Women of the Left Bank by Shari Benstock

A review of the history of women writers, publishers and booksellers in Paris, 1900-1940.

Shari Benstock’s Women of the Left Bank is a history of women writers, publishers, booksellers, and others associated with literary modernism, who made their homes in Paris in the decades from 1900 to 1940. A large number of these women were lesbians who, like gay people throughout this century, sought the relative anonymity of a large, cosmopolitan city. But a number of the women discussed here were not lesbians and the central irony that emerges from Benstock’s lively book is that one did not have to be gay to seek out this type of urban protection. It was sufficiently transgressive merely to be a woman who wanted to write, publish books, or in some way lead a life that did not confine itself to the paradigm of women’s lives established in the nineteenth century.

But Paris, in particular, offered advantages and attractions…