Thursday, 15 December 2011

American Role Models

There are unexpected connecting threads between the announcement of the death in Paris of the proprietor of Shakespeare & Co, the US Bill of Rights, Edna O'Brien, Paradise Lost and Gone With the Wind, as follows:
Shakespeare & Co was Sylvia Beach's Paris bookshop, made famous in the 1920's and 30's as a meeting place for writers such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ezra Pound ( 'il miglior fabbro' -the master wordsmith - in Eliot's dedication to him of The Waste Land). After Beach's death, the bookshop moved to new premises where it was eccentrically run for 60 years by George Whitman, who has died aged 98. Whitman famously allowed aspiring writers to stay, sometimes for up to seven years in one case, in exchange for working in the shop and reading a book a day. Breakfast pancakes were served every day to all comers, and wodges of cash were hidden in the shelves. The shop continues under the more conventional management of Whitman's daughter, another Sylvia. The US Bill of Rights was adopted on this day in 1791, guaranteeing freedom of speech, religion, the press and other protections for the citizen. Edna O'Brien, born Dec 15 1930, was inspired, by hearing read out loud the first few lines of Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms, to write her own first novel, in three weeks, The Country Girls (1960). A later, similarly semi-autobiographical novel, The Lonely Girl was made into a movie The Girl With Green Eyes starring Peter Finch. Her first book was publicly burned by the priest in her home town in County Clare, and all her books were initially banned in Eire. There is to be a Hollywood version of Milton's Paradise Lost. Lastly, it was on this day in 1939 that Gone With the Wind starring Vivien Leigh and Clarke Gable opened in Atlanta, Georgia. Due to the 'Jim Crow' regulations in force at the time, the black members of the cast were not allowed to sit with the white ones for the screening. I saw the movie, aged 13, on two parts on successive nights, from the dress circle of a converted theatre in Malmo, Sweden, where we had anchored to dry out during a sailing holiday in the cold, wet summer of 1957.

No comments:

Post a Comment