Wealthy Americans with homes in Paris and on the French Riviera, Gerald and Sara Murphy were at the very center of expatriate cultural and social life during the modernist ferment of the 1920s. Gerald Murphy—witty, urbane, and elusive—was a giver of magical parties and an acclaimed painter. Sara Murphy, an enigmatic beauty who wore her pearls to the beach, enthralled and inspired Pablo Picasso (he painted her both clothed and nude), Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The models for Nicole and Dick Diver in Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, the Murphys also counted among their friends John Dos Passos, Dorothy Parker, Fernand Léger, Archibald MacLeish, Cole Porter, and a host of others. Far more than mere patrons, they were kindred spirits whose sustaining friendship released creative energy. Yet none of the artists who used the Murphys for their models fully captured the real story of their lives: their Edith Wharton childhoods, their unexpected youthful romance, their ten-year secret courtship, their complex and enduring marriage—and the tragedy that struck them, when the world they had created seemed most perfect.
Drawing on a wealth of family diaries, photographs, letters and other papers, as well as on archival research and interviews on two continents, this “brilliantly rendered biography” documents the pivotal role of the Murphys in the story of the Lost Generation (Los Angeles Times).
“Often considered minor Lost Generation celebrities, the Murphys were in fact much more than legendary party givers. Vaill’s compelling biography unveils their role in the European avant-garde movement of the 1920s; Gerald was a serious modernist painter. But Vaill also shows how their genius for friendship and for transforming daily life into art attracted the most creative minds of the time.” —Library Journal
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"My father, of course, had wanted boys
"SARA SHERMAN WIBORG MURPHY was a figure of myth long before the Fitzgeralds and the Hemingways and MacLeishes met her in France. Her father, Frank Bestow Wiborg, had been born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1855, the son of Henry Paulinus Wiborg, a Norwegian immigrant who was either a deckhand on a lake steamer (as family legend has it) or "one of the pioneer businessmen of Cleveland" (as the Centennial History of Cincinnati describes him). When Frank was about twelve, his father died; according to the deckhand legend, he contracted pneumonia while saving the victims of a boat accident, and his widow, Susan, remarried a man with whom young Frank could not get along. In the best Horatio Alger tradition, Frank Wiborg then reportedly left home to seek his fortune and found his way to Cincinnati, where he managed to gain admittance to the Chickering Institute, a select college preparatory academy emphasizing the classics and sciences.
He graduated in 1874 — in his family's account, he paid his way by peddling newspapers — and got work as a salesman for a producer of printer's ink, Levi Addison Ault, and so dazzled his employer that a mere four years later Ault offered him a partnership in the company. This was the great period of printmaking, when newspaper lithographs, sheet music, poetry broadsheets, glossy magazines, and posters were the predominant mode of graphic expression, and the new company of Ault and Wiborg, which manufactured and mixed its own dry color to produce high-quality lithographer's ink, found its product in great demand, not only in the United States but worldwide. Toulouse-Lautrec was just one of the artists who used Ault and Wiborg inks for his prints; and the company commissioned him to create an advertising poster, using as a model the beautiful Misia Natanson, patron and muse of Vuillard, Proust, Bonnard, Faure, and Ravel.
The engineer of this dynamic expansion, Frank Wiborg was the very model of the spirit of American enterprise. Young, handsome in a foursquare, mustachioed, Teddy Roosevelt kind of way, restless, dynamic, and smart, he was clearly a man on the way up. And he gave himself an immeasurable boost by marrying, in 1882, the daughter of one of Ohio's most illustrious families.
Adeline Moulton Sherman was willowy, dark-haired, and pretty, the daughter of Major Hoyt Sherman, a lawyer and banker who had served as United States paymaster during the Civil War and accumulated an enormous fortune in Iowa, his adopted state, which he represented as a state legislator for many years. One of his brothers was Senator John Sherman of Ohio, who gave the Sherman Anti-Trust Act its name; another was the Union general William Tecumseh Sherman, who memorably marched through Georgia from Atlanta to the sea, burning and pillaging as he went, and remarked (from personal experience, no doubt) that "War is hell." Marrying Adeline transformed Frank Wiborg from up-and-coming to already-there; all that was needed was a son to set the seal on his happiness.
He was destined to be disappointed. The year after their marriage, Addie Wiborg gave birth to a daughter. "After an awful struggle," noted the new father in his diary for November 7, 1883, "at 7:15 [P.M.] a little girl baby arrives. I never experienced such great relief and we are all very happy over it." At the top of the page he wrote, in large round letters: "Sara Sherman Wiborg born." Sara was followed, four years later, by a second daughter, Mary Hoyt, and two years after that by a third, Olga Marie. "My father, of course, had wanted boys," said Sara many years afterward, "but he became resigned to girls later on and was always wonderful to his three daughters."
Certainly, in a material sense, he was. At the time of Sara's birth, Wiborg had already established his household outside of Cincinnati proper, in the country suburb of Clifton; soon he built a mansion for his growing family, complete with stables and a sunken garden, at the intersection of Clifton Avenue and Senator Place — the latter, almost inevitably, was named after another uncle of his wife's, Senator George H. Pendleton. The new house, which one reached by driving over a wooden bridge from Clifton Avenue, was a showplace, positively bristling with imported boiserie and fancy furniture. The lofty ceilings, towering mantels, and winding staircases were embellished with carved birds and garlands; the walls were hung with splendid tapestries; the floors were inlaid with rare woods; and in the large parlor, the drawing room, and the spacious hall, Venetian and French mirrors reflected back the glow of chandeliers. There was a library and music room, and just off the library — as one Cincinnati society reporter breathlessly noted — a little Turkish smoking room, "all the appointments of which were brought from Cairo by the Wiborgs, even to the carved jalousies through which the veiled daughters of the Turkish Beys see and remain unseen."
The Wiborg daughters, veiled or not, were emphatically not unseen. They attended Miss Ely's private school for girls in Cincinnati, to which they were driven each morning in a two-horse barouche. In winter, to protect them from the chill, the carriage was closed, causing what Sara referred to as "squeamish feelings," so that the girls arrived at school "sometimes pale and shaken." At Miss Ely's the girls worked hard: they learned French from a Madame Fredin as well as geography, arithmetic, composition, grammar, history, music, and drawing; but in the afternoons and on holidays they ran decorously wild through the woods and fields of Clifton, riding, "coasting" (sledding), and playing outdoors with the dogs — the Wiborgs kept dachshunds and wolfhounds — or picking wildflowers in the pasture.
Birthdays were celebrated with enthusiasm and much suspense over who would draw what favor out of the traditional cake: would it be the thimble (which foretold spinsterhood), the sixpence (riches), or the ring (marriage)? At other times the children played at dressing up, or bundled into bed with their friends to watch a magic lantern show. But often their amusements had a more worldly cast — a performance of the opera Hansel and Gretel at Christmastime, a Paderewski concert ("beautiful," pronounced twelve-year-old Sara), or an excursion to see Ellen Terry and Henry Irving in King Arthur.
Sara exhibited an early interest in music, but her two favorite pastimes were drawing ("I think drawing is lovely," she confided to her diary at age twelve) and dancing. "I went to dancing school and had a good time," she wrote. "Always do on Thursdays!!!" Blond and fresh-faced, with slanting eyes and delicate features, she had an elfin quality that set her apart from her equally beautiful but strikingly different sisters: the dark, intense Mary Hoyt (who was called Hoytie) and the classically serene Olga. Hoytie, an imperious, self-involved child who once protested, in a sudden summer rainstorm, "It's raining on me!" was her father's favorite, and she and Sara had an uneasy relationship. Sara was far closer to Olga, despite the difference in their ages.
Their father, who was known as an exacting but fair employer, ran his family the way he ran his company. He expected from his womenfolk the same enterprise and industry that had made him a millionaire by the time he was forty; and for the most part he got it. The strain of living up to Frank's expectations took its toll, however: as time passed, Adeline suffered increasingly from headaches and digestive twinges and other manifestations of late-Victorian malaise, although she soldiered on valiantly. She was a world-class party giver who could turn a drawing room into a bower of enchantment (as the society columnists were fond of saying) with the best of them. And as she progressed from entertaining le tout Cincinnati to consorting with the presidents and princes who were Frank's clients and associates at home and abroad, she realized that her three charming daughters were potent weapons in her social arsenal.
In 1898 the Wiborgs went to live in Germany so Frank could expand Ault and Wiborg's European presence, and the young Misses Wiborg proved themselves as adept at charming royalty as they did the citizens of Cincinnati. They had met Kaiser Wilhelm II in Norway the previous summer, when they were invited on board the imperial yacht, the Hohenzollem, and His Imperial Majesty had given the girls ribbons emblazoned with the ship's name for their broad-brimmed hats and had "kissed us all around," as Sara reported to an aunt. Now they renewed the acquaintance at an afternoon audience at the kaiser's Charlottenburg Palace, which fourteen-year-old Sara, aware of the event's importance, chronicled in a leather-bound journal. At the palace a footman in silver livery led the Wiborgs up a marble staircase to a waiting room where, after a few moments, "the door flew open and two large Russian hounds came bounding in and close after them the princes and the little princess. Last of all came the Kaiser and the Kaiserin."
The Wiborg girls politely kissed the empress's hand and tried to do the same to the kaiser, but — possibly sensitive about his withered left arm — he demurred. They exchanged handshakes with the princes and princess, but soon all the children were romping with the dogs on the rug. The oldest princes provided a diversion by trooping off upstairs to do their lessons and making such a clatter that, wrote Sara with typical candor, "it sounded as if the ceiling were falling down." But the kaiser and kaiserin only laughed, and offered their guests hot chocolate "with whip cream" and cakes. There was one tricky moment during this momentous occasion when eight-year-old Olga lost her gloves and thought she must have dropped them under the table — to grope, or not to grope? — but the youngest prince simply dived beneath the cloth to retrieve them, shooing away the footmen who tried to help him.
All this familial gemütlichkeit gave Frank Wiborg, and his company, a kind of most favored nation status in Germany, and enhanced Frank's standing among American industrialists as well. Four years later, when the kaiser's brother, Prince Henry of Prussia, made a trip to the United States, the Wiborgs were among his official hosts, and "lavishly entertained" him (as the Cincinnati Enquirer's reporter put it) at Clifton. But by then Frank and Adeline Wiborg had extended their social horizons far beyond the banks of the Ohio.
In the last decade of the nineteenth century, New York City was the mercantile, artistic, and social capital of America. It was the fulcrum on which J. P. Morgan rested the lever of his millions; it was home to Mrs. Astor's ballroom and the four hundred blue bloods who could dance in it; it boasted the Metropolitan Opera, Andrew Carnegie's palatial Florentine-inspired Music Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Ladies' Mile, and Madison Square Garden. If you were going to be a leader of industry or society — and the Wiborgs aspired to be both — you had to conquer New York. Cincinnati might be the Queen City of the West, but compared to New York it was sleepy and provincial.
Adeline Wiborg already had New York connections through her sister, Helen Sherman Griffith, who was married to Lieutenant General Nelson Miles, and through a cousin, Colgate Hoyt. And with Frank on the move so much of the time, shuttling between Ault and Wiborg offices and factories in Europe and Asia and South America, it made sense for her to establish some kind of pied-à-terre in New York. She settled on the Gotham Hotel, which had recently been built on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, a fashionable address, with smart, up-to-date accommodations, and no servants to hire or worry about.
Many women of Adeline's class and economic bracket would have made a move to New York in order to launch their daughters on a course toward a brilliant marriage, but this thought seems to have been far from Adeline's mind. Although by now Sara was in her teens, an age when most young girls of her class were being prepared for presentation to society and then for marriage, Adeline tried to postpone this inevitable progression. Perhaps, as her granddaughter later theorized, she simply enjoyed Sara's company and wished to keep her to herself; or perhaps she and Frank were simply too busy to attend to the business of marrying Sara off. Possibly she needed Sara as a buffer against her energetic and demanding husband. Whatever the reason, their eldest daughter, like a princess in a fairy tale, grew ever taller and fairer — and still she stayed in the schoolroom with Hoytie and Olga. It was as if the three sisters were a matched set, "the Wiborg girls," traveling companions and social ornaments, to be shown off in public but enjoyed only in private.
In the late autumn of 1902, Frank Wiborg was asked to accompany his brother-in-law General Miles, who was commander in chief of the army, on a round-the-world fact-finding trip. Their party planned a stopover in Peking, where only two years previously rebellious anti-Western Chinese soldiers had held the entire foreign colony hostage, killing 234 of the 480 defenders, for fifty-five days during the Boxer Rebellion — but no such incidents marred this trip. After an audience with the dowager empress, Hu-Tsi, Frank and the general boarded the Trans-Siberian Railroad for St. Petersburg in January 1903, and didn't return to the U.S. until the spring. Adeline and the girls, however, missed the opportunity to kiss the hands of the empress, or the czar and czarina. They were left at home, and Sara, who at nineteen might have expected her leash to be let out a little, was instead enrolled at Miss Spence's School, an elite academy for young ladies on West 48th Street, where the rather advanced curriculum included French and Latin, literature, history, chemistry, art history, psychology, and — Frank Wiborg was doubtless delighted to discover — practical mathematics and household accounting.
She wasn't entirely happy there: she thought many of her schoolmates snobbish, and was appalled by their gossipy, boy-crazy conversation — "so harmful at that impressionable age," she said later. Although lively and clever, Sara wasn't as serious a student as some in her class. She didn't elect to pursue the preparatory course that Clara Spence offered to a few college-bound girls, and at her graduation in 1904 she was awarded a certificate rather than the diploma given for meeting Miss Spence's stringent academic standards. But she was now, at last, officially out of the schoolroom; she could wear her long blond hair up and her skirts down to the ground. Although her parents might not have felt ready to let her go, she was ripe for adventure.
She soon got it, in a limited form. That June, Adeline Wiborg took her two elder daughters and their cousin Sara Sherman on a trip to Europe. And in France, accompanied by a Cleveland friend of the girls, Mary Groesbeck, as well as one of Adeline's own cronies, a poker-faced Edwardian dowager named Dickson and her son, Roland, they toured the château country by automobile, a dashing, very modern thing to do.
The trip started out badly: in Paris it took them four tries before they could find rooms in the Continental, which (wrote Sara in her travel journal) was "a horrid place." Not that they stayed there long. By the next day Adeline had moved them to the Hôtel Campbell, on the avenue de Friedland near the Arc de Triomphe, and shortly afterward they moved yet again to a furnished apartment just up the street from the Opéra. Considering the number of trunks and valises involved in each relocation, the family's first few days in Paris must have been a nightmare of logistics and tipping.
Then there were the cars. Automobiles in the first decade of this century were still little more than horseless carriages — they had open passenger compartments with convertible accordion tops, far from watertight, and shock absorbers were still just a gleam in some automotive engineer's eye. The Wiborg party engaged two automobiles, with two chauffeurs, Georges and Eugène, as well as two "mécaniciens"; thus accompanied, and swathed in long dusters and motoring veils, they set off for Chartres, only to be soaked by rain. In the downpour the chauffeurs lost their way; next, the car containing Sara, Mary Groesbeck, Mrs. Dickson, and her son developed motor trouble; then it got stuck in the mud. Sara, showing the sense of the absurd with which she frequently undercut her surroundings, dissolved into helpless giggles. Mrs. Dickson was not amused: "Don't laugh, girls!" she kept saying. "It isn't at all a laughing matter!" Finally Sara and Mary got out — it had stopped raining by this time — and helped the chauffeur and mécanicien push the car out of its rut. What with more tire trouble, a fresh downpour, and bad roads, the little party didn't reach Tours until 3:30 A.M., soaked to the skin after seventeen hours on the road.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Everybody Was So Young"
Copyright © 1998 Amanda Vaill Stewart.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents,
"My father, of course, had wanted boys",
"Gerald's besetting sin is inattention",
"New clothes, new friends, and lots of parties",
"Thinking how nice you are",
"I must ask you endless question",
"A relationship that so lets loose the imagination!",
"Don't let's ever separate again",
"The idea is thrilling to me",
"An entirely new orbit",
"A prince and a princess",
"There is American elegance",
"Very serious over trivialities and rather wise about art and life",
"Our real home",
"The kind of man to whom men, women, children, and dogs were attracted",
"How can a wise man have two countries?",
"A dismantled house where people have once been gay",
"The invented part, for me, is what has meaning",
"The geodetic points of our lost topography",
"We try to be like what you want us to be",
"Life itself has stepped in now",
"Not on the same course, nor for the same port",
"Enough to make the angels weep",
"One's very Life seems at stake",
"Isn't it strange how life goes on?",
"Back there where they were",
"Only half a person without you",
Author's Note and Acknowledgments,
About the Author,
What People are Saying About This
"I never dreamed I'd find someone whom the same things and words delight. You are in my inmost heart and mind and soul....We are each other."
From Everybody Was So Young
Reading Group Guide
2. 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."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fitzgerald and Hemingway were just the tip of the Lost Generation iceberg. Sara and Gerald Murphy lived fascinating lives and were connected with the most important writers and artists of their time. This book reads like a novel without skimping on the stranger-than-fiction details.
I re-read this book after first reading The Paris Wife (about Hemingway's first marriage) and while re-reading A Moveable Feast (Hemingway's memoir about Paris in the 1920s). Everybody Was So Young is the portrait of the marriage of Sara and Gerald Murphy focusing on their life living as American expatriots in Paris in the 1920s. The Murphys were wealthy and beautiful and attracted to the artistic set living abroad. They befriended Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso, and Leger to name just a few. Paris was not only less expensive but more permissive socially than the US during the 1920s and was a destination for young artists who wanted to practice their craft and live a good life. While Gerald dabbled in painting and creating theatrical backdrops, he and Sara were great and generous entertainers who set up house at Villa America in Antibes.
I loved this book enough to go have lunch with the author (who is a delight). This is a wonderful view into the lives of the expat writers during the 1920s. If you are a fan of Fitzgerald or Hemingway, this book will give you some unusual insight into their friendship, inspiration, and writing.
This book was so good. Just read it you will not be disappointed.
A valuable and enlightening picture of America expats in France at the beginning of the century. The Murphys story reads like a good novel.
Era of dysfunctional "lost generation" and then moan about unhappy endings watch the roosevelt saga on pbs t.v. and see another one but where both uncle and niece manage to raise families and contribute despite depression heredity and no great beauty