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Women of the Left Bank

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  313 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
Now available in a durable paperback edition, Shari Benstock's critically acclaimed, best-selling Women of the Left Bank is a fascinating exploration of the lives and works of some two dozen American, English, and French women whose talent shaped the Paris expatriate experience in the century's early years.

This ambitious historical, biographical, and critical study has tak
Paperback, 518 pages
Published August 1st 1987 by University of Texas Press (first published January 1st 1976)
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Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing

Come, say their names with me:

Bryher, Mina Loy, Gertrude Stein, Janet Flanner, Sylvia Beach, Adrienne Monnier, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Barney, Renée Vivien, H.D., Kay Boyle, Caresse Crosby, Maria Jolas, Solita Solano, Nancy Cunard, Jean Rhys…

All of these women are vital, essential, figures in the history of twentieth century literature and gender politics. Pretty much all of them remain either marginalised or ghettoised within the standard histories of the period, and most of their work is either
Dec 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
As I said in my initial status update on this book, "I had intended to skim, but that quickly proved to be an impossibility," as almost instantly I was engrossed by this group of utterly fascinating women—fiercely intelligent, unapologetically complex, sometimes contradictory, but each in their own diverse ways dedicated to the artistic life, in the process often turning in very real ways life itself into an artistic statement. Utilizing both biography and literary analysis—and demonstrating how ...more
I'd suggest reading through Paris Was a Woman: Portraits from the Left Bank first and then start tackling this, an extremely deep analysis of the female Paris expatriation. I just recently discovered this fantastic subject and all its wonderful women, some of who still are unfortunately quite unknown to the general public, trampled by the male Modernists.
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This hefty volume—518 pages including its extensive chapter-by-chapter footnotes and length bibliography—is an exhaustive description of the lives and works of numerous women—mostly ex-patriot Americans—who assimilated into the Bohemian-style life on the Left Bank of Paris between 1900 and 1940—in the middle of the belle époque and the Dreyfus affair, continuing through World War I, the prolific Entre Guerres period, and the tumultuous years leading up to World War II. These talented and courag ...more
Theresa Cooper
Sep 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
"she will not experience the need, like a masculine reader, to own her favorite authors in beautiful and lasting editions- at bottom it is true that she is not a bibliophile in the sense in which this word is generally understood. she will prefer to keep the ordinary editions that were the very ones she read first, and she will surround them with her kind attentions... if the book pleases her intensely she will copy passages from it."

"the metonymic economy of the heterosexual world in which wome
Apr 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Good introductory book, knew little about French literary history so the clarity in biography and wide scope is really helpful for figuring out where to read, just read alongside this the works discussed in each chapter, but some analyses of like the subjects' literary works seemed kind of lacking. I mean the sort of notes even someone as obtuse as I am can understand from reading the book alone, I'm sure she dulled a lot of the finer points of her reading for this book and I don't see the point ...more
Diane Meier
Feb 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Academic in density, this book delivers on what it means to do -- explore and define and sketch for us the women in Paris who helped to create The New. Their intertwining lives, their courage to live their own lives, and most of all, their remarkable support for Art -often at their own peril, should challenge us and give us heart.

I wish a few more of the artists for whom they went to the barricades had been women - but this is what it was -- and this is how it was. And Shari Benstock gives us e
Thierry Sagnier
Mar 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
You like history? You like Paris? You like smart, independent women (and their men)? All right, this is the book for you.
I love the left bank and was born and raised not far from it. The people there are still originals, somewhat snobby, largely fascinating. This book will make you feel you really did meet Gertrude Stein, Alice B., Edith Wharton and Jean Rhys. It belongs on your bookshelf and is, I believe, one of the more important volume ever authored on the history of feminism, without belabo
Jul 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Although suffering from an overabundance of academic reasoning and prose, the chapter on Gertrude Stein is worth the slog. I may not believe that "the disruption of expectation in masculine/feminine distinctions emphasized by Stein's odd dress...poses difficulty for the analyst." No difficulty for me. She wore skirts not to subvert male hegemony, but because she was fat.

I do agree that "her status as a genius allowed her to subsume gender distinctions and ignore them."

A genius is a dyke is a ros
Oct 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: english nerds
really got me in the mood for more scholarly books, analyzing and critiquing works and the history of women of the left bank. i wasn't able to finish it because the library only allowed one renewal but trust me, it's a great book and requires a lot of time and effort in it's reading. These were important women of the day who've been overlooked. this book inspired me to create my own salon (and to be more well-read and go get a masters in english).
Jane Rutter
Mar 15, 2011 is currently reading it
Fantastic, compelling! This book reveals hidden Paris of the Belle Epoque at its best.I wanted to be back there in those times befriending all these fascinating women.My music theatre piece- a flute concert with annecdtes about these fabulous women is about to be made into a DVD. I will perfom a concert version of it in Paris later this year.
Kat Dellinger
Wonderful study of the Women and their works who shaped the Paris Left Bank in the years during and between the two World Wars. I found this book completely engrossing. It is a Non-Fiction book covering the lives and works of women such as Gertrude Stein, Natalie Clifford Barney, Renee Vivien, Hilda Doolittle, Djuna Barnes and Jean Rhys.
Louise Chambers
Nov 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: LBGT and women readers and authors
Recommended to Louise by: Used book store
Shelves: women-studies, lbgt
This is one of my absolute favorite books! Women authors who were, and still are, bright lights of literature and poetry. Many of these women are lesbian or bisexual, and as "out" as the times would allow. They supported one another as authors, and often as "sex variants" as well. A look at women's history and LBGT history, too.
Ann Fathy
May 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
A good presentation of the lives of these creative women living in Paris in the early 20th Century.
Jan 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Very informative. Touches on even the more obscure writers in that circle.
May 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
a good bathtub book
Dec 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: modernism
I re-read this book, after having read it in 1993. It's still as wonderful as it was the firs time.
Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Magnificent study! Review published in The French Review 61.6 (1988): 999-1000.
Cindy Huyser
Mar 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This sweeping study of expatriate women writers on Paris' left bank from the late 1800s through the 1940s is a must-read for anyone interested in this period. It's a great source book.
Aug 09, 2012 added it
Jargon Slunce
Feb 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: queer-lit
a very comprehensive overview of some of the most badass writers and publishers of the 20th century
Dec 07, 2012 marked it as to-read
Shelves: never-finished
Going to set this aside for awhile.
Jun 23, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: sex-gen
Biographical sketches are interesting; analysis thereof borderline-offensively simplistic.
Be warned, all ye who approach this book: it is very, VERY dense. Informative, yes. Interesting, yes. Satisfactory, yes. But fun? Hell no.

In hindsight, I should have approached Women of the Left Bank in the same way that I usually approach the books I read for essay research: skim for the relevant parts. Yet, because this book focuses on a time period which I'm so interested in and covers a lot of women that I want to learn more about, I thought that I'd enjoy reading it in full. Unfortunately,
Mar 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This wonderful book is a reminder that women (many of them lesbians) were indispensable to the creation of literary modernism. As always, men took the credit, but women made it happen. Besides being an important piece of history, the book is a good read, too!
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Feb 09, 2008
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Mar 28, 2016
Marieta Zubeldia
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Dec 01, 2016
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Chy Allen
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Sep 04, 2015
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  • Paris Was a Woman: Portraits from the Left Bank
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