Finding the Lost Generation in Montparnasse
RER Station Port Royal
You are standing near the southern tip of the Jardin du Luxembourg, where Ernest Hemingway often used to stroll on his way to visit Gertrude Stein. On this walk we are going to explore the places that were familiar to writers and artists in the 1920s, particularly expatriates from the United States. If you’ve seen the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, you’ll have encountered a few of them already.
Gertrude Stein coined the term “Lost Generation” to describe Hemingway and his fellow expatriate writers after the First World War. Hemingway didn’t agree with this epithet, although he quoted it in his first novel. Hemingway actually found his voice as a writer in Paris, and so did many of his contemporaries.
But there were losses along the way. In fact, near the RER station is the Hotel Beauvoir, with the initials HB on the awnings. You can see it on the right as you face the station entrance. The HB might almost stand for Hadley and Bumby, Hemingway's first wife and his son, who moved to the hotel when the marriage ended. There were also voices that were lost in the din because other voices shouted louder. We’ll try to find a few of them today.
Hello, my name is Philippa Campsie and I’ve created this walk to explore the part of Paris known as Montparnasse and some nearby neighbourhoods. In the 1920s, artists and writers could live here quite cheaply. Americans in particular flocked here after Prohibition made the United States less appealing for those who enjoyed a party. But they were simply following a long tradition of artists who found this area congenial, and as we go along, I will mention some of those earlier artists, too.
Back then, the area was still in transition from a countrified suburb of small houses and gardens into an urban area with large apartment blocks. There were lots of cafes, some of which are now famous as historic gathering places for artists and writers. Just past the Hotel Beauvoir in the direction of the gardens, you will see a large modern university residence. When the Hemingways lived in this neighbourhood, that site held a one-storey dance hall with an Oriental facade. It was called the Bal Bullier. The only trace of that name now is the cafe Bullier, kitty-corners across the intersection.
Let's start walking now. Look for a building with a small dome on the roof at the corner and a statue on the sidewalk in front of it. Take the crosswalk towards it.
As you walk, you're crossing the old meridian that once spanned all of France from north to south. To your left, at the far end of the boulevard, you will see the Paris Observatory that was France's equivalent of the Greenwich Observatory in terms of setting time. Ahead of you is the Closerie des Lilas, our first destination.
While you walk to it, let me explain how this works. VoiceMap uses your location to play commentary automatically. There may be some silence along the way, and that's normal. You can just put your phone in your pocket, and focus on your surroundings. You’ll hear my voice again when you reach each destination, and I'll give you directions to keep you on track.