That Sophistication by Sherwood Anderson
Longman was a man I met in Paris some six or eight years ago.
With his wife he had an apartment in the Boulevard Raspail. You
climbed up to it with difficulty. There was no elevator.
I am not just sure where I first met him. It might have been
in the studio of Madam T. Madam T. was an American woman. She
came from Indianapolis. Or was it Dayton?
Anyway, she was said to have been the mistress of the Spanish
poet, Sarasen. A dozen people had told me about that. It was when
Sarasen was an old man.
But who was Sarasen? I had never heard of him before. I told
Mabel Cathers about that. Mabel is from Chicago. She was
indignant. "How should you?" she asked. "You do not know
It was quite true. I didn't.
I suspected that Madam T. had a goiter. She wore a yellow
ribbon about her neck. I was frivolous all that Summer. Being
with Mabel made me so. When I was in Madam T.'s studio, I was
always thinking of a song we used to sing in our Ohio town when I
was a boy:
"Around her neck, she wore a yellow ribbon,
She wore it all the night and she wore it all the
When they asked her why in the hell she wore it,
She wore it for her lover who was far, far away."
It is all right even to have a goiter if you have as much
money as Madam T. She wore exquisite gowns.
Someone said that when Sarasen was an old man she took tender
and loving care of him. The old giant of literature in his
dotage. I wished I could get me one like that. I told Mabel so.
We were living at the same little hotel. I presume Mabel's
husband was at home, in Chicago. "But you are no giant and never
will be," she said smiling. She smiled so nicely I didn't mind
what she said.
There was another song also in my head a lot, just at that
time. It went like this:
"There's where she stays all day.
I wonder where she stays all night."
That was all I knew of the song.
No chance of keeping track of Mabel. She ran all around Paris,
day and night. And she had no French. She was getting culture,
sophistication. That was her purpose. She told me so herself. I
But be that as it may, we will say that I did meet Harry
Longman in the studio of Madam T. The house was on the Left Bank.
I have forgotten the name of the street. French names never would
stick in my head. There was a court, such as you see in old
houses in New Orleans. In New Orleans they call them "patios."
The studio occupied all the ground floor. Ralph Cook took me
there the first time. But you do not know Ralph. Well, never
Madam T. had bought any number of pictures by European
painters, the kind that cost a lot of money. Cezannes, Von Goghs,
etc. She had a lot of Monets, I remember.
Cook also had some Monets. He was the son of an American rich
Cook had been at Oxford, as a student, taking his degree there
I think. He brought a young Englishman back with him.
The Englishman was of the healthy rosy-cheeked sort. He
laughed all the time. Life was one grand show for him. He was the
son of an English lord and had a title of his own but kept it out
of sight. "For God's sake don't tell anybody that," he said to
me, when I found it out.
He delighted in Americans. He, Cook, Mabel, and I went to
Madam T.'s together. In the large room downstairs, with the
pictures on the wall, many people were gathered. They were, for
the most part, mannish women and womanly men. It was to be an
afternoon of poetry.
Through an open window we could see into a little court
outside. In a corner there was a small structure built of stone.
A stone dove perched on it. Someone told us it was a temple of
The Englishman liked that. The idea delighted him. He said he
would like to get Cook and Mabel to go with him and worship out
there. "Come on," he whispered. "Let's go and fall on our knees
together. Everyone will see us. We will declare love has just
come to us."
Mabel said it wasn't a subject to be dealt with lightly like
that. She did not like the Englishman and told me so afterwards.
"He's too frivolous about sacred things," she said. I suspected
Mabel would have liked being a Madam T. herself. She hadn't the
"Love of what?" growled Cook. He was a big, broad-shouldered
young man from somewhere in Texas. At Oxford he had made a
The young Englishman was a scholar, too. He seemed to me too
light-minded for that, but Cook told me he was all right. "His
mind sometimes lights up the whole lecture room over there at
Oxford," Cook said.
On the afternoon when we went to Madam T.'s there was some
sort of ceremony going on. A woman got up and read a poem. There
was a great deal said about the dove and I did not exactly
understand the symbolism. "What do doves do?" I asked Mabel, but
she did not know. I think she was ashamed, not being better
informed. There was, Cook told me afterwards, a good deal of that
sort of talk going on among the English upper classes. "Well,
it's sophistication, isn't it? That's what you're after, isn't
it?" I asked Mabel. She treated my inquiry with scorn.
The young Englishman, Cook had got in with, had told him a
good deal about it. He said that at Oxford, after he and Cook got
acquainted, they used to walk about and speak of it.
The young Englishman had told Cook he thought such ideas came
from living too long at one place--the English living too long in
England, the French in France, the Germans in Germany. "The
Russians and the Americans are still primitive peoples," he said.
That made Mabel sore. It seemed, to Mabel and me, a kind of slur
on our native land, the way Cook explained it.
Europeans are too tired, the Englishman had told Cook. He had
a notion people are like this--well, they have apparently to
believe that if they move to a new place life will go better with
them. A horde of people had come out of Europe to America feeling
that way. Americans were still always moving about. It was
certainly true of people like Mabel and myself.
The Russians too were great wanderers. They believed in the
possibility of the salvation of their race through new forms of
government--"all that sort of rot," the Englishman had said when
he talked to Cook. You understand that Mabel and I got all this
from Cook, who had certainly learned a lot since he left
The young Englishman thought the Americans an altogether
primitive people. They could still believe in government. They
looked toward Heaven as another and more successful America, he
thought. They believed in such things as Prohibition, for
And it wasn't, as it sometimes seemed on the surface, merely a
matter of a passion for interfering in the lives of others. There
was a deep-seated and rather childish belief that all people
could be saved.
But what did they mean by "being saved"?
"They meant just what they said when they used the words. They
thought vaguely that a good and powerful leader would be found to
lead them out of the wilderness of this life."
"Something as Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt,
"But he is not speaking about Jews," Mabel said. Afterwards
she spoke several times about what an intellectual afternoon it
was. She said she thought it was swell. Just the same there was a
lot of--shall I say Krafft-Ebing--talk that got over my head and
that I know Mabel didn't get. We had both missed something, not
having been enough among the world-weary, I guess.
But I have got a long way from Henry Longman. Now I will come
He came from Cleveland, Ohio. We saw him first, at least I
did, that afternoon at Madam T.'s. He was a strange figure there.
For one thing he had his wife with him. That, in that place, was
strange in itself.
It seemed Cook and the young Englishman had pounced on him. I
have already said that he lived in a studio apartment, on the
Boulevard Raspail, on the top floor.
It was a six-storied building, six flights of stairs to
Henry's wife was a big blonde and he was a big man with a fat,
red face. Cook had in some way got the low-down on him.
He came from Cleveland where he had got his wife. His father
was a candy manufacturer out there.
And his wife's father was also rich.
The two fathers had been hard-working young men and had got
on, in the American world. They both got rich.
Then their son and daughter had got the culture hunger. Their
fathers might have been half proud of them, half ashamed. The
woman, when she was in college, won a poetry prize. An American
magazine, of the better class, published the poem.
Then she married the young man, the son of her father's
friend. They went to live in Paris. They were conducting a
They had taken that top floor, in the old building without an
elevator, because it seemed to them artistic.
Their effort was to get the French to come to their place, and
they did come, of course. Why not? There was food and drink, an
abundance of both.
Longman and his wife spoke little French, about as much as
Mabel and I. They couldn't get the hang of it.
Longman wanted us to think him an Englishman of the upper
He hinted vaguely of an English family, of good blood, ruined,
I gathered. "How could that be--his having all of that money?"
the young Englishman asked Mabel. He, the young Englishman, had
taken a fancy to Mabel. "He thinks you primitive and
interesting," I kept telling her. I knew how to be nasty too.
Longman's father sent him a lot of money and his wife's father
sent her some money and--having all of that money--they fancied
the idea of seeming poor. "We are dreadfully in debt," Longman's
wife was always saying.
As she said it, we sat drinking the most expensive wines to be
had in France.
They had a crowd always about--feeding people as they did,
The wine was brought in. It was opened and a glass poured for
the blonde wife. She always made a wry face at the first taste.
"Henry," she said sharply to her husband, "I think the wine is
slightly corked." Mabel thought it was grand technique. It was a
word the blonde had got hold of. When she said it her husband ran
to her. We were in a large studio room, built for a painter.
There was a glass roof. In the corner there was a cheap sink,
such as you see in American small hotels. The husband, with a
look of horror on his face, ran and poured the wine down the
Expensive wine going off like that. I could see Mabel shiver.
"I'll bet Mabel is a good economical housewife at home," Cook
whispered to me.
Longman began to talk. He liked to give the impression that he
was in Paris on some important mission, say, for the British
government--for Downing Street, say. He didn't exactly say
And he referred to a book--one, you were to understand he was
writing or had written. I couldn't get that clear. He did not
say, "My Life of Napoleon" or "My Secrets of Downing Street."
Just how did he get it across? There was the distinct impression
left that he had written several important works. He was like an
author, too modest really to refer directly to his work.
We got all that, going on day after day, month after
The Americans from Cleveland pretending to themselves they
were important people, the guests pretending they were
They, the guests, pretending they had important reasons for
being in Paris. A little string of lies, each telling the other a
Why not? I went there on several occasions with Cook, Mabel
and the young Englishman. Every evening the same thing
Mabel, Cook and I got a little tired of the young Englishman
sometimes, and Mabel let him know it. It was a little hard on him
and Cook. Cook had to decide whether he wanted to stick to the
Englishman or to us. He stuck to us--on account of Mabel, of
He said it was a fair sight to see the way Mabel could cut
people out of our herd. We did make up a small herd, the crowd of
us at our cheap Left Bank hotel. Cook came to live there and we
got three or four more--males, you may be sure.
We all used to go to Longman's a lot. There was good food and
good wine and we all liked to hear Longman's wife say the wine
was corked. She always said it at the first taste of the first
bottle after we arrived. When someone else came in, she said it
again. Mabel said she was sorry we had Prohibition in America.
She would have liked, she said, to spring it on the folks at
home, but it would cost too much.
She said she had come to Europe, as we all had, to get
sophistication and that she thought she was getting it. Cook and
I and several others tried to give her some.
She said the trouble was that the more sophistication she got
the more she felt like Chicago. She said it was almost like being
in Chicago, the sophistication she picked up after four or five
other Americans, all of them men, began living with us at our
"I might have saved my husband all this money and got all this
sophistication I'm getting, or anyway all I needed, right in
Chicago," she declared several times during that Summer.