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February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof in Brooklyn

February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof in Brooklyn


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February House is the uncovered story of an extraordinary experiment in communal living, one involving young but already iconic writers -- and the country's best-known burlesque performer -- in a house at 7 Middagh Street in Brooklyn during 1940 and 1941. It was a fevered yearlong party fueled by the appetites of youth and by the shared sense of urgency to take action as artists in the months before America entered the war.In spite of the sheer intensity of life at 7 Middagh, the house was for its residents a creative crucible. Carson McCullers's two masterpieces, The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, were born, bibulously, in Brooklyn. Gypsy Rose Lee, workmanlike by day, party girl by night, wrote her book The G-String Murders in her Middagh Street bedroom. Auden -- who along with Britten was being excoriated at home in England for absenting himself from the war -- presided over the house like a peevish auntie, collecting rent money and dispensing romantic advice. And yet all the while he was composing some of the most important work of his career.Sherill Tippins's February House, enlivened by primary sources and an unforgettable story, masterfully recreates daily life at the most fertile and improbable live-in salon of the twentieth century.

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Timely and beautifully written

Sherill Tippins' volume fills a tantalizing gap that fans of Auden, McCullers, Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee have long wished could be filled. Most overdue is Tippins' portrait of George Davis: failed literary wunderkind; editor extraordinaire (who "discovered" McCullers and got much-needed writing jobs for her and W. H. Auden in the lean months before Pearl Harbor); husband to Lotte Lenya and the catalyst that re-invented her for American audiences in Marc Blitzstein's staging of Weill's "Threepenny Opera"--the list goes on and on. Davis and Auden are central to Tippins' account and to the amazing colony of artists who called 7 Middagh Street in Brooklyn Heights their home in 1940-41. But Tippins gives everyone in that circle his/her due. Her depictions of Auden's rocky romance with Chester Kallman, of Benjamin Britten's coming to terms with his artistic destiny in England, not America, and Gypsy Rose Lee's ability to charm and disarm everyone she met are more than engaging--they are extremely moving. Tippins' research is exhaustive and impeccable, and she lets her characters speak naturally and eloquently. I could not put this book down and practically read it at one sitting. I was hungry for the kind of information Tippins delivered, and I finished the book with the deepest satisfaction. Gracefully written, carefully organized and researched, and extremely relevant: this book wins on all counts.

A Marvelous trip down memory lane or, rather, Middagh Street

7 Middagh Street literally doesn't exist any longer. It was torn down to make way for an Expressway. During the last decade of his life the poet Frank O'Hara lived in four different apartments in Manhattan and at least one of them has a commemorative plague. If 7 Middagh Street were still standing the entire building would have to be bronzed. George Davis, the fiction editior for "Harper's Bizaar," rented and renovated the house with the assistance of friends W. H. Auden and Carson McCullers. Together they sought to create a kind of year round Yaddo - a boarding house for artists. They were joined by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, Jane and Paul Bowles, Gypsy Rose Lee, Oliver Smith and Klaus Mann (among others). This is their story. As you can imagine, life at 7 Middagh Street was anything but boring. This is the kind of biographical history I most enjoy reading. It focuses on a very specific period of time, communicating brilliantly the personal and professional triumphs and failures, as well as the ravaging effects of current world events these artists were dealing with while living together. It provides just the right balance of background material on each resident without ever becoming bogged down in trivial details that interrupt the natural progression of the story. Yes, there is a certain amount of "dirt." The spats between Auden and Paul Bowles are well documented, and the endless parade of sailors, the parties that lasted until dawn, the battling McCullers. Most of the residents, even those who were married, were either homosexual or bisexual. The book, and this history, is simply fascinating. If you care at all about 20th century art - literature and music especially - this is a book you shouldn't miss.

An American Bloomsbury Group

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to place many of your favorite artistic heroes in the same room and be a fly on the wall to hear the foment? FEBRUARY HOUSE is that wish granted. At least for this reader. The potent time is 1940 and 1941 when WW II was chewing up Europe and Asia and daily threatening to gorge the globe. But at 7 Middagh Street in the somewhat seamy part of Brooklyn, a house owned by former Harper's Bazaar literary editor George Davis, several artists many of whose birthdays happened to be in the month of February set up an artist commune, eager for interplay with each other and all joined in the role of pacifists. The housefolk included Carson McCullers, WH Auden and his 18 year old lover Chester Kallman, Thomas Mann's children Erika and Klaus Mann, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, Gypsy Rose Lee (!)(as well as the occasional guests George Balanchine, Salvador Dali, Paul Cadmus, Diana Vreeland, Paul Bowles, Leonard Bernstein, Lincoln Kirsten among others. Uniting in both financial need and in political and artistic agendas, these greats interacted in ways both creative and destructive with the results ranging from famous collaborative efforts to drunken orgies to various intimate couplings and exchanges. Gypsy Rose Lee was the titular 'mother' and Auden the 'father' figure. 'Biographies' such as this could easily become racy sensationalism were it not for the fact the writer Sherill Tippins relates this amazing household of geniuses with such skill and obvious love that we are able to simply enjoy the inner spins on the creative minds in February House. For devotees of any or many of these creative minds' works, this little book is indispensable. Warm, humorous, and very enlightening it illuminates a group of folk who for a period of time gave America its own Bloomsbury. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, May 05

"The We of Me"

Sherrill Tippins' book is an enjoyable, true story illuminating a very human group of creative souls whose works are not only well known, but important, and still resonating beyond the World War II era in which they came to being. 7 Middagh St. or February House, so named because of all the February birthdays in the group (Aquarians and Pisceans dominated,) was the place to truly explore the "we of me." Most communal experiences have awkward moments, to put it politely, and there were very awkward moments here, but more importantly this place gave a group of precocious and talented friends a home in which to develop the very themes that would make them known, respected, and even loved well beyond their circle. The fabulous George Davis, fiction editor, partier, racconteur, and people finder extraordinaire, was responsible with his new friend, Carson McCullers, for the idea. He found the house in Brooklyn and invited the artists who became the main tenants. The first tenants included Davis, McCullers, Wystan Auden, and Gypsy Rose Lee. George helped Carson, editing her novella, - Reflections in a Golden Eye - Davis also offered his editing skills, encouraging Gypsy to finally achieve her dream of writing. Her - G String Murders - was incubated at 7 Middagh. Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, Klaus Mann, Paul and Jane Bowles, Paul's cousin, the future set designer,Oliver Smith, and Richard Wright were also part of the household as time passed and early residents moved on. I am a devoted fan of the writings of Carson McCullers. She truly understood the "we of me," the influence of our beloved or not so beloved family, friends and casual acquaintances on our definition of self; how as an artist one's "we" can definitely benefit the "me." She began - Member of the Wedding - while living at 7 Middagh. This lovely story resonates with the theme of wanting to belong. Here, at 7 Middagh St., Carson belonged. She and her housemates engaged in ongoing conversations on everything from house keeping, to spiritual issues, to the role of an artist in war time, and each figured out how best to proceed with his work. Interestingly, it was the often rumpled, messy Wystan Auden who managed to make an initially chaotic experience function efficiently for the most part. He was a born nurturer and demanded a certain level of order in the disorder natural to some creative types. This allowed repairs to be completed, bills to be paid, and regular meal times; allowing the residents time to concentrate on their art. I appreciated learning about Auden's early struggles with patriotism and faith, the concept of home and duty, and the role of the poet in any age. Juxtaposed with Auden's spiritual and philosophical searchings is his real open relation with his beloved, the terminally unfaithful Chester Kallman. I find Auden all the more admirable for his choice to honor his love, however saddened that love sometimes made him. Like McCullers, Auden under

A crucible of genius

There is a theory that scientific geniuses have to be alone, (Einstein, Newton, Archimedes needed peace and quiet to distill their thoughts) but literary masters need company. Shakespeare and Marlowe thrived in the boiling pot of Elizabethan London; Dickens, Thackeray and Trollope all went to the same clubs; and in this wonderful book we find some of the most innovative and arresting intellects of the twentieth century living in the same house. This is a story that most of us don't know about, but anyone interested in books will love. Funny, entertaining, superbly researched and compassionate, it even made me feel sympathy for Auden, Isherwood, Britten who famously went the wrong way across the Atlantic when war was declared. The test of a great book is, does it leave you wanting more, and this one does. Burroughs house in Tangier? Gertrude Stein's salon? I dont know if Ms. Tippins is interested in a sequel, but I sure am.

Edition Details

Publisher:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Lowest Price:$3.59
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