A New Orleans Literary Moment researched and written by New Orleans Tour Guide Extraordinaire and Historian David Feldman, shared by The Savvy Native.
Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, Lyle Saxon and Flo Field
– A Two Minute Read –
Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles
Drawn by William Spratling; Arranged by William Faulkner; Edited by Thomas Bonner, Jr. and Judith H. Bonner; Published by Pelican Publishing Company, New Orleans 1926, 2018
The Dixie Bohemia
This charming little book, 96 pages, is an updated and wonderfully annotated edition of Spratling’s and Faulkner’s original published in the 1920’s. It was a time when artists, writers, photographers, academic and the literary and theatrically inclined flocked to the French Quarter. Rents were cheap in the deteriorated buildings and Prohibition caused barely a burp in the flow of alcohol and beer. Sherwood Anderson, already a famous author, moved into the Upper Pontalba Building. His home became the center of a flourishing creative arts scene that came to be known as the Dixie Bohemia era in New Orleans. If you couldn’t join the Lost Generation in Paris, you came to “Paris on the Mississippi”.
Spratling drew the charicatures of many of the denizens of the Quarter. Faulkner wrote the foreword and provided the captions. The satirical book was a bit of biting-the-hand-that-feeds you. Some of those depicted had been patrons of Spratling and Faulkner.
The Bonners’ brief and insightful profiles of the forty people depicted are most tantalizing. Reading between the lines one gets hints of the liaisons, intrigues and betrayals prompting further investigation:
…she was lively and imaginative, catching the attention of William Faulkner, whom she found shy and amusing. On one occasion she joined him and others for a swim before going to dinner. P.15
Flo Field, First French Quarter Tour Guide
The “she” referred to above is Flo Field. It is the fronticepiece entitled Locale [with Flo Field]. Spratling’s water color depicts Cabildo Alley. At the bottom center is a tiny figure wearing a hat standing before a small group and pointing upward. Spratling printed “our Flo” with an arrow. (Also notice the tiny figure in black, a priest urinating against the wall opposite the group.) Flo Field is said to be the first to offer walking tours in the Quarter. Her’s is a scene still enacted countless times everyday in the French Quarter.
“Oh, My God, Look At That Balcony”
Lyle Saxon, eminent chronicler of New Orleans, “affectionately joked about her as a guide, mimicking her, ′Oh, my God, look at that balcony′.” About her tour guiding Flo is quoted in the Times Picayune:
What we didn’t know about the history and the legends of the quarter we would makeup. We would start out with 50 people at 50 cents a head and end up with 300 more at nothing a head or no head. For often they would heckle and make fun. But it was all part of living. An, ah, such living.
Credit this book with prompting a search in the New Orleans newspaper archives. Flo Field was a beloved New Orleans journalist, author, playwright, civil rights advocate, preservationist, historian, lecturer, curator of the Pharmacy Museum and, most of all, story teller. And she did this and more in a mere 96 years.
A New Orleans Literary Moment
Each of Spratling’s charicatures is a little mystery. The Bonners’ profiles help you solve them. This book is a wonderful, brief introduction to the people, places and culture of the French Quarter and what Flo Field called la Vie Boheme, the Bohemian Life. If this whets your appetite for more, there is John Shelton Reed’s Dixie Bohemia: A French Quarter Circle in the 1920’s.
Photo of book by David Feldman
Photo of frontispiece courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company
©2019 David Feldman
Come take a walk with The Savvy Native next time you’re in town. David’s signature tours are Lee Harvey Oswald and the JFK Conspiracy, and Mafia, Murder, Sex and All That Jazz.
Meet Your Guide
John Goodman, the actor and New Orleans resident, is quoted as saying, “Someone has suggested that there is an incomplete part of our chromosomes that gets repaired or found when we hit New Orleans. Some of us just belong here.” I am one such person. After retiring from a varied career as a newspaper reporter, school teacher, shipwright, housewright, etc., My wife and I traveled throughout Europe and the US for three years. We fell in love with many cities: Budapest, Vienna, Paris, Savannah, Charleston…. But the more we learned about each city the more we came to realize it was the Budapest of the 1930’s, or Vienna of 1914, or Paris of the 1890’s that we had fallen in love with.
Only New Orleans, the New Orleans of then and now maintained it’s magnetic hold on us. When we left New Orleans the first time, New Orleans never left us. We came back to stay. I live and breath my adopted city. Every day I try to visit a new place and mine one more gold nugget.
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