In 1921 wealthy young Americans Gerald and Sara Murphy moved first to England and then to Paris with their three young children, in order to escape the stifling restrictions imposed upon them by their families and the social milieu in which they lived. They were interested in the arts and soon found themselves actively involved in the artistic life in Paris, working on sets for the Ballets Russes, mixing with Picasso, Cocteau and Léger and later with the writers of the “Lost Generation” including F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos. Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker and Archibald MacLeish were also among their friends. The Murphys are credited with starting the fashion of spending summer on the French Riviera, where they lived for a number of years in their home “Villa America” in Cap d’Antibes. They were generous with their money and their time, enormously supportive of their friends and enthusiastic and creative parents to their children.
Although Picasso painted Sara Murphy on a number of occasions and while Gerald Murphy’s paintings, all of which were completed in the 1920s, were later recognized as a significant contribution to American art, the Murphys may have passed otherwise unknown into history if not for their association with F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway in particular. They are partly the inspiration for Dick and Nicole Diver in [b:Tender Is the Night|46164|Tender Is the Night|F. Scott Fitzgerald|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347573947s/46164.jpg|8272] (although the Divers are also fairly clearly based on the Fitzgeralds) and characters based on the Murphys also appear in Hemingway’s work. In spite of the generosity and support the Murphys extended to these writers in particular, neither of them was particularly generous in return. Hemingway was particularly mean-spirited in his references to them in [b:A Moveable Feast|4631|A Moveable Feast|Ernest Hemingway|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1356407015s/4631.jpg|2459084], although that's not surprising because he was cruel about everyone in that memoir except himself.
I loved reading this wonderfully engaging and detailed biography. When I finished it last night I found myself reluctant to say goodbye to the Murphys and their world. This is partly because of Vaill’s skill as a chronicler of the lives of two such interesting and passionate people. But it’s also because of the Murphys themselves. Rarely have I read a biography of someone I wish I’d known as much as I wish I’d known the Murphys. They knew what friendship meant and they knew what commitment to a relationship meant. They faced immense personal tragedy and were strengthened by the experience. All in all, they were extraordinary people and it was a privilege to get to know them. This is a must-read for anyone with an interest in 1920s Paris and the Lost Generation.