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Women of the Left Bank, Paris 1900-1940 Paperback – January 1, 1987


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Women of the Left Bank, Paris 1900-1940 + Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties + Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 518 pages
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press; 1st edition (1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0292790406
  • ISBN-13: 978-0292790407
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 5.9 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #128,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"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. --Maria Dolan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The expatriate experience for American literati in Paris in the earlier part of this century is usually associated with male writers such as Hemingway, Joyce and Pound. In a reassessment of the period and the prevailing one-sided view of it, Benstock, editor of the journal Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, presents the women who left their enduring mark on the cultural milieu of a nation. Through their writings, including unpublished and newly available documentary sources of the period, Djuna Barnes, Nancy Cunard, Jean Rhys, Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton and others are revealed as significant in the development of modernism, imagism and other avant-garde movements in which they were overshadowed or ignored by their male counterparts. Not only were their experiences different from those of their male counterparts, but they were also distinct from each other. Benstock tracks the sexually liberated lifestyles and the creative originality of these women with a wealth of documentation.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book out of interest in expatriate Americans in the early part of the 20th century. I was immediately drawn into the worlds of these writers and artists and ultimately learned about incredible characters like Sylvia Beach, who was the first person to publish James Joyce's Ulysses, and Margaret Anderson, publisher of the modernist The Little Review.
As a feminist scholar, Benstock analyzes the places these women occupied in the Paris scene as well as in a world in transition. She admirably examines the literary works of the writers, but the book never feels solely like a book of criticism. Biographical information abounds and gives each chapter something of a story arc.
For readers who enjoy biographies of literary personalities but often miss the lack of detailed discussion of a writer's works, this book will not disappoint. And if you are at all interested Paris in the early part of the last century, modernism, or any of the many women discussed in the book (Edith Wharton, Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein & Alice Toklas, HD, Mina Loy, etc.) this book will be an invaluable source of information.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By S. A Troutt on June 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
Not really a biography, tho it is very biographic. Not really a study of Feminism, tho most of the women were early pioneers. Not really a study of Lesbians, tho most of the women were, at least, bisexual. What this book does, and it does it extremely well, is illustrate how these women struggled to 'define' themselves, as artists, as authors, as sexual beings, as individuals at a time when women were generally perceived as little better then simple minded children factories. From Gertrude Stein to Djuna Barnes to Natalie Barney (Rene Vivian...'a life spent looking for death')such different people but sharing a common thread of struggle (and cost). I've read a lot about this period and these women, and no book has given me a better understanding of them and emotional empathy with them, then this book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kimberley Ballantyne on February 9, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a great book on the women who made huge contributions to that legendary period of culture: Left Bank Paris between the wars. Impeccably researched and beautifully written, it reveals, through multiple layers of history, biography and social commentary, the enormous and subtle influence of an extraordinary group of talented women whose remarkable gifts and achievements were usually overshadowed and often at the service of the male figures of the left bank scene. A completely absorbing book, I couldn't put it down from the moment I started reading it. One of those books you want to share with everyone, (and everyone I have shared it with shares my enthusiasm for it). An absolute favourite; I can't recommend it highly enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By G. Charles Steiner TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 2, 2012
Format: Paperback
This review is for: Women of the Left Bank, Paris 1900-1940 by Shari Benstock (Paperback)

Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Jean Rhys as well as Sylvia Beach, Adrienne Monnier, Janet Flanner, Kay Boyle, Natalie Barney, H.D. and Bryer were the subjects of this relentless tome on literary women of the Thirties in Paris. The chapter on Gertrude Stein was the most interesting and stimulating. The sad life of Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier came as a surprise to me. Djuna Barnes's last 40 years of life spent in isolation came as a shock to me. Natalie Barney proved to be a subject of interest only so long as she lived. Her writings and the consequences of her life have no present value or interest. H.D.'s writings prove to have no value, and I'm glad I never read her poetry. I am glad to know I don't deserve to feel regret for having skipped over her. Nancy Cunard's work I might read as a result of reading this tome, but only the "Negro" anthology. I haven't read Jean Rhys depressing novels, but I am motivated to do so as a result of reading Benstock's paragraphs about her.

I can't say I really enjoyed reading this book. Perhaps the nostalgia for this time-period is finally done.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By HCS on December 11, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I couldn't even get through the beginning of this biography; it was so dull. Now, I'm a feeler-type person, (an INFJ), so perhaps it's the style in which it's written that puts me off. It is very well-written, but, Women of the Left Bank is singularly mental; ironic since much of this time period was about the passions of the senses in oneself and towards each other.

I far preferred Paris Was a Woman: Portraits of the Left Bank, by Andrea Weiss; Wild Girls: Paris, Sappho, and Art: The Lives and Loves of Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks (a delicious account of the intense and magnetic passion between these two artists), by Diana Souhami; Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation, by Noel Riley Fitch; Found Meals of a Lost Generation by Suzanne Rodgriguez-Hunter (more a cookbook than an examination of the history), and Forbidden Fires by Margaret C. Anderson (who really was there!). In fact, Paris Was a Woman goes remarkably well with Forbidden Fires (which starts with a biography and moves into a semi-autobiographical story). With the exception of Benstock's book, all of the above books create a sensual path of France's expatriate movement in the 1920's.
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