“No issues of le MonT-Parnasse for 1928–30 have been traced, so it is not possible to tell whether that journal published anything of Orwell’s.”
Eric Blair wrote to Pierre Yrondy (1897-1960), directeur of le MonT-Parnasse Hebdomadaire International, on the 15th January 1929, hoping to be published in his weekly newspaper.
Blair, who had arrived in Paris in June the year before, was writing poetry and working on a novel. He had already managed to have an essay on censorship published in Henri Barbusse’s, Monde and three articles had appeared in Henri Dumay’s, Le Progrès Civique.
Yrondy responded positively to Blair’s letter. He had found the enclosed ‘ballade’ particularly amusing and suggested that humorous articles, written in English, about the ‘Quartier Montparnasse’ would be viewed favourably for publication. He wrote a second time, on the 27th January, thanking Blair for his letter and contributions and suggested they would be published as soon as possible.
How Blair knew Yrondy (who I will explore in another post) to write to him has always been a mystery. His newspaper, le MonT-Parnasse, has never been traced by Orwell scholars. Davison and Crick believed it probably was never printed.
However, the good news, I have recently found and read the first edition, published on Saturday, 1st September 1928. There is also compelling evidence that the newspaper was published weekly until at least issue #51, August 17, 1929.
Eric Blair, who studied the Parisian press closely, must have read this very edition – or one that followed – which led him write to Yrondy.
For a contemporary reader, le MonT-Parnasse is a portal into the world of the ‘touristes’ and expatriates, especially Americans, who lived in Montparnasse during the late 1920s. It was a weekly publication numbering just four broadsheet pages, mostly in French, with some articles and advertising written in English.
Revealing how closely life in Paris was reported by the American press, on the 3rd September, The Chicago Tribune, in their regular ‘Latin Quarter Notes’ column rather snootily alerted readers to a new publication ‘on Boulevarde du Montparnasse’ dedicated to the interests of ‘the Quarter’:
It contains a column written in English, somewhat more illiterate than the remainder, and there are sketches, witticisms and gossip. Perusing it a stranger would believe the worst he had heard of Montparnasse was true, but tolerance is the rule in these parts, and we dare say the new journal, which is called Montparnasse, does represent a segment of the Quarter’s population.
This column had salacious gossip about ‘a celebrated lady’ who gave her services during the war ‘in a peculiar way to the country’ being spotted on the terrasse of a celebrated cafe, with a puppy on her knee:
“…the puppy was crying and so to quiet him, she opened her dress and gave him her breast, this all with an air of unconcern…”
You will note that the lack of capitalisation in the headline likely irritated the Tribune columnist much more than any gossip.
Le MonT-Parnasse carried many advertisements, especially for the famous local cafes – including Le Dôme, La Coupole and Le Select – as well as cocktail bars and restaurants on and around Boulevard du Montparnasse. Chez-Les, the Viking ‘Americain’ Bar and Restaurant, specialised in Scandinavian dishes and the Dingo Bar traded on the fame garnered from Ernst Hemingway’s first novel, published three years prior, with an unusual advertisement in a simple cursive, handwritten script without accompanying image or title:
Don’t fail to visit the Dingo Restaurant and American Bar, part of the background of “The Sun Also Rises”. Delicious French Cooking and all the American and English specialities.
10 Rue Delambre
Yrondy’s office was nearby, at 22 Rue Delambre.
A surprising amount of material is packed into the four pages, including poetry, drawings and caricatures. There are ads for ‘unique’ studio-hotel apartments, art shows and a hairdresser offering ‘ondulation indéfrisable’ (a good perm) for men or women. An incongruous advertisement for Peugeot cars becomes more understandable when one realises that a few months previous, Yrondy had driven the mass produced 201, from Paris to Berlin, at the behest of the company.
Yrondy introduced the ethos of his new weekly – to ‘infallibly guide the uninitiated’ – prominently in his front page editorial outlining the history of ‘the Quarter’. He emphasised the special atmosphere (which one imagines kept Eric Blair in Paris for eighteen months) that permeated Montparnasse and attracted American and English expatriates until after the Wall Street Crash destroyed the exchange rate.
Mont-Parnasse gets bigger each day. Its café terraces overflow onto the sidewalk, seemingly wanting to extend into the street. Lights twinkle in the eyes of the uninitiated, as if to say: “Come! Enter once, and you will never leave.”
With giant steps, Montparnasse is incontrovertibly on its way to conquer the World!
Its legend extends to the four corners of the earth. In the most distant country-sides, in the farthest countries, people talk about Montparnasse.
Mont-Parnasse was born from the War. Previously, this crossroads, so alive today, was like all other crossroads.
There was a small tobacconist: le Dôme, where a few regulars came to play billiards or a game of cards. Where the Boulevard Raspail joined it, a small café opened up: la Rotonde. A café? No, more a bar where early-rising workers stopped each morning to eat a croissant and drink a café crème.
And then the bloody conflict broke out!
Mont-Parnasse, like the rest of the city, shut down. La Rotonde closed. Le Dôme was dying.
When Peace finally dawned, Montparnasse revived. A crowd of poets, painters, and sculptors showed up. A few Americans ventured onto the sidewalks where Trotsky once walked. La Rotonde got bigger and le Dôme expanded, but not fast enough to accommodate the huge throngs of cosmopolitan customers who impulsively crowd in every night.
Thanks to a number of initiatives, new watering-holes sprang up. Thus, we saw appear successively: le Jockey, le Caméléon, la Cigogne, le Dingo, le Parnass’ Bar, la Boîte à couleurs, le Petit Napolitain, les Wikings, le Select, les 4 Femmes, la Jungle, la Grande Chaumière, and finally, la Coupole.
The more cafes, bars, and dance halls there were, the more clients there were who showed up. So much so that, as I was saying earlier, the walls came down and the terraces expanded, thereby tripling the capacity of each beer-hall and restaurant.
Thanks to this popularity, and driven by it, new establishments opened up: restaurants, dairies, hatters, shirtmakers, milliners, theaters, cinemas, music halls, shoemakers, hair salons, hotels, tailors, etc. And each got into the spirit of the times, with its joie de vivre and lack of constraints.
And Mont-Parnasse has now become a great vessel of light, good taste, and luxury, in which representatives of all races, classes, and societies rub elbows; the art student brushes up against the millionaire, the store assistant chats with Madame la Marquise.
The atmosphere is so engaging, the ambiance so pleasant, that one automatically forgets oneself immediately, as soon as one has set foot there. And the most surprising thing is that you don’t even need to look for it. You just let yourself go, gently, under the spell of this multicolored whirlwind which inebriates you and makes you dream.
But what Mont-Parnasse, despite its perfection, was lacking until last month was a regular newspaper. A journal reporting on its interior and exterior lives, its idle chatter, its desires, its satisfactions, its needs, and its treasures. A publication which, full of its fragrances and laughter, could transmit those to readers who, due to their work or their lives, are far away.
A publication which could infallibly guide the uninitiated while serving as a connection between the established Mont-Parnassians and those past or yet to come.
Such a publication now exists.
We give you the first issue of “Le Mont-Parnasse,” which each Saturday will update you on all that is beautiful, amusing, or useful.
Pierre de Lestolle, Gabriel de Lautrec, Fernand Dubois, Pierre Vierge, Robert Desnos, de Jouvenel, Oscar Fabrès, Jacques Destable, Legorille, etc., will be among our contributors.
In addition, as is unfortunately lacking at present a language unique to Mont-Parnasse, except for that of good humor, each issue will contain articles in English, German, or Russian. If necessary, we’ll also reserve space for Italy, Japan, Turkey, and Spain. But I don’t think that will be necessary, as the Italians, Japanese, Turks, and Spaniards of Mont-Parnasse all know French.
We won’t get involved in politics, but will unfailingly denounce any injustice of which we become aware.
“Le Mont-Parnasse” will be a platform for all opinions.
And if you wish to show your support for this first truly international and cosmopolitan journal, the best way would be to subscribe.
“Le Mont-Parnasse” is now launched. It’s up to Mont-Parnasse to keep it alive.
One suspects Yrondy’s claim, that the newspaper ‘won’t get involved in politics’, was a strategic ploy considering his controversial play about the recent execution in the United States of the Italian immigrant anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti, had been banned.
Yrondy and Blair
There is evidence that the people did keep Yrondy’s newspaper alive and that it was printed until at least edition number #51, 17th August 1929.
One Parisian author, Lou Mollgaard, who wrote Kiki: Reine de Montparnasse (1988), quoted Yrondy writing in le MonT-Parnasse. He had editorialised scathingly about Kiki, ‘the Queen of Montparnasse’, saying:
“You’re becoming the centre of an improbable farce at your own expense. They told you to paint or to write, and you painted and wrote. You’re such a nice girl. You sing “Les Filles de Camaret” [a very bawdy song], you laugh, you’re alive: that’s charming and delightful! You’re Kiki, our Kiki! But what else? Come on. People hire you only to take from you what is best. You’re too open and impulsive to say no. You let people take advantage of you… I don’t want to give you advice; I simply want you to understand once and for all that my feelings of affection for the Kiki that you used to be back before Foujita started frequenting cabarets, when journalist Henri Broca was drawing caricatures of Negro doctors at the Casino de Pau, back when you were yourself…”.
However, I have not been able to locate this August edition that Mollgaard quoted (even with her assistance). 1988 seems as distant as 1929.
After extensive searching, with the assistance of French archivists and rare booksellers (for the last three years) it is still a mystery why le Mont-Parnasse is so lost to history. Only the first edition, so far it seems, has survived.
A tantalising piece of visual evidence does survive towards the end of Eugene Deslaw’s 15-minute short film, Montparnasse (1929):
Come take an avant-garde walk in the Montparnasse of the late 1920’s. This district of Paris, filmed in a most unusual way, shows how dedicated it is to art. Visit its art galleries and exhibitions, take a glimpse of famous painter Fujita, of Luis Buñuel eying the legs of beautiful Parisian passing the terrace of the café where he is sitting, of three Italian futurists, Marinetti, Prampolini and Russolo. But besides being a cosmopolitan hub for creators, Montparnasse is also a popular quarter, busy with the lives of its ordinary inhabitants, with its markets and flea markets, with its brats looking at a street circus show. Don’t miss the goats crossing the street for the unexpected is always possible. And complete the visit with a good cup of coffee at the Rotonde or at the Sélect on the Boulevard du Montparnasse.
Check the 12.45m mark for images of Yrondy’s newspaper being sold on the streets of Montparnasse. Sadly, the quality is not good enough to discern the date, headline or who is being caricatured.
I have been able to reclaim a great deal of lost knowledge about Pierre Yrondy though (which I will share in another post) but wish his newspaper had not proven to be so elusive. Perhaps someone who reads this post will have more skills, and better luck, than I have had thus far, in tracking them down.
Now that we know for certain that the newspaper was an ongoing concern, it conjures the delicious possibility that Pierre Yrondy published that ‘ballade’ of Blair’s and possibly, there is an amusing article about ‘the Quarter’ that saw the light of day one Saturday, in 1929.
Chicago Tribune, 3 September 1928
Crick, Bernard (1992) George Orwell: A Life, London: Penguin
Le MonT-Parnasse Hebdomadaire International, 1 September 1928
Mollgaard, Lou (1988) Kiki: Reine de Montparnasse, Paris: R. Laffont
Orwell, George (1998) A Kind of Compulsion: 1903–1936, The Complete Works of George Orwell – Volume 10, Secker & Warburg
Yrondy, Pierre (1927) Sept ans d’agonie: Le Martyre de Sacco et de Vanzetti, Éditions Prima
*My humble thanks to Steve Salemson and Joan Wallace for their translations.