After a quiet dinner in Stone Mount, Dr John Basford, our guest, noticed a missing volume from my collection of B S Johnson novels. He gave me not only a copy of the missing work but an enthusiastic response to all the stories of Beneath Napoleon’s Hat, a collection of pieces set in the famous literary cafés of Paris. The final story, La Coupole, had won the Mentoring Prize at Writing East Midlands and also admiration from John. So began an exciting and splendid collaboration. John was determined to publish these stories as art objects in their own right. Each of the three volumes would be produced by Colleybooks.com on fine quality French paper specially imported from Paris, printed in a Twenties style font with a beautifully designed cover.
The first volume, Eagles without a Cliff, is ready.
Robert McAlmon, Bryher and H.D. are determinedly en route to Paris. Soon enough McAlmon will inhabit Le Dôme and Bricktop’s, Montmartre and Montparnasse, but first he must honour the conditions of his false marriage to Bryher and accommodate Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) his wife’s lover.
The Hotel de la Tour Eiffel in London served the purpose of a café. It was artistic enough to house Wyndham Lewis and his Vorticists and equally acceptable as an escape for McAlmon from the oppressive and controlled world of Audley Street and its master, the improbably wealthy Sir John Ellerman, his new father-in-law.
The complex psychology of Bryher, the ambivalent sexuality of H.D. and the hedonistic, self-destructive qualities of McAlmon make up the entangled relational triangle at the centre of these stories.
McAlmon will meet his hero James Joyce, the less heroic Ernest Hemingway, Djuna Barnes and so on — a who’s who of American expatriates passing through Paris. If this ‘Bunch’ are a part of a ‘Lost Generation’ as Gertrude Stein declared (she was there as well) then it is McAlmon who leads them astray.
Volume 2 A Black Violet will be published in March 2016.
Volume 3 Sylvia Beach and the Melancholy Jesus, La Coupole and others will be published in June 2016.