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Reader's Companion to Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy: A Lost Generation Love Story by Amanda Vaill

Broadway Books trade paperback, ISBN 0-7679-0357-9, $15.00 US/$23.00 Canada

Reader's Companion to Everybody Was So Young© 1999 by Broadway Books.



Contents:

1. Introduction to the Book
2. Questions for Group Discussion
3. Activities to Enhance Discussion
4. About the Author
5. Suggestions for Further Reading

 
Introduction to the Book

"Marvelously readable. . . . Elegantly written."
--The New York Times Book Review

"Vaill adroitly captures the laughter, the wit, the cocktails, and the sheer exuberance of this still-alluring period."
--Entertainment Weekly

Everybody Was So Young brings to life the Lost Generation's golden couple, gifted artist Gerald Murphy and his elegant wife, Sara. Whether summering with Picasso on the French Riviera or watching bullfights with Hemingway in Pamplona, these talented, wealthy expatriate Americans were at the very center of the cultural scene in 1920s Paris. Now the Murphys' glittering yet tragic story has been recaptured for a new generation of kindred creative spirits.

 
Questions for Group Discussion

The questions that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of Gerald and Sara Murphy's story, and we hope that this guide will also help you discover additional lines of inquiry into these icons of an enchanted era.

1. Gerald and Sara Murphy were surrounded by artists and writers--from Cocteau to Dorothy Parker--who epitomized the modernist spirit of the 1920s. Was this accidental, or purposeful?

2. "The very rich are different from you and me," Scott Fitzgerald supposedly told Ernest Hemingway, to which Hemingway (who told this anecdote) replied, "Yes, they have more money." How well does each man's statement apply to the Murphys?

3. "Only the invented part of our lives--the unreal part--has had any scheme, any beauty," wrote Gerald to Scott Fitzgerald in 1935. What parts of their lives did they "invent," and what parts were "the unrealistic things?" Do you agree with Gerald?

4. "Paris is bound to make a man either more or less American," Gerald Murphy told a newspaper interviewer in 1923. How was this statement true of Murphy, and of Cole Porter, Hemingway, MacLeish, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, and the other expatriate artists of the period? What was it about Paris that made it happen?

5. To the Murphys, their children were "the real foundation of our future happiness." How would you evaluate the Murphys' role as parents? Were they attentive and caring or narcissistic and irresponsible? In what ways did both Gerald and Sara act as surrogate parents for their own contemporaries?

6. The Murphys' marriage was severely tested by five decades, but it endured. Why? What were the pressures on it? And was their relationship truly "a love story"?

7. Sara Murphy had close relationships with at least three men besides her husband: Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso. Do you believe that these relationships were sexual or platonic? On what do you base your opinion?

8. "I was never happy until I started painting," said Gerald Murphy in 1956, "and I have never been thoroughly so since I was obliged to give it up." Why was he "obliged" to give up something he loved so passionately and which he did so well? Or was his statement misleading? Also, what hidden references to events or people in his life can you find in his pictures?

9. In A Moveable Feast, his posthumous memoir of 1920s Paris, Ernest Hemingway paints a cruel picture of the Murphys as the unnamed "rich" who seduced him into superficiality and infidelity. Why would he describe them in this way?

10. Are the Murphys just a footnote, or did they contribute something substantial to twentieth-century cultural history?

11. The media have often compared the 1990s to the 1920s. Judging from the social circles described in Everybody Was So Young, do you find many similarities between these decades? Are there any contemporary couples who have the Murphys' role today?

12. Referring to Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night, Sara Murphy said, "I hated the book when I first read it. I reject categorically any resemblance to ourselves or anyone we know--at any time." What differences and similarities do you see between the Murphys and Dick and Nicole Driver? Discuss the perceptions of the Murphys portrayed in Fitzgerald's short story "Babylon Revisited," Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and "Snows of Kilimanjaro," Archibald MacLeish's poem "Portrait of Mme G___M___" and his play J.B., and Pablo Picasso's "Woman in White."

 
Activities to Enhance Discussion

Music

Set the tone with Gershwin's "An American in Paris," Poulenc's "Le Boeuf Sur le Toit," Stravinsky's "Les Noces," or any Cole Porter collection. Vintage recordings of Fats Waller or Louis Armstrong would also be appropriate.

Art

Use postcards, slides, art books, or the Internet to view paintings and drawings of Picasso, Léger, and of course, Murphy. Or visit a museum with your reading group.

Food

Serve Villa America menus: poached eggs on a bed of creamed corn, with sautéed tomatoes on the side (John Dos Passos' favorite); new potatoes with butter and parsley and a green salad (for Archibald MacLeish); champagne and caviar (in memory of Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald); or Provençal olives and goat cheese with crusty French bread.

 
About the Author

Amanda Vaill, a writer and critic whose work has appeared in Esquire, GQ, New York, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere, was formerly Executive Editor at Viking Penguin. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.

 
Suggestions for Further Reading

Letters from the Lost Generation
edited by Linda Patterson Miller

Living Well is the Best Revenge
Calvin Tomkins

Hemingway: The Paris Years
Hemingway: The 1930s
Hemingway: The Final Years
Michael Reynolds

Invented Lives: F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald
James R. Mellow

Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s
Malcolm Cowley

Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s
Ann Douglas

Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation
William Rubin

Collected Poems, 1917-1982
Archibald MacLeish

The Sun Also Rises
A Moveable Feast
The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition
Ernest Hemingway

Tender is the Night
The Crack-Up
F. Scott Fitzgerald