Monday, 23 April 2012

Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy, A Lost Generation Love Story by Amanda Vaill

This is the story of Gerald and Sara Murphy, an American couple who married in 1916, moved to France and became part of a group of artists and writers who became known as the Lost Generation. Their friends included Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Dorothy Parker and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Both Gerald and Sara were born into well-to-do families, Sara's was more old money, while Gerald's father was a self-made man. Both their families were quite domineering, with definite expectations for their offspring. Gerald and Sara seemed to find freedom in their marriage. By the standards of the time neither of them were young when they married (Sara was 32), they suddenly began to live the life they wanted to. It was as if they both stepped out into the sunshine and began to play.

Gerald gave up his position in his father's business, they moved to Paris as it was cheaper to live there, and he began to paint. His first teacher was Natalia Goncharova, who worked with Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes. This opened up a whole new world to them;

......they had been caught in what Gerald later called "a sort of movement," the group of artists and musicians and amateurs and hangers-on that clustered around the Ballet Russes. "You knew everyone in it," said Gerald, "and you were expected to go to the rehearsals, and they wanted your opinion and they discussed it with you."

They decided to settle in the south of France, and it was there they entertained writers and artists such as Fitzgerald and Picasso. Over the years the friendships waxed and waned, but the Murphys seem to have been steadfast friends, offering counsel and, on occasion, financial aid. Sara seems to have been particularly well loved, Gerald was a complex character and more difficult to get to know well.

I began this book expecting to be dazzled and fascinated by the Murphy's glamorous life, and indeed I was. But this book is about more than their famous friends. It also describes a long, close marriage and how it endures. The Murphys had to face terrible tragedies, which depleted them, but somehow they carried on.

I really enjoyed this book, and I want to read more about this period. I am on the look-out for good biographies of Hemingway and Fitzgerald.


  1. Sounds like an interesting read. I have The Paris Wife waiting for me to get to it, sounds like this might be a good companion read for it?

  2. So glad you are posting about this wonderful book. I loved that the Murphy's were the inspiration for Tender is the Night. Oh, but their lives were so sad towards the end.

  3. I loved this book beyond words. I read it in 2004, and jotted down these notes:

    "This was an excellent biography of the Murphys, their wide circle of friends, and their times. It has a thorough index, bibliography, and notes. The author did a tremendous amount of work compiling all the information, and presenting it in a very readable book. She did a beautifully creative job of naming each chapter from a quote which illuminates and sums up what
    it was dealing with. If it were told as fiction, the reader would say it wasn't true enough- it wasn't believable. How so much joy and sadness can be part of the life of one couple is astounding. There are wonderful photographs, some of which are talked about by the author so the reader can see exactly what she sees. Honestly, a simply tremendous work."

  4. Thank you all for your lovely comments. You are what every writer dreams of: involved and curious readers. I'm profoundly touched.

  5. Sounds like another one for my list. I recently read The Paris Wife and am currently reading Hemingway's A Movable Feast about their time in Paris. This one sounds like a good follow-up.