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(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores November 2020.)


Paris in the 1920s

In 1920, Lucy and Suzanne boarded the train heading for Paris, bags in hand, two women striking out on their own. As they watched the countryside roll by, they were surely thinking about the family they were leaving behind in Nantes. Lucy, twenty-six, and Suzanne, twenty-eight, carried with them the financial support of their wealthy families—Lucy's father was a newspaper publisher, and Suzanne's was a highly respected doctor and medical educator—along with the confidence that comes when heading to familiar territory. Paris had been a second home for many years. They traveled to see friends or go to museums or shows, and Lucy's uncle, Marcel Schwob, a well-known writer and influential literary figure, and his famous actress wife, Marguerite Moreno, had introduced them to the city's creative community. As comfortable as they were in Paris, Lucy and Suzanne knew this was their time to make a different life on their own, together.

Paris had turned dark, quiet, and cold during the years of World War I; fighting along the front lines raged only a few miles away. Bombs falling from German Zeppelins damaged parts of the capital, and the tight rationing of food and fuel made life extremely difficult for Parisians. With more deaths per capita in France than in any other combatant country, the war profoundly scarred the French psyche. France buried nearly an entire generation of men, and most who lived had fought at Verdun or the Somme, two brutal months-long battles in 1916 that left survivors suffering from shell shock. When Lucy and Suzanne's train pulled into the station in Paris, two years after the armistice, they could see the changes the war had wrought on the city. The whole nation still suffered from a recession as businesses struggled to reorient themselves to a peacetime economy.

The war also touched the Schwob and Malherbe families directly. Their sons and brothers went off to the trenches, along with some seven thousand other men from Nantes. Lucy and Suzanne's hometown became a haven for many fleeing the war zone when the Germans invaded, and its hospitals treated the war wounded. Once the United States entered the conflict in 1917, this port city on the Loire River, just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean, became a crucial site for unloading American munitions.

Yet the war opened new opportunities for women, who stepped into traditional male roles, including factory jobs and local political leadership. In going to Paris just after the hard-won peace, Lucy and Suzanne were not alone, and like many other women, they found even greater freedoms there. Although conservative critics did not like the social transformations taking place in the city, Paris in the 1920s was a place for women to be more independent than they had been before the war, and Lucy and Suzanne planned to take advantage of the progressive mind-set.

They quickly reconnected with friends, especially Sylvia Beach, a recently expatriated American who borrowed family money to start a little English-language bookstore on the Left Bank called Shakespeare and Company. In her memoirs, Beach remembered Lucy and Suzanne being present at the very beginning of her business as unpaid volunteers. One day, Lucy and Suzanne brought their camera to Shakespeare and Company and took a photo of a proud Beach, only a few years their senior. She posed in front of a bookshelf as the light from the storefront window brightened part of her face. Beach had taken the inspiration for her business from a nearby French-language bookstore run by Adrienne Monnier, La Maison des Amis des Livres. As Shakespeare and Company flourished and grew, Beach relocated directly across from Monnier's shop.

Beach and Monnier hosted wonderful evenings at their twinned book-stores where literary lights could meet, drink, and talk. Lucy and Suzanne were frequent visitors to these gatherings. Amid the hundreds of books stacked floor to ceiling and the convivial wine-fueled conversation, the women never knew who they might encounter, including some of the most famous writers living in Paris at that time. Here was James Joyce, and over there André Gide. In walked Paul Valéry and Jacques Prévert. Now Gertrude Stein, the eminent American author and art collector, arrived. Stein recalled seeing Lucy regularly at Shakespeare and Company (although she referred to Lucy as the niece of Marcel Schwob rather than as a person in her own right). One night, Monnier introduced them to Tristan Tzara, one of the founders of the radical antiart movement known as Dada. Another night she brought them to meet André Breton, the artistic rebel with whom they would become close friends a few years later. Ideas discussed on those evenings helped Lucy and Suzanne think in new ways about art, beauty, and literature.

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