazzling prose, Broyard captures with crystalline clarity the feeling of a particular time and place "when everything mattered, everything was serious." With economy, style, wit, flair, and astounding powers of observation, Broyard has left us a most remarkable memoir.
Carson McCullers, unknown in Greenwich Village just after World War II, discovered her next-door neighbor was W. H. Auden. At about the same time, the girlfriend of the just demobilized, not yet published Anatole Broyard ran, literally, into and bowled off his feet a gentleman who turned out to be . . . W. H. Auden. In the Village in those halcyon days, everyone in public places--every taxi driver, every bagel concessionaire, every cop on the beat--who wasn't Anais Nin was W. H. Auden. Broyard's new community was as replete with literary heavy hitters as, say, Yale's department of English is today, but the Village's idols and role models were accessible. To anybody--anybody pure of soul, at any rate--"Nineteen forty-six," Broyard recalls without hyperbole, "was a good time--perhaps the best time in the twentieth century." Too bad time isn't space. With airfares cheap as they are now--and who would buy round trip?--we could all be there within one day. But until time-to-space software is developed, Broyard's memoir, a tantalizingly concise page-turner, is as good as any substitute that might be available.
Brilliant, funny, penetrating observations on life and culture in N.Y.C. after WW II from critic Broyard, who died of cancer in 1990 (Intoxicated by My Illness, 1992). "Nineteen forty-six was a good time—perhaps the best time—in the twentieth century," writes Broyard, and the reader wishes that the critic were still here to write a dozen more books just like this wonderful one to explain further exactly what he means. Broyard was 26 the year after the war, and his entree to then housing-scarce Greenwich Village took the form of moving in with the difficult and challenging Sheri Donatti, enigmatic abstract painter, wearer of no underpants, and proteg‚e of Ana‹s Nin. Comedy both ribald and poignant follows as Broyard tells the tale of his brief life with Sheri—including, along the way, sketches of his meetings with the likes of W.H. Auden (whom Sheri bumps into—literally), Erich Fromm, Meyer Schapiro, Delmore Schwartz and others, including Nin herself ("Her lipstick was precise, her eyebrows shaved off and penciled in, giving the impression," remarks Broyard, "that she had written her own face"). A break with Sheri is inevitable but, by the time it comes, the reader knows how thoroughly she emblemized the complicated ironies (and dead-ends) of postwar criticism and art—and how Broyard was to manage going on afterward in his own way. Again and again, his independence and right judgment reveal themselves in a mind that, in a Whitmanesque way, passionately insists on a genuine integration of life and art: "I wanted to be an intellectual, too, to see life from a great height, yet I didn't want to give up my sense of connection, my intimacy with things. When Iread a book, I always kept one eye on the world, like someone watching the clock." Vital criticism that—in these woebegone days especially—is wondrously to be valued.