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An Auspicious 1920s Vieux Carré Demimonde, a review of Dixie Bohemia

"Reading Dixie Bohemia" copyright 2018 Kristin Fouquet

Since early childhood, I’ve had an affinity for the 1920s. I loved traditional jazz, flapper fashion, bobbed hair, and the seemingly laissez-faire lifestyle. I read nonfiction of New York, Chicago, and Paris of the era. With the exception of Chapter 2 of the wonderful book, Madame Vieux Carré by Scott S. Ellis, I had not read much of this specific era in my native New Orleans. John Shelton Reed’s Dixie Bohemia provided that much-desired closer glimpse.

The book is focused on a circle of creative characters: writers, painters, architects, actors, photographers, illustrators, tour guides, preservationists, mostly of the French Quarter, along with their hangers-on and poseurs. The majority of these “Famous Creoles” (an inside joke) were not native to New Orleans and some not even the South. 

New Orleans is an obliging environment which has attracted her share of transplants wanting to reinvent themselves. Among this 20s demimonde was William Faulkner. He tried out several personas while living in the French Quarter. Along with many of his friends within the circle, he enjoyed the unique architecture, bohemian lifestyle, and the indulgences of a city with little enforcement of Prohibition. Although he only lived in New Orleans for less than sixteen months, he wrote two novels, beginning his successful literary career.

Sherwood Anderson came to New Orleans as an accomplished and distinguished writer. He is the oddity in that each in this group achieved their personal potential outside of New Orleans or after time spent here. It’s been hinted that perhaps the beauty and lifestyle was too much of a distraction to transcend, but there is no question of the inspiration it provided. There were achievements such as the literary journal, The Double Dealer, which was influential if short-lived. The Arts and Crafts Club is often credited with the legacy of “The French Quarter Renaissance.” Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carre continues to exist in the theater building constructed for it in 1922. Perhaps the greatest feat by this circle proved to be preservation. Grace King and Lyle Saxon (who wept at the sight of the French Opera House burning to the ground) rescued the architecture of the French Quarter from a modern movement determined to homogenize it to the rest of the country. 

For this reader, Dixie Bohemia offered a delightful insight to the past and enticed an anticipation of the creative culture of New Orleans in the upcoming 2020s.

Kristin Fouquet
July 26, 2018


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