February HousePosted: June 29, 2020
February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof in Brooklyn
Mariner Books (July 26, 2016), 336 pages
Originally published in 2005
Kindle edition $13.29, Amazon paperback $9.29
Borrowed for free with Prime Reading membership
I always enjoy reading about literary communities, so when I saw February House on sale for $2.99 in an Early Bird Books email I thought I would enjoy reading it. But wait, I realized as I pulled it up on Amazon, I have already read this book. I read it when it first came out in hardcover in 2005. I looked at the Amazon listing and I saw that it was a Prime Reading title, meaning that as a Prime member I could borrow the book and read it at no cost.
At that price I decided it was worth rereading. I was not disappointed.
George Davis was fired from his job as editor at Harper’s Bazaar magazine. To make ends meet he rented a house at 7 Miggdah Street in Brooklyn and invited writers and artists to move in and share in the expenses.
This was just at the start of World War II and there were enough creative types at loose ends to make the experiment work. The poet W.H. Auden moved in as did novelist Carson McCullers. The famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee rented a suite, and composer Benjamin Britten with his lover Peter Pears lived there. Author and composer Paul Bowles and his wife Jane spent time in the house as well.
People came and went, but the house was a lively place of interaction, discussion, and conversation. Davis was an ineffective landlord and a poor manager of expenses, so he was happy when Auden stepped in to manage the accounts. He missed Auden when Auden spent a year away at Ann Arbor.
Things fell apart after Pearl Harbor, and the house was demolished in 1945 to make way for a thoroughfare. But for one brief shining moment 7 Miggdah Street was something of a literary lighthouse.
I can’t look at that long, cumbersome subtitle without thinking about the opening of “Seventy Six Trombones” in The Music Man where Robert Preston declaims, “And you’ll feel something akin to the electric thrill I once enjoyed when Gilmore, Liberatti, Pat Conway, The Great Creatore, W.C. Handy and John Phillip Sousa all came to town on the very same historic day.” But there is, in fact, something akin to the thrill of that fictional event in the quite real house on Miggdah Street and its residents, as this book so clearly describes. Anaïs Nin referred to the place as February House because several of the residents had birthdays in February, hence giving Tippins her title.
If you find this literary crowd interesting I suspect that you will discover February House hard to put down.