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Sunday, November 17, 2019


“One of the thousands upon thousands of cafés on the boulevards of Paris.” Pen and ink illustration by American artist William James Glackens (1870–1938) for Dreiser’s essay on Paris in the October 1913 issue of Century Magazine; reproduced in Dreiser’s book A Traveler at Forty, published later that same year.
Editor’s note: This week we celebrate the City of Light.  All week (beginning today) we delve into all things Parisian in honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company Book Store.  See coverage of Ms. Beach triumph on November 19, 1919.  But for now, let’s revisit American author Theodore Dreiser's love letter to Paris.


An excerpt from “Americans in Paris: a literary anthology.”
By Theodore Dreiser, American, [1871-1945]

As we neared Paris he had built this city up so thoroughly in my mood that I am satisfied that I could not have seen it with a realistic eye if I had tried. It was something—I cannot tell you what—Napoleon, the Louvre, the art quarter, Montmartre, the gay restaurants, the boulevards, Balzac, Hugo, the Seine and the soldiery, a score and a hundred things too numerous to mention and all greatly exaggerated.

I hoped to see something which was perfect in its artistic appearance—exteriorly speaking. I expected, after reading George Moore and others, a wine-like atmosphere; a throbbing world of gay life; women of exceptional charm of face and dress; the bizarre, the unique, the emotional, the spirited.

At Amiens, I had seen enough women entering the trains to realize that the commonplace of the English woman was gone. Instead the young married women that we saw were positively daring compared to what England could show—shapely, piquant, sensitive, their eyes showing a birdlike awareness of what this world has to offer.

I fancied Paris would be like that, only more so; and as I look back on it now I can honestly say that I was not greatly disappointed. It was not all that I thought it would be, but it was enough. It is a gay, brilliant, beautiful city, with the spirit of New York and more than the distinction of London.  It is like a brilliant, fragile child—not made for contests and brutal battles, but gay beyond reproach.

Source: From Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology
(Library of America, 2004), pages 202–10.
Originally published in A Traveler at Forty (1913).

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