I’ve often thought that I should have been born in the early 1900s and lived through what might be called the halcyon days of the ’20s and ’30s.
Of course, it is only a matter of opinion if those days were good or bad, depending on who you were.
If I’d been the heir apparent to become Lord of the manor, or from any part of upper classes with a University education, I have no doubt that I would not have been spared the horrors of war along with rest of the young men who went to serve and never returned.
The only saving grace might be as Officer it might have been easier than being un the ranks, but at that age, I doubt if I’d be as cautious as I should be, as of all youth I’d throw caution to the wind.
But in all likelihood, I would not have been part of the aristocracy but more than likely a clerk or farm worker who might by wit and guile have survived the war, if not a little traumatized by what I had seen and done in the name of defending the Empire.
It had prompted Hemingway to use the phrase ‘the lost generation’ at the end of one of his books, but perhaps it was first used by Gertrude Stein who had said in not many words that these people who survived the war were more content to drink themselves to death.
I guess if the war hadn’t taken you, and you survived the great flu epidemic that followed it, then you would probably believe you were in some way invincible.
So, in those post-war days where writers and others congregated in Paris in those mid-twenties, what some regard as the halcyon years before the great depression and later the next world war. I suspect a lot of the American writers left because of prohibition and wanted the more liberal lifestyle in Paris during these years.
Certainly there was a group of writers and artists who lived that bohemian lifestyle, perhaps a result of the horrors of war, using alcohol and promiscuity to drown the bad memories.
I doubt if anyone could return from a war like that and not be damaged in some way. Perhaps the only way to escape the horror was to immerse oneself in a different world, and if I had been back in those days, I know I would be putting pencil to paper making endless notes for later use.
And I prefer to believe if I survived it was because my desire to become a writer would eventually be fulfilled. Perhaps, in the end, it might be more likely because I had had a lifetime love affair with words, and to me, it would be more than enough to make a reasonable living from it.
Certainly I would have sought out others like me as mentors and compatriots.
It was a time when the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton, and James Joyce, all of whom I have no doubt would be happy to be the role models one needed.
And if you could afford to take a trip to Paris, well, enough said.
It would probably take a lot of luck to be included in their group and no doubt hanging out at the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, owned by Silvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier, might have been a step in the right direction.
But, having not been there at the time, who knows what might have happened.
Perhaps one day when someone invents the time machine, I might be able to go back and find out.