Just a Very Pretty Girl from the Country: Sylvia Salinger's Letters from France 1912-1913 by Sylvia Salinger

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Sylvia Salinger
Southern Illinois University Press
Date of release


Just a Very Pretty Girl from the Country: Sylvia Salinger's Letters from France 1912-1913

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Book review

Sylvia Salinger was sent away from the boy next door, but it was a wonderful exile—a year in Paris, where she met everyone from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas to Matisse and Mainbocher, where she attended art exhibits, ballet premieres, and the openings of new theaters, also visiting shops, museums, cinemas, and the French countryside.


Serving as her diary, the letters in this book describe Sylvia’s experiences as she travels from Oakland, California, to Paris. They describe with sparkle, wit, and intelligence the adventures of a rich American girl among the artists and musicians of Paris at the end of the Belle Époque.


The 24-year-old Sylvia spent her year in Paris with a delightful chaperone, her maiden aunt Harriet Levy. At 46, Harriet was a seasoned world traveler and a good friend of Gertrude Stein and her family. Thus, both Gertrude’s famous salon and that of Gertrude’s brother Michael were open to Harriet and Sylvia, and therein lies much of the adventure. Half in awe, half amused, Sylvia describes Gertrude Stein as the “biggest, most awfully dressed person I have ever seen.” It was Stein in turn who said of Sylvia, “I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Sylvia is just a very pretty girl from the country.”


Sylvia Salinger was witness to one of the most remarkable eras in modern cultural history. She recorded it for her family even as she left a record for herself—and for us. She does not tell her story as an artist creating something of her own, nor as a sophisticate impressing an audience with the people she knows and the sights she has seen, but with the honesty and subtle humor of “a very pretty girl from the country.”

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