The Great Good Place: American Expatriate Women in Paris

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9780393029994: The Great Good Place: American Expatriate Women in Paris

From the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th, Paris was that good place - the only place, it seemed, where an American woman of strong feeling, of artistic ambition of wayward impulse or sheer joie de vivre could be wholly herself. William Wiser draws portraits of five American women who made Paris their home: painter Mary Cassatt, novelist Edith Wharton, those mercurial gadabouts and tragic wives, Zelda Fitzgerald and Caresse Crosby, and the one and only Josephine Baker. Here also are fascinating cameos of Gertrude Stein, Janet Flanner, Sara Murphy and other luminaries, all set against and shaped by the spell of the City of Light. Paris meant possibilities. These five had utterly different responses to this freedom - but as Wiser shows, the web of connections among them was strong and Paris was its centre.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Dipping into the apparently endless stream of expatriate-in- Paris literature, Wiser (The Circle Tour, 1988, etc.; English/Univ. of Denver) offers a tiresome rehash of the lives of five intriguing women, all of whom have been better served elsewhere. In a narrative that spans the years 1844 through 1975, Wiser profiles Impressionist artist Mary Cassatt, author Edith Wharton, avant-garde publisher Caresse Crosby, doomed wife Zelda Fitzgerald, and entertainer Josephine Baker; all five passed significant portions of their lives in Paris. Along the way, there are stale musings about the beauty and social freedom of the city, and the usual cast of Paris-memoir characters (Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Picasso, etc.). At the outset, Wiser explains that ``...I went looking for the common thread of connection to Paris, or to one another. There was no clear thread.'' The ensuing manuscript only emphasizes this point. There's no clear explanation of why these particular women should have their lives linked in one volume; no angle, apart from shared nationality and artistic leanings, to tie them together as subjects over whom Paris exerted a special pull. Cassatt arrived on her own, with grudging family approval. Wharton was fleeing a ``suffocating'' marriage. Crosby and Fitzgerald merely followed their husbands. Baker was lured from New York to star in a revue. Only Wharton and Crosby, sharing a common cousin, Walter Berry, had any sustained relationship, and a cold one at that. Four of the women liked dogs and couturier gowns, and three of them were buried in France. Not much there. Or here, for that matter. (Photographs--some seen.) -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

For the five American expatriate women profiled in Wiser's superb, sparkling group portrait, Paris was a social laboratory in which to lose or remake oneself. Mary Cassatt's fertile relationship with Degas gave way to her sour last years of exile in France, when she progressively lost her eyesight. Edith Wharton, cool-headed observer of society's ironies, flung herself into a dalliance with English journalist Morton Fullerton, who at the time was engaged to his first cousin, while Wharton neglected her own clinically depressed husband. Flapper Caresse Crosby shared the opium highs and sexual excesses of her poet husband Harry, then managed their Black Sun Press after his suicide. Daredevil Zelda Fitzgerald envied famous novelist husband F. Scott, who expropriated her mental breakdown as material for his fiction. Josephine Baker, illiterate teenage chorus girl from St. Louis, came closest to becoming a "changeling hybrid Parisienne." In marvelous vignettes, Wiser ( The Crazy Years ) creates an iridescent prism refracting the City of Light's special alchemy and ambiance. Photos.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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