The Flip Side of Hemingway’s Paris

Foulc, Sarah. “The Flip Side of Hemingway’s Paris.” Lit Picks, 4 November 2022.

This is why, for the closing of our Paris-themed week, I’ve chosen to feature the complete antithesis of the book I mentioned in the first issue (Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast), a book that has sharpened my literary landscape of Paris and that I highly recommend:

It’s a collection of written pieces titled We’ll Never Have Paris, edited and introduced by Andrew Gallix, an Anglo-French writer, journalist, and Sorbonne teacher. . . . In response to a “vision of literary Paris (that) has been shaped by anglophone writers”, in his brilliant introduction to the collection, Gallix argues that:

“The Paris we know was always already a beguiling simulacrum, a facsimile of itself, and possibly a dream — ‘the fever dream of Paris,’ as Julian Hanna puts it — from which we should try to awake. (…) Although the museumification of Paris is often overstated, perhaps the city, like Eurydice, can only be contemplated nowadays by turning away from it. It is striking how the following pages abound in alternative visions of the French capital.”

Before coming to this conclusion, Gallix first paints an accurate picture of what Paris is in the global imagination. One that reverberates with the sentence I wrote in the opening paragraph: “Paris is a lightning rod for liberty, a beacon of freedom of expression. Paris is the reinvention of the self.”

“Paris often seems to hold out that promise of radical transformation. When asked why he moved there, Luke, in Geoff Dyer’s Paris Trance, responds ‘To become a different person.’

Paris leaps into our imagination exactly as we remember it from the written tales of those that have glorified the city, at least assigned an ideal to it, and who lived fully in the narrative of their glorification, so much so that — as many writers understand — some of us can only come to see a Paris made of those words:

“For the likes of Tomoé Hill, traveling to Paris is a pilgrimage, not a city break: ‘We go to Paris reverent: as if the city was a heart in a reliquary beating with the words of writers instead of blood’ (p.114) — words which are not, of course, necessarily French ones.”

Gallix, when speaking of his “contention”, directly mentions ‘Hemingway’s Paris’, immediately contrasting it with something else, something more honest, perhaps — ‘that of Rimbaud and Verlaine or Sartre and de Beauvoir’. He invites us to question this vision:

“My contention — and a contentious one it is too — is that the bohemian Paris people think of most readily outside of France — the ur-cliche, if you will — is anglophone. It is the Paris of Hemingway, Joyce, and Shakespeare and Company before being that of Rimbaud and Verlaine or Sartre and de Beauvoir. If we accept this as true, or at least partly so, it is doubtless due to the hegemony of the English language and imperialism of Hollywood as much as the appeal of Hemingway’s blueprint. Scandinavians, say, or Latin Americans have their own take on this myth, revolving around their own writers’ interaction with the French capital, but these versions are mainly consumed locally.”

To this, he adds the relevant argument of the only authors mentioned by Hemingway in A Moveable Feast:

“How many French authors does Hemingway encounter, or even mention, in A Moveable Feast? To be honest, apart from Blaise Cendars, I cannot name a single one off the top of my head. All those that come to mind are either American (Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, John Dos Passos), Irish (James Joyce) or English (Ford Maddox Ford, Wyndham Lewis, Aleister Crowley).”

Gallix isn’t certainly the only one to think this, as we discover throughout the collection. British novelist Jean Rhys, best known for her modernist novel Wide Sargasso Sea, is also mentioned in the introduction. She had already noticed the influence of the English-speaking writers in the shaping of the imagination of what Paris was supposed to be. As Gallix writes:

“In a 1964 letter to Diana Athill, Jean Rhys railed against what she dubbed ‘America in Paris’ or ‘England in Paris’, dismissing Hemingway and Miller’s take on the city as inauthentic. ‘The real Paris had nothing to do with that lot’.”

Some of the most interesting insights of this introduction to the collection come directly to broaden our perspective on the conditions that have created the almost-personified Paris that we know today.

“Hemingway described Paris in the 1920s as a place ‘where there was a way of living well and working, no matter how poor you were,’ adding that this was ‘like having a great treasure given to you’. That treasured lifestyle was swept away by the onset of the Depression in the 1930s. As Will Ashon remarks, artists thrive where there is ‘affordable, preferably semi-derelict real estate. Which is to say you can’t be an artist in Paris anymore, or in London either’ (p.301).”

Affordable prices. That was the thing about Paris at that time.

And about New York, Hong Kong, London, and all of these giant capitals, now overpriced, but that still attract swarms of idealistic urban aficionados despite the very high costs of living, compared to when these past legendary generations of artists and intellectuals thrived. In the 20s, writers could sleep in hotels and eat well in Paris.

The ‘daily grind’ that most citizens experience in these cities is overlooked, especially for passing travelers. Tourists will often first spot the tall woman in the trench coat smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of Chardonnay at the corner brasserie, before the one who just sold them a bottle of water at a kiosk.

It’s often not that glamorous in Paris, nor even artistic.

But despite having always known this, for I had witnessed the less charming aspects of Parisian living, I kept returning and kept getting disillusioned. Maybe it’s unsurprising:

“As a subgenre, the expat memoir or novel frequently follows a narrative arc that takes us on a journey from euphoria (the possibility of escaping, and reinventing oneself elsewhere) to disillusionment (the failure to escape oneself and go native. Fittingly, Jonathan Gibb’s piece is entitled ‘Every Story of Paris is also a Story of Disillusion.’ (…) Christian Spens’s heroine states that ‘Paris had always been a good escape, the best escape of them all’ — until now (p.147) This theme is actually so prevalent that Gavin James Bower fears he may have become a walking (or running) cliché: ‘I run away to Paris — am I sure I’m not a trope?’ (p.151)”

Indecipherable Chicken-Scratch Squiggles

Sam Mills had the good taste to choose “Celesteville’s Burning: A Work in Regress” as part of her contribution (5 February 2021) to A Personal Anthology, a fine series curated by Jonathan Gibbs.

‘Celesteville’s Burning: A Work in Regress’ by Andrew Gallix

Sostène Zanzibar, a successful novelist based in Paris, is suffering a midlife crisis and struggling with creative inspiration. When the journalist Loren Ipsum comes to interview him, they embark on a love affair that ends in humiliation for Zanzibar, who then descends into crisis. The prose is beautifully crafted, the story a wonderful mixture of literary satire, erudite references, superb puns and zingy one-liners, and jokes that made me laugh out loud — Zanzibar’s ex “publicly pooh-poohed his cunnilingus technique, comparing the result as a series of ‘indecipherable chicken-scratch squiggles’”. As the story progresses, there is a shift in tone from comic to poignant and the ending is dreamy and bittersweet.

First published in The White Review, and available to read online. Collected in We’ll Never Have Paris, Repeater Books, 2019.

Where You Can Be a Writer Without Writing

Mardell, Oscar. “Style Wars: The Conquest of Gall.” 3:AM Magazine, 21 December 2019:


[…] Here, Paris is both “transformed” into a symbol, and “taken away” from its inhabitants: a “dumb show” for “the world” but not, it seems, for Parisians. And when Sartre wonders “if we too hadn’t become symbols”, he is essentially positing that the citizen body might be “guarding carefully the object within [it]self” — that it might, like Genet’s criminal child, have become the “image” of a Paris to which it has been denied access.Did this “artificial existence” end after Liberation? Did Paris — and, moreover its public — simply cease to be a symbol once its “practical purpose” was restored? To these questions, We’ll Never Have Paris offers a defiant “no”. If one thing is made clear by this paradigm-shifting collection, it is that Paris has been routinely plundered by another occupier, one which predates the German invasion by at least a decade, and which has hung around long after Liberation. As Andrew Gallix phrases it in his stunning introduction: “our vision of literary Paris has been shaped by anglophone writers”:

By “literary Paris” I do not mean the city’s depiction in works of literature (Hugo, Balzac and Proust will always trump foreign competitors on that front) or even Saint-Germain-des-Prés’ café society, but rather the more nebulous notion of Paris as the very space of literature. A place, crucially, that you have to go to in order to become, be recognised as, and lead the life of a writer…Paris is a city where literature can actually be lived out — where you can be a writer without writing…

The idea here is that Paris signifies literariness, is so infallible a marker of writerly authenticity that if writers can brandish Parisian postcodes then they don’t need to put pen to paper at all. But what is crucial about this sign, about “the bohemian Paris people think of most readily outside of France”, is that it, as Gallix explains, “is anglophone”: a symbol whose exchange rate is best outside of France, whose power to signify rests chiefly in a foreign language — a sign which has been “confiscated”, in other words, from its rightful owners.

The Idea of Paris

Carroll, Tobias. “Is Paris Still an Art World Heavyweight?” InsideHook, 20 November 2019:

[…] A very different take on Paris and art comes from the recent anthology We’ll Never Have Paris, edited by Andrew Gallix. From his perspective, a lot of discussion of Paris emerges from Anglophone perceptions of it. “I have lived here most of my life — in several parts of the 9th and 14th arrondissements, as well as in the 6th and 18th — and currently reside in one of Paris’s poor, rat-infested northern banlieues, soon to be subsumed into a brave new Grand Paris,” he says. “I certainly cannot be accused of labouring under the delusion that it is all glamorous boutiques and bohemian cafés. I know what the reality of everyday life in Paris is and relaying it to an English-speaking readership was not what I set out to do. Quite the contrary, in fact.”

For Gallix, the anthology became a way to explore how certain writers helped to shape enduring perceptions of Paris. “It dawned on me that the romantic notion of a bohemian Paris that many people entertain all over the world owed as much to Hemingway and other English-language writers as to Hugo or Rimbaud,” he explains. “So I set out to explore this Anglo version of Paris. I wanted to see how the idea of Paris — whether rooted in their experience or not — inspired Anglophone writers today.”

Here, the contributors hail from a host of nations, including Will Self, Max Porter and Joanna Walsh. “I started off by approaching authors whose work I admired and who had, I knew, resided for a while in Paris, either recently or years ago,” Gallix says. “At the same time, I shunned the expat communities and in particular all those purveyors of ghastly expat memoirs. I also made sure that some of the contributors had never even set foot in France, let alone Paris, so that the remit would become a kind of Oulipian writing constraint in their case. Only five contributors, out of 79, currently reside in the French capital.”

Gallix also planned for a weighty volume from the very beginning. “I knew from the start that I wanted to produce a capacious volume that readers could dip into aboard the Eurostar or while sipping a coffee at a sidewalk café,” he says.

As for the reaction to We’ll Never Have Paris, it’s been mixed, he explains. “The book got very good reviews in the Times Literary Supplement and Financial Times. However, sales have proved much healthier in the US than in the UK despite the lack of reviews across the Pond,” Gallix says. “This is probably due to a strong sales team and good distribution. Perhaps the allure of Paris also remains greater over there. You tell me.”

Regardless of whether you embrace Paris wholeheartedly or view it with a historical remove, both [Will Mountain] Cox and Gallix are, in their own ways, demonstrating the continued vibrancy of the city and the work it can inspire. It’s not what you might expect, but it might be just the work you’re looking for.

We’ll Never Have Paris Book Launch

Joint Parisian book launch for We’ll Never Have Paris and Andrew Hodgson’s Paris collection for Dostoyevsky Wannabe at Shakespeare and Company on 20th June 2019

Andrew Gallix, Laura Waddell, Susana Medina, Fernando Sdrigotti

Andrew Hodgson, Andrew Gallix, Adam Biles (pic by Sam Jordison)

Gerry Feehily, Susana Medina, Sam Jordison, Yelena Moskovich, Ian Monk, Andrew Hodgson, Thom Cuell, Lauren Elkin, Andrew Gallix, Fernando Sdrigotti

Even Kenneth Goldsmith turned up (here pictured Chez Panis)

Me and Kenneth Goldsmith, Chez Panis

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Youth, Politics, Romance and Illness

Max Liu on We’ll Never Have Paris in the Financial Times, 1 June 2019

. . . There is something for most tastes among the 82 contributions, edited by Andrew Gallix. From Nicholas Royle’s mini-thriller “Music for French Films” to the experimentalism of Joanna Walsh’s “The Hanged Man”, there are pieces about youth, politics, illness and romance. Some of the writers, from the UK, US and beyond, live or have lived in Paris. Almost all of them explore the myth of bohemian Paris — “an anglophone construct”, according to Gallix. . . . Readers might come to this book for its celebrated contributors — the novelists Will Self and Tom McCarthy among them — but they should stay for the efforts of its lesser-known lights. . . . Repeater has sensibly published this near 600-page volume as a paperback original that would fit comfortably in your bag as you amble along the boulevards. . . . Paris eludes our attempts to define it, but the range of styles and voices in this book suggests it will always capture writers’ imaginations.

Paris of the Mind

Natasha Lehrer has written an amazing, full-page review of We’ll Never Have Paris for the Times Literary Supplement, 31 May 2019, p. 12

. . . In a fine introduction, the book’s editor Andrew Gallix claims Paris as a product of the anglophone imagination, ‘the locus of an art-life merger. . . It is the place that you have to go to to become, be recognised as, and lead the life of a writer”. . . . Gallix claims that the city is a “sort of neutral meeting ground for writers and readers from across the Anglosphere”, which, though possibly true, is not necessarily or always an entirely good thing for the writing that comes out of it. (Gallix’s own short story, featuring a cruelly plausible intellectual called Sostène Zanzibar, is one of the best pieces in the book — funny, allusive, clever and terribly French). . . .