Books: Women of the Left Bank of Paris
Why I am recommending this book:
This is a beautifully written book that serves as a reminder of the extraordinary literary and artistic contributions that women made and continue to make, while capturing a pivotal period in cultural and literary history and the unique magic of Paris during this time.
"The question that predicates this inquiry is not 'What was it like to be part of literary Paris,'" writes Shari Benstock, but "'What was it like to be a woman in literary Paris?'" That city's Left Bank, says the author, was in the early part of the 20th century "inhabited by all those on the margin of culture, a place for the dislocated, even the dispossessed." Among these expatriates
were women writers, editors, poets, journalists, and novelists who came to Paris from America or England, often to escape a family or society that made it hard for them to live as a lesbian or a black woman--or simply as an intelligent, ambitious person uninterested in settling into traditional domestic life.
If you believe the usual literary histories, the early 20th-century modernist movement in English literature was, Gertrude Stein excepted, a movement of men. Benstock restores the roles of such remarkable women as Djuna Barnes, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Beach, and Janet Flanner in the history of the time, revealing what she calls the "underside of the cultural canvas." The book is thorough and wonderfully descriptive, offering both a literary history and a portrait of the lives of creative women.