Thursday, January 8, 2009
Homage to the Lost Generation: Kent Johnson and Sylvia Beach
Kent Johnson writes in to say: "Something amazing has just happened to me, and I have to tell about it. And since Don S. is one of the true bibliophiles of the poetry world, this seems like the appropriate place. Maybe this won't seem such an amazing thing as it does to me, but it is pretty special, all will have to admit, and I'm still trembling a little bit over it...
Well, OK, about one two hours ago I was on the third floor of our town's antique mall here, poking around in shelves and shelves of old books, a large collection of things left by a deceased dealer, and so everything is going at "3 for $5." Some great stuff, including a smattering of 19th century things with lithographs inside, fold-out maps, stuff like that, a first edition of Understanding Poetry in fine condition, etc. I was looking around to find stuff for my son Brooks, who is a really good, budding collagist. And I found some great things...
Anyway, as I am leaving, happy with my take, my eyes fall on a book lying face-up on a shelf, the white paper covers detached, but there. It is Les Gazettes D'Adrienne Monnier, 1925-1945, published by Rene Julliard, Paris. So I open the book and there is a folded letter inside. The sheet is approx. 4 X 6 in., is my guess. Both sides are filled with handwriting, a clearly legible script, paper in perfect condition.
It is a letter to a Mrs. Hannah, at Reid Hall, 4 rue de Chevreuse, Paris. VI. In it, the writer responds to the addressee's query about Proust, and mentions that she, along with Mademoiselle Monnier is ["... alas!, almost totally ignorant of Proust," but that she will gladly put her in touch with Maurice Bardou [sp?], at Gallimard, who will certainly be able to assist her with her research. The letter goes on in a very lovely way about when a visit from Mrs Hannah to the writer's apartment might be made, and so on. The letter is signed "Yours Sincerely, Sylvia Beach. Her name and address are printed in blue official stationary type at the top: SYLVIA BEACH, 12, Rue De L'Odeon, Paris, VI. The date is January 4th, 1954.
I found this in Freeport, Illinois, a town that is about as far away from the Lost Generation as one may imagine. I feel as thrilled as I did the day I stepped over a log in some timber in Lena, Illinois, and saw before me about thirty lbs. pounds of huge yellow morels, just sitting there, in all directions.
Isn't this amazing?"
In celebration of this delightful discovery, let me present... Les 4 Barbus!
I have two comments for now: First, 12 rue de l'Odeon is where Sylvia Beach hid her books during WWII (she was forced to close Shakespeare & Co. in 1941; Hemingway "liberated" it in '44!); and second, I find that bit about the huge yellow morels to be even more exciting than the find of a letter from S.B. Interested parties may like to investigate the book-bacon meme. Will wonders never cease? No, never!