February House is the uncovered story of an extraordinary experiment in communal living, one involving young but already iconic writers -- and the country's best-known burlesque performer -- in a house at 7 Middagh Street in Brooklyn during 1940 and 1941. It was a fevered yearlong party fueled by the appetites of youth and by the shared sense of urgency to take action as artists in the months before America entered the war.
In spite of the sheer intensity of life at 7 Middagh, the house was for its residents a creative crucible. Carson McCullers's two masterpieces, The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, were born, bibulously, in Brooklyn. Gypsy Rose Lee, workmanlike by day, party girl by night, wrote her book The G-String Murders in her Middagh Street bedroom. Auden -- who along with Britten was being excoriated at home in England for absenting himself from the war -- presided over the house like a peevish auntie, collecting rent money and dispensing romantic advice. And yet all the while he was composing some of the most important work of his career.
Sherill Tippins's February House, enlivened by primary sources and an unforgettable story, masterfully recreates daily life at the most fertile and improbable live-in salon of the twentieth century.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.75(d)|
About the Author
SHERILL TIPPINS is the author of February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten and Gypsy Rose Lee Under One Roof in Wartime America. She lives in New York City.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to place many of your favorite artistic heroes in the same room and be a fly on the wall to hear the foment? FEBRUARY HOUSE is that wish granted. At least for this reader. The potent time is 1940 and 1941 when WW II was chewing up Europe and Asia and daily threatening to gorge the globe. But at 7 Middagh Street in the somewhat seamy part of Brooklyn, a house owned by former Harper's Bazaar literary editor George Davis, several artists many of whose birthdays happened to be in the month of February set up an artist commune, eager for interplay with each other and all joined in the role of pacifists. The housefolk included Carson McCullers, WH Auden and his 18 year old lover Chester Kallman, Thomas Mann's children Erika and Klaus Mann, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, Gypsy Rose Lee (!)(as well as the occasional guests George Balanchine, Salvador Dali, Paul Cadmus, Diana Vreeland, Paul Bowles, Leonard Bernstein, Lincoln Kirsten among others.Uniting in both financial need and in political and artistic agendas, these greats interacted in ways both creative and destructive with the results ranging from famous collaborative efforts to drunken orgies to various intimate couplings and exchanges. Gypsy Rose Lee was the titular 'mother' and Auden the 'father' figure. 'Biographies' such as this could easily become racy sensationalism were it not for the fact the writer Sherill Tippins relates this amazing household of geniuses with such skill and obvious love that we are able to simply enjoy the inner spins on the creative minds in February House. For devotees of any or many of these creative minds' works, this little book is indispensable. Warm, humorous, and very enlightening it illuminates a group of folk who for a period of time gave America its own Bloomsbury. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp
The notion of a literary salon is very European, so it's not surprising that a European, W.H. Auden, was at the center of an American bohemian version at a Brooklyn Heights home in New York in the 1930's and 40's. "February House," the literary biography of that salon, is a well-written examination of an unusual household experiment where artists lived (and sometimes loved) together for several years becoming, briefly, a beacon for the literary and their supporters in New York City. Author Sherill Tippins does a fine job of recreating the times, especially the tensions faced by expatriate British artists like Auden in the U.S. while Britain was being bombed during WWII. It would have been easy to lend a nostalgic sheen to this story, but Tippins is upfront about the conflicts and self-destructive behavior that caused, ultimately, the demise of February House. Recommended.
The concept sounds like a great pitch for a novel: several great artists live together in one house and we get to watch what happens as the sparks (creative and otherwise) fly. I bet PBS could do a reality show like this. The amazing thing is, it really happened and it was pretty successful. And the way the author put the story together is really something to see. I felt like I was transported to Brooklyn in 1940. I alternately identified with and fell in love with every character, which goes to show how much they came to life for me. The author managed to craft a totally engaging story out of historical events. You really get to know these people as real human beings, so they're accessible. I'm going back to read the works by these authors I haven't read and re-read the ones I have, now that I have so much insight into their lives. There are lots of historical books out there. This one is definitely worth reading.
Curled up with my literary cat, I simply couldn't put this book down. The renowned writers/musicians/poets/novelists described between the covers certainly lead fascinating lives, and so the author had no need to novelize. Instead, judjing from her many references and documentation, she assembled facts coherently and wrote this book which gives voice to her respect and admiration of the 'characters' and their works. The description of the creative process experienced, for example, by Carson McCullers, enlightened my understanding, as did the pragmatic yet unique persona of Gypsy Rose Lee. Upon finishing February House, my cat and I felt inspired to listen to Benjamin Britten's music and to read W.H. Auden's poetry. A remarkable book indeed!