Classical view n°1: The influential woman Natalie Clifford Barney

Natalie Clifford Barney was a woman of letters born in 1876, in Dayton, Ohio. She still an iconic figure among the American upper class who lived in France during the decay of Paris. She has been greatly influenced by the education she received in “Les Ruches”, a private boarding school for girls in Avon, next to Fontainebleau. This establishment was created by Marie Souvestre and Caroline Dussault in 1865 to infuse autonomy and reflections on independence among the daughters of European wealthy families. Fascinated by the poetry of Sappho and openly lesbian, Natalie Barney sought to make her Parisian literary salon a new Mytilene, a place devoted to women and supposed to be as prestigious as the French Academy.

For over sixty years, her house has contributed to the revival of a women’s literary society, through the many amorous conquests of its hostess, as the poet Renée Vivien, the courtesan Liane de Pougy, the muse and patron Elizabeth of Clermont-Tonnerre, the painter Romaine Brooks, and her friendship with intellectuals who counted on both sides of the Atlantic, such as Gertrude Stein, the novelist Colette and Dolly Wilde. Gay or not, these women were always in favor of the ancient Greeks wisdom in the arts and their personal lives. With her spirit, her manners, her charm, her taste for literature and her personal fortune, she became an epicenter of Paris during the Belle Epoque and gave a decisive attention to the feminist cause.

In the twilight of her life, Natalie accepted a brief interview with a journalist at her home in the Latin Quarter of Paris. The content of the document is anecdotal from my point of view and her discussion is quite superficial because it spans a multitude of subjects without internal logic or even interest in her work. She is gently questioned about her famous acquaintances and her influence on the Parisian literary scene. But as this film is one of the few sources that offer us images of Natalie Clifford Barney in her old age, it has great value.

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