Visit the Favorite Parisian Haunts of Great Writers
Paris has been a traveler’s hangout since when all roads led to Rome, but many remember it as an intellectual incubator for artists and writers during the end of the 1800s and World War II. Some of the favorite musing places of still-famous artists from this time period can be seen today. Read on for a guide to the Parisian places great writers favored.
The Left Bank
The most famous place where artists and writers congregated was the Left Bank. The River Seine winds through the heart of Paris, and the southern section as you face the direction of the river, is on your left. This is where the Eiffel Tower sits.
Visitors wishing to capture the spirit of Hemingway’s life can walk along these streets, comparing what they see to the scenes in “A Moveable Feast” near the Place de la Contrescarpe. Hemingway, furthering the stereotype of the starving artist, wrote at a Left Bank café, the Café de Florem, because his apartment was poorly heated. His first Parisian home was near the Rue Mouffetard and that area is worth a visit to see the architecture he would have. Read through biographies of dozens of other influential writers from the same time period —from Edith Wharton to Samuel Beckett to Anais Nin and Henry Miller, and you can find many other anecdotes about the same area.
While they might not be in the same location as they were in the last century, the Left Bank still boasts dozens of bookshops to browse through like the literary greats did. The Shakespeare and Company Bookstore is one of the most famous for English-language books and encouraging writers.
The Latin Quarter
Home to Parisian university students since the 12th century, the Latin Quarter houses the Sorbonne and other higher-learning institutions on the Left Bank. The district got its name from the lingua franca of medieval students: Latin. At the many cafes and restaurants along Boulevard St. Germain, literary luminaries discussed their ideas: Jean-Paul Sartre, his partner Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus. It was the center of the existentialism movement. Then there is the Boulevard Saint-Michel, which also figured in many writers’ lives. Ernest Hemingway, Zora Neale Hurston and James Joyce mention it in their work. Today, these avenues continue to be popular with students and tourists, who are as drawn in by the leafy sidewalks and intimate cafes as Hemingway and Joyce were when they plotted their masterpieces.
In the 1920s, Paris became a stopping point for American artists: The city had nearly 30,000 American inhabitants. The Montparnasse district, also on the Left Bank, had many bars and cafes —some of which you can see today—where writers would meet, drink and stay up all night discussing art and life. Edith Wharton and Samuel Beckett were known to frequent Montparnasse when they lived in France. Hemingway was well-known here as was F. Scott Fitzgerald when he was in town.
Author Gertrude Stein is perhaps responsible for Paris’ attraction to emerging American writers and artists. Stein was famous not only for her own work but also for encouraging others to write and paint, and helping them find publishers and backers for their work. Stein, an American herself, never left Paris. She’s buried, along with Marcel Proust, at Paris’ Pere Lachaise Cemetery.
A final, more peaceful, place to visit when walking in the great literati’s footsteps is Luxembourg Gardens. The second largest park in Paris, Hemingway strolled through when short on money or inspiration. Henry James and William Faulkner set scenes here, and it’s a major setting for a book slightly older than the others previously mentioned — “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo.
Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons
About the Author: Philippa Johns teaches introductory courses in American literature at several community colleges. She visits France yearly and finds Paris hotels on Venere.com.