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10 Books That Capture Paris In The 1920s
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10 Books That Capture Paris In The 1920s

Picture of Molli McConnell
Updated: 10 October 2016
Countless movies, plays, and books have been written about just how fun Paris was during the 1920s. Thankfully for you, we whittled down the whole mess to a delightful 10.
Paris in the 1920s | © Anonymous/WikiCommons
Paris in the 1920s | © Anonymous/WikiCommons

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

This novel is an ode to Hemingway’s time spent living in Paris with his first wife, Hadley, and their baby. It is during these years that he becomes familiar with Gertrude Stein, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound, among many other artists and writers that are grouped together as the ‘Lost Generation’. In his direct and to-the-point prose, he beautifully and simply describes Paris as he sees it. A Moveable Feast is an excellent guide to Hemingway’s favorite haunts in the Latin Quarter, Saint-Germain-des-Près, and Rue Mouffetard.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

A Moveable Feast presents readers with Ernest Hemingway’s Paris, The Paris Wife sees things a little differently. This novel is centered around Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife. The book chronicles Richardson’s and Hemingway’s relationship from its dreamy beginning to its heartbreakingly cold ending. Much of their relationship was spent raising their son, affectionately called Bumby, while living in Paris. Lovers of Hemingway may find the book very eye opening in regards to the way Hemingway treated his family; time after time choosing the importance of his work and social life over his wife and child.

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

Although this novel claims to be an autobiography, it was actually written by the infamous Gertrude Stein about the life of her longtime partner Alice B. Toklas. Stein is most famous for coining the term the ‘Lost Generation’ in regards to the artists, writers, and creators living in the post-World War I era. She had a salon on Rue de Fleurus in the 6th arrondissement in Paris, and it was frequented by the likes of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others. While this book is sometimes criticized by those who were closest to Stein, it is an excellent source for those who want to feel like they have been transported to Stein’s salon in 1920s Paris.

Gertrude Stein in 1913 | © Alvin Langdon Coburn/WikiCommons
Gertrude Stein in 1913 | © Alvin Langdon Coburn/WikiCommons

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises is recognized as Hemingway’s greatest work. Other critics would call it his most important novel published. The story follows a group of expats from Paris to Spain. The characters in this novel are based on real people that Hemingway traveled to Pamplona, Spain with to watch the annual bullfighting there. The series of dramatic events that transpired amongst Hemingway and his friends were interesting enough for Hemingway to write a novel about. The sections of this novel that take place in The City of Lights, and the fact that is was written by Hemingway in Paris in the 1920s, make The Sun Also Rises a must-read.

Ernest Hemingway and first wife Hadley and friends | © John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston/WikiCommons
Ernest Hemingway and first wife Hadley and friends | © John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston/WikiCommons

Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy: A Lost Generation Love Story by Amanda Vaill

Paris in the 1920s was filled with expats seeking an escape. Gerald and Sara Murphy are just a few of the many Americans that flocked to France during this time. Gerald and Sara were living in New York with their three children before they decided to make the epic overseas move to Paris. Gerald decided to take up painting once they arrived in Paris, and that is how he and Sara became very well known among the Lost Generation group of artists and writers. The Murphys were one of the couples that accompanied Hemingway to Pamplona, Spain to watch the bullfights featured in The Sun Also Rises, and F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have based his characters Nicole and Dick Driver from his novel Tender is the Night on the Murphys. Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy: A Lost Generation Love Story is the story of the Murphys, their captivating group of friends, and the exciting time period they lived in.

Gerald and Sara Murphy, Ernest Hemingway, and friends in Spain | © Unattributed/WikiCommons
Gerald and Sara Murphy, Ernest Hemingway, and friends in Spain | © Unattributed/WikiCommons

Living Well Is the Best Revenge by Calvin Tomkins

Living Well Is the Best Revenge is another novel surrounding the couple Gerald and Sara Murphy. In addition to the captivating life story of the Murphys, this book also includes over 50 intimate photos of the couple, and reproductions of some of Gerald’s paintings. Although some may view the Murphys as merely the wealthy, party throwers of the Lost Generation, Gerald was an extremely talented painter. His works were very modern for his time, his painting style is reminiscent of the Pop Art movement, 40 years before it existed. Critic Russell Lynes said of the book, ‘At once a sharp and charming evocation of an era and a cast, mostly delightful, surely famous, and usually talented, written with an elegant balance between tongue in cheek and sympathy.’ Read this if you’d like to experience the 1920s as the Murphys did.

Paris in the 1920s with Kiki de Montparnasse by Xavier Girard

During the 1920s, an area in the 14th arrondissement of Paris known as Montparnasse was overflowing with cafés, bars, and restaurants that were the popular locales to many artists, creatives, and writers living in Paris. A beautiful model, painter, and actress named Alice Prin had become the muse of many French painters and sculptors at the time. Prin adopted the singular name of Kiki and was soon known as the ‘Queen of Montparnasse’. She is perhaps most famously recognized as the muse and companion of the painter Man Ray, but she was actually a very talented artist in her own right. This beautiful book features photography, artwork, and stories surrounding the life of Kiki, and the neighborhood, Montparnasse, that brought her to life.

Kiki de Montparnasse by Man Ray | © The Coincidental Dandy/Flickr
Kiki de Montparnasse by Man Ray | © The Coincidental Dandy/Flickr

Paris Was Yesterday by Janet Flanner

Janet Flanner was the first Paris correspondent for the American magazine, The New Yorker. Flanner wrote what the magazine called ‘Letter from Paris’ for 50 years, beginning in 1925. Her pieces covered everything from what was going on in the art world, to intriguing crimes that were happening in Paris in the 1920s. In addition to relaying stories about Paris to those interested in America, Flanner was a prominent figure of the Lost Generation, becoming good friends with Gertrude Stein. Paris Was Yesterday is a collection of many of Flanner’s works, but the book really highlights her letters from her earliest years as a writer in Paris in the 1920s.

Janet Flanner and Ernest Hemingway | © Unknown/WikiCommons
Janet Flanner and Ernest Hemingway | © Unknown/WikiCommons

Shakespeare and Company by Sylvia Beach

The bookstore Shakespeare and Company was a vital part of Paris in the 1920s. Its owner, Sylvia Beach, was very close with Hemingway, Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and others that are a part of the Lost Generation. The publishing company that Beach ran from inside the shop famously published the controversial novel, Ulysses by James Joyce when no one else would. In Shakespeare and Company, Beach recounts her time spent in Paris at her bookstore with her friends of the Lost Generation. Much of the book centers around her friendship with James Joyce and her decision in publishing Ulysses, making it a great read for an inside look at the literary world of Paris in the 1920s.

Shakespeare and Company bookstore today | ©WikiCommons
Shakespeare and Company bookstore today | ©Serge Melki/WikiCommons

Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell

The 1920s was a decade that began to open doors for many women of the time. It meant shorter skirts, a sexual revolution, and many freedoms that were previously unheard of. Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation spotlights the lives six women of the time: Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Tallulah Bankhead, Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Tamara de Lempicka. These six women came from very different backgrounds; a few being American, others British, another Russian, but they all have one thing in common: the luxury of being Paris in the 1920s. Read Flappers if you want to imagine the glittery and controversial lives of these six compelling women in Paris in the 1920s.

Where There's Smoke There's Fire by Russell Patterson portraying a Flapper | ©WikiCommons
Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire, portraying a Flapper | ©Russell Patterson/WikiCommons