A delightful NYTimes piece from the weekend.
It’s fitting that the house at 7 Middagh Street first appeared to George Davis in a dream.
It was the kind of dream people have in times of stress, full of light-filled rooms and a feeling of transcendence. This was the summer of 1940, when Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and, most incredibly, France had fallen to the Nazis. German troops were patrolling the ghettos of Krakow. Britain would be next.
Davis, an editor whose friends ranged from Bowery burlesque performers to Virginia Woolf, didn’t consider himself political. But he had spent a glorious youth in Paris, mentored by Cocteau, Colette, Man Ray and Janet Flanner, the New Yorker columnist, and he drew on their work in his new job as literary editor of Harper’s Bazaar.
Now it seemed that the time for words was ending. In Europe, the war had effectively killed free speech. In America, a wave of patriotic zeal was having its own depressing effect. The fight to publish good work grew increasingly difficult, and as a result Davis frequently opted not to show up at the office. Instead, he spent time with his new best friend, 23-year-old Carson McCullers, whose debut novel, “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” had just been published.
Often, to McCullers’s delight, Davis took her along on visits to his émigré friends: W. H. Auden, who had recently composed his celebrated poem, “September 1, 1939”; Auden’s close friend, the British composer Benjamin Britten; the singer Lotte Lenya and her husband, Kurt Weill; and Erika and Klaus Mann, the two eldest of Thomas Mann’s grown children, who were organizing the rescue of dissident artists from unoccupied southern France. . . .