Co-written by a wife-husband duo, Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, this is a bit of a ragtag book piecing together various bits like the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre and her return a few years later, the origin of detective stories & true life forensic science, the first crimes that used a getaway car, the acquittal of women criminals due to the jury’s heartstrings, etc. Throughout, the atmosphere of Paris is painted, tales of Picasso and Apollinaire and Gertrude Stein, the development of Cubism, the birth of photography.
The beginning of the modern world arrived with the automobile, the airplane, life sped up. The German writer Max Nordau was afraid that soon everyone would have to “read a dozen square yards of newspaper daily… be constantly called to the telephone… think simultaneously of five continents of the earth, and life half their time in a railroad carriage or in a flying machine.” (Sidenote: this citation is from an odd source, Quinn’s Marie Curie: A Life, which outlines the heightened tensions as they approached the fin de siécle in France. I may check out Nordau’s Dégenération.)
One odd character I met was Alfred Jarry, introduced by Apollinaire to Picasso, known for personal eccentricities like sitting in cafes and muttering nonsense in a monotone, or firing a gun at the end of a cigarette when someone asked for a light. Jarry gave Picasso a pistol which was supposedly fired whenever someone asked him what the meaning of his painting was. Apollinaire and Picasso were some of the suspects in the Mona Lisa heist, due to their association with Pieret who would steal small sculptures from the Louvre and who had sold Picasso at least one.
Reading this book increased my desire to read French, to be able to read all the great writers in their original language. As it is, I should find good translations of Zola’s Paris, and Louis Blanc’s History of the French Revolution. I’ve always been a bit confused about all the revolutions and political upheaval of France, and this book whet my appetite for more. Also: Sartre’s The Words, Proust (just do it already), Fleming’s Art & Ideas, Molly Nesbit’s Rat’s Ass in October 56 (Spring 1991), and James Trager’s Woman’s Chronology.