Blog

How Do We Understand Grief?

How does the choice of subject affect the writer especially in a marginalized community? In posing the question to myself since finishing my Brooks biography and beginning my own memoir of anti conversion therapy, Erase Her: A Survivors Story.

What does surviving and thriving mean?

Romaine Brooks was a survivor and thriver. She developed her own ways and means using her natural artistic talents. When I walked into the Whitney Museum and got off at the wrong floor as a young graduate student in the 1970s what drew me to her 1923 self portrait. It began my desire to know more about the woman behind the image she projected; the strength, confidence and sense of knowing herself. I wanted that for myself. I wanted to be my own woman; in fact all, for lack of a better word, the men and women embodied in me.

Erase Her is all about my journey to reach my authentic realization with a lot of help from Romaine Brooks and her circle.

Join me for an exciting talk: When Paris was for Lesbians: the Women Who Made Modernism. Sunday the 17th at 2:00 check out http://www.eventbrite.com/e/170678021557

Some familiar faces, old, new and on-going loves and lovers. Enjoy how deeply in-debt modernism is to these courageous and groundbreaking lesbian feminists.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/170678021557

Everything starts with Natalie Barney the proudly out American who not only worshipped the “tenth muse” but emulated her establishing a lesbian feminist outpost in the heart of Paris.

The Sappho of Paris

Erasure:Thinking Differently

Romaine at home in Paris

I hav spent over forty years studying Romaine Brooks. I think I understand her as well as any biographer does her subject. Perhaps this because of my experience as a sapphist and conversion-therapy survivor that gives me a peculiar sensitivity into Romaine’s interiority.

Living between the wars Romaine and her circle were challenged by events not unlike the ones we are now struggling with: Covid, endless wars, fascism, disinformation, polarized politics, distrust of governments and class discriminations that have led to BLM, CRT, cancel culture, us vs them, immigration wars, bloody mass killings, denials of science, climate change deniers and the tragedy of Afghanistan.

With the winds of war whipping up the seas. Of change Romaine sent Matthew Arnold’s love poem to Natalie Barney.

Dover Beach. The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin, 
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring 
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

About Me

People keep asking me about me about me and my author page. I write about things that interest me. I have a lot of interests. I love mother nature. I am fascinated by space and the universe I try to coexist in. I am dedicated to try and make the world a better, kinder, more compassionate place. And, I fail at times in controlling my anger and exasperation at what goes around me that I seem unable to have any affect whatsoever on. So I am a lot like many other human beings on this little planet of ours.

I like films, photography, art, architecture, design, acting, comics, and too many interesting things to list here. I relax when I am at the beach, sailing, riding horse, petting dogs and purring with cats.

I’m telling those of you in follow me all this as I go about the business of preparing to try and make some decisions about launching my new memoir Erase Her and I could use some help. I need people to give me honest feedback on the story and feelings about the tentative design for a cover.

In return, I will be happy to send you the first chapter and list you in the acknowledgments if you are willing to be on my listserve. So let me know by emailing me. Thanks for your support.

Celebrating poetry month

Her self portrait references Shelley who she savored as well as Lord Byron

Poetry has been a light in the dark tunnel of Covid. Romaine Brooks sent poetry to Natalie Barney. Brooks was a voracious reader always requesting books and citing authors she enjoyed.

Reading with Grace Schulman in The Hamptons

I now have two collections of poetry available from Lulu. Rainbow Blues and Visages of Venus. Covid has given me the time and my next yet unnamed will be my political and social Justice collection.

My conversion therapy memoir tentatively title Erase Her is under review at University of Wisconsin Press where they are functioning at half tilt so when I have a date of publication I will let you know.

Daily Beast catching up with me

Gay and Lesbian Review worldwide

I have already reviewed this here for all Romaine Brooks followers. The British lesbian author Diana Souhami has spent a life time restoring women writers who have loved women to the modernist literary canon. She deserves kudos despite excluding opinions, authors and fresh, if unflattering to some of her subjects.

I, on the other hand do nothing cringe on giving the facts even when revealing our idols feet of clay. We are, all of us, all too human if not always humane, empathetic and kind. Romaine and her circle could be all of the above but they could also be cruel, gossipy, insensitive to the pain of others, jealous and simple-minded when it came to politics.

The Next Time You Admire a Picasso, Thank a Lesbian

HELPING HANDS

Reviewer makes some excellent points in her article for the Daily Beast below.

Reading her review and comparing it to mine for The Gay&Lesbian Review (formally Harvard G&LR) will allow readers to have a comprehensive overview view when they read the American edition of No Modernism Without Lesbians

Diana Souhami’s new book, “No Modernism Without Lesbians,” spotlights the women who ensured history would remember artists like Picasso, Joyce, and Eliot.

Perfection may be the enemy of good enough—but apparently nobody told that to James Joyce. In Paris in 1920, with the printing of his modernist masterpiece Ulysses already underway, Joyce continued making changes to his 600-page novel, over which he had already labored for seven years. He reworked the manuscript daily, then continued reworking the printer’s proofs—meant to set the novel for printing—as if they were mere drafts, adding about a third of the book after it was already ostensibly complete. The handwritten changes not only necessitated the assistance of a typist to make sense of Joyce’s scrawling, but required rearranging the printing press one letter at a time. Two years of seemingly endless changes drove half a dozen typists to quit and added additional printing costs that ate into nearly 5 percent of what the entire first run was expected to net.

Joyce’s publisher, Sylvia Beach, bore these last-minute alterations as no other publisher likely would have. “The patience she gave to him was female, was even quasi maternal in relation to his book,” said Janet Flanner, The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent, of Beach and Joyce. The publication of Ulysses is just one of the many cases that author Diana Souhami marshals in her book No Modernism Without Lesbians, to effectively argue that, without women like Beach, there would be no modernist men like Joyce.

No Modernism Without Lesbians is a collection of four biographies of women who were instrumental to the modernist movement in literature and art: Shakespeare and Co. proprietor and publisher Sylvia Beach, patron of the arts Bryher, author and art collector Gertrude Stein, and socialite Natalie Barney.

Souhami convincingly illustrates how these four women are responsible for the modernist movement, despite it being typically associated with men, such as Joyce and Pablo Picasso. Through Close Up, a magazine about film launched by Bryher, the Western world was exposed to the revolutionary pictures of Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, whose Battleship Potemkin is still considered one of the greatest movies of all time. Besides writing her own books like The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and Tender Buttons, Stein was one of Pablo Picasso’s earliest collectors and a lifelong champion of his work. Barney’s weekly salons brought together up-and-coming writers—including T. S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, William Carlos Williams, and Rainer Maria Rilke—with the French Academy, helping win recognition for the former by the latter. And Beach, of course, had Ulysses as her cross to bear. In that light, No Modernism Without Lesbianscould be considered revisionist in the best sense of the word: that of setting the record straight.

“I wanted to turn the issue around,” says Souhami of women’s contributions to modernism, “gain the upper hand, move from campaign and argument for acceptance and civil rights, and show what women in same-sex relationships achieved—singly and, even more so, collectively—in that crucial twentieth-century transition to new ways of seeing.”

The women that Souhami profiles are likewise united by their love of other women: Beach and Adrienne Monnier, Bryher and Hilda Doolittle, Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Barney and, as the author writes, “all her lovers, too many to list.” Despite these well-documented relationships, Souhami acknowledges the difficulty presented by semantics when describing these women, who lived at a time when society prevented them from openly naming their lovers as such, relegating them to mere “friends.” The author opts for the term lesbian, but other identities along the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender could also be applicable—such as trans in the case of Bryher, who rejected her birth name and gender from a young age.“The freedom that these four women had found for themselves in Paris extended from their personal lives to their artistic endeavors.”

Bryher, Beach, Stein, and Barney were further united by their love of interwar Paris. All were expatriates—Bryher from the United Kingdom, the latter three from the United States—who found their way to France in the 1920s. All were pushed from their homes by prevailing efforts to suppress “indecency” in private life and the arts, as typified by Prohibition and censorship. On the other hand, Paris was cheap, as France was still recovering from the carnage of World War I, and Parisian society placed few expectations on expatriates. A comment from Picasso about Beach could stand in for Paris’ perspective of them all: “They are not men, they are not women, they are Americans.”

The freedom that these four women had found for themselves in Paris extended from their personal lives to their artistic endeavors. In Paris, Beach not only found and fell in love with Moore, she published Ulysses, which had previously been thwarted by censors in London and New York. There, as in Paris, publication of the novel was supported by lesbians who were challenging society’s control of what they could read as well as whom they could love. Yet it was only in Paris, where self-actualization and artistic advancement were unfettered by patriarchal control, that modernism could fully bloom. Souhami’s lesbians were seeing themselves differently—as independent, rather than as the daughters, wives, or mothers of men—so why shouldn’t they see the world differently too—through stream-of-consciousness in literature or cubism in painting? The personal and political, the romantic and artistic did not need to be divorced in Paris. As Souhami writes in No Modernism Without Lesbians:

They gravitated to Paris and each other, turned their backs on patriarchy and created their own society. Rather than staying where they were born and struggling against censorship and outrageous denials and inequalities enforced by male legislators, they took their own power and authority and defied the stigma that conservative society tried to impose on them. Individually, each made a contribution; collectively, they were a revolutionary force in the breakaway movement of modernism, the shock of the new, the innovations in art, writing, film, and lifestyle and the fracture from nineteenth-century orthodoxies.

If Souhami’s revisionism succeeds in reintroducing the role of women in the history of modernism, it leaves other questions yet begging. The first is the less flattering aspects of some of her subjects—for example, Stein’s relationship with, and early support for, fascists in Spain and France, which Janet Malcolm details in her biography Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, but Souhami mentions only in passing. The second is the question of women of color, who make occasional appearances in No Modernism Without Lesbians—such as Josephine Baker, who was redefining dance in Paris in the ’20s—but whose general absence becomes especially noticeable when Souhami begins tracing Barney’s lovers, and Barney’s lover’s lovers, a long list of white women.

“Availability of research material was one limiting factor,” says Souhami in explaining the absence of women of color in her work. “Another was the reluctance of mainstream publishers to commission books about little-known people. I hope, despite this, I’ve made a contribution.”

No Modernism Without Lesbians is undoubtedly a contribution, correcting the history of modernism to more accurately account for the women who made possible such a lasting transformation in literature and art. Yet despite the strides taken by Bryher, Beach, Stein, and Barney, it’s evident that there’s still a way to go. Souhami says that, after decades of her writing about lesbians, this was the first time that a mainstream publisher was open to using the word on a book cover. With No Modernism Without Lesbians, Souhami has opened the door to history a little further, creating more precious space for the whole truth to enter.

Paris:the movers and shakers that readers of my blog are familiar with. Souhami tells her truth slant and ignores more resent research that calls her “slant” into question as well as work, ie Barbara Will’s book on Gertrude’s conservatism that borders on fascism, surprising as this may seem coming from a Jewish lesbian. I cite all of these élisions in my earlier reading of her slant on lesbians and their enormous contributions to modernism’s in culture, literature and the arts