Saturday, 8 September 2012

1920s American Literature

One striking feature of the way American literature developed in its most exciting phase, during the 1920s, was through the symbiotic relationship that grew up between the younger and more daring American writers of the postwar generation and their French contemporaries. Paris was the clearing house for all this; it was during the 1920s that, it seemed, almost an entire generation of American writers headed for Paris, partly driven by cultural revolt against the materialism and commercialism of Harding's and Coolidge's America, partly drawn by the cheap franc and the fact that in Prohibition times there you could get a drink, partly tempted by the realization that Paris bohemia was in a state of chaotic yet exciting avant garde vitality, fed not just by French experimentalists but by Russians and other emigres from recent wars and revolutions. There was another, more subtle benefit: in the 1920s in France, America was chic, in part as a result of America's crucial intervention in the War and the Peace settlement that followed. American jazz, American primitivism and frankness, American skyscrapers, American cocktails, Josephine Baker, American films, all helped in the synbiosis - and so did the stirring excitements of the new American writing, which seemed, as Gertrude Stein said, "to have gone to Paris to happen."