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J.A.A. Purves

Literary Clubs

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So I'm attempting to write a piece on historical literary clubs in the past. The idea of the essay is going to be supporting the proposition that writers and thinkers can often achieve their best work, not as loners, but by being spurred on by each other. Ophelia Field mentions this in her book, The Kit-Cat Club, when she writes "... a group biography is an apt form for a book about the Kit-Cats: they believed creative forces came from the 'commerce' or 'intercourse' between men's minds, as opposed to later beliefs in subconscious, individual sources of creativity. They believed that their Club was more, in other words, than the sum of its parts."

So I'm trying to take note of all the most famous clubs (or even looser associations) in literary or philosophical history. So far I have:

Name: The Fraternity of Sireniacal Gentlemen

Place for drinking & discussion: The Mermaid Tavern

Approximate Time: 1603-1640

Participants: Sir Walter Raleigh, William Shakespeare, Ben Johson, John Fletcher, Francis Beaumont, John Donne, William Strachey, etc.

Name: The Kit-Cat Club

Place for drinking & discussion: The Cat and Fiddle Tavern

Approximate Time: 1680s-1730s

Participants: Jacob Tonson, John Somers, William Congreve, John Vanbrugh, Charles Sackville - 6th Earl of Dorset, Matthew Prior, George Stepney, Charles Montagu, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Sir Robert Walpole, etc.

Name: "The Club"

Place for drinking & discussion: the Turk's Head Inn

Approximate Time: 1764-late 1800s

Participants: Dr. Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, Samuel Dyer, Thomas Percy, Charles Fox, George Fordyce, Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon, etc.

Name: "The Inklings"

Place for drinking & discussion: The Eagle and Child Pub

Approximate Time: 1930s-1940s

Participants: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Warren Lewis, Roger Lancelyn Green

Does anyone else know of any others? It doesn't have to be formally organized. Come to think of it, 1920s Paris probably has another one, for all intents and purposes, loosely including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, John Dos Passos, Ford Madox Ford, Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett and perhaps T.S. Eliot.

I read Humphrey Carpenter's Inklings years ago (and still have it). I'm currently reading Ophelia Field's The Kit-Cat Club. Any other information on something I'm missing or any other suggested books?

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The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie is about the writing community of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy. They called it "The School of the Holy Ghost."

The Chrysostom Society might be worth checking out. Others on the board know more about them than I do, though. In fact, Overstreet wrote the intro on their website.

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The Algonquin Round Table met informally for ten years throughout the 1920s. The most notable literary members were Dorothy Parker and Edna Ferber, but others included Tallulah Bankhead and Harpo Marx.

Its influence on literature is questionable, As Dorothy Parker remarked, "These were no giants. Think who was writing in those days—Lardner, Fitzgerald, Faulker and Hemingway.Those were the real giants. The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for a chance to spring them....There was no truth in anything they said. It was the terrible day of the wisecrack, so there didn't have to be any truth..."

Groucho Marx put it more succinctly: "The price of admission is a serpent's tongue and a half-concealed stiletto."

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