ELLIOT H. PAUL (1891-1991)

by Arnold Goldman

The centennial memorial to Elliot Paul took place in the Ryder Gallery of the
Malden Public Library, Malden, Massachusetts, on 10 February 1991.
David Brickman introduced the programme; Arnold Goldman wrote and read the narrative;
John O'Brien and Neicei Degen read the excepts from Paul's works; Judy Green was the pianist.



Elliot Paul's family was Maine on his father's side - Kittery and Eliot - and French-Canadian on his mother's. These maternal Doucettes, later Dowsetts, were among the Acadians deported from Canada by the British in 1756. More recently there was a long lineage in Rockport on both sides, and Mrs Paul was on her mother's side one of Rockport's formidable Tarr family.

Before Elliot, there were two children, at intervals, both boys. The younger, Everett, died at seven, of diphtheria. And Mr Paul just wasn't making a go of business. To change their luck, to start again, the Pauls moved from Rockport to 63 Beach St, Malden - Linden - about 1890. In the very next year, another son was born, Elliot Harold, a replacement for the lost child. He gained a brother, Edwin Leslie, in 1892.

But a new life for the family was not to be. Mr Paul soon fell ill, became violent, was taken away to the dreaded asylum in Danvers, and died within a few months. It was 1895; Elliot was four. Mrs Lucy Paul - "Lutie" - "nervous" even to her friends, now had two small children on her hands to worry over. Not easy times.

Elliot and Leslie weren't wholly isolated, however, and were part of two communities, Linden and Rockport. Each summer they went to a seaside cottage on Eden Road above Loblolly Cove in Rockport. For Elliot, Rockport was the "ancestors," Linden the parent, which like a parent was loved and disparaged, everything and nothing to him. (Malden, at whatever period, was too big for Paul's emotional attention.)

First, memory, from Paul's Linden on the Saugus Branch:



Linden, in Massachusetts, at the turn of the twentieth century, was as obscure a little community as there was in the broad United States. It was neither backwoods, seashore, country, city or town, but only a detached precinct of the outermost ward of the suburban city of Malden, eight or nine miles distant from Boston, as the crow flies....
   To the North were miles and miles of virgin woods... extensive and mysterious enough so that there seemed to be no end to them. And in shocking contrast, to the east, lay the Lynn marshlands, all the way from Linden to the sea, flat, bleak, and containing beneath their drab camouflage all the wonders of the tidelands and the littoral. Southward lay more vacant miles... one of the largest and least beautiful burying grounds in all the world. The view between Linden and the sunset, to the west, had in the foreground a winding creek bottom and a swamp, with the flat roof of rambling carbarns against the maples... and the jagged evergreens on the horizon. (Linden, 3)



[The town was] neither prepossessing nor altogether unsightly. The station agent, who studies law evenings, won a five dollar prize in nineteen seven for planting flowerbeds beside the ticket office and marking the name of the station on the ground with smooth, white-washed stones. There is a flag pole in the Square and on holidays, the town shoemaker, an Italian immigrant, raises the Stars and Stripes in the morning and lowers the colours at sundown. Each November, there are about four hundred votes cast in the polling place at the rear of the fire station, and at least three-fourths of them are straight Republican....
   To the north are the Lynn woods, thick, quiet and lovely, in the years the caterpillars spare the foliage. [Beach Street], straight through the centre of the town, is beautified by a double file of Linden trees, which shade the gravel sidewalks with blue-black shadows on the grass plots and cream-brown shadows on the dust. Some of the residences in this section are freshly shingled and painted. There are granite curbstones and uneven brick side-walks.
   Lawrence Street, parallel to [Beach], has graceful elms in which orioles build swinging nests. There are fields of daisies and buttercups. Damp spaces where the creek overflows are covered with white violets, cat-tails and fleur-de-lis.
   When the wind blows from the sea, the tang of salt air invigorates the townsfolk. When it blows from the south, the good people complain of Squire's Piggery, but nothing is ever done about it. (Impromptu, 3-4)


The second selection was from Paul's novel, Impromptu, published in 1923, when he still lived in Boston. Impromptu is harder on the town than the later memoir, perhaps truer to his earlier feelings as a youngster both involved and detached, and needing a vivid social involvement to compensate for a diminished and apprehensive home environment.

Here is Linden again, on the Fourth of July 1905, from the same novel:


Fourth of July in [Linden] meant disappointment and sticky underwear if the day was muggy and a sunstroke or two if the day was hot. The inevitable thunderstorm broke up the ball game in the afternoon, or the municipal display of rockets and Roman candles in the evening. In times when the patriotic urge ran high, there was a parade. Premature explosions of cannon crackers each year maimed a half dozen or so fingers and put out an eye, now and then. It never chanced to be the eye of the politician who spoke at the evening exercises.
   In nineteen five, elaborate plans were made by the Improvement Association. A pyre of logs, discarded by the Saugus Branch, was burned on the marsh east of town, at midnight of the "night before." Moderate drinkers seldom get drunk more than twice each year, once to commemorate the birth of Christ, and again to celebrate their nation's independence. There was more of a scent of alcohol around the bonfire than was usual in "No License" [Linden]. Red fire glowed, the Congregational bell rend and shivered the dark air and the blaze extended awful fingers toward the sky, dying in every shade of orange.
   The conversation was about the same as usual. Business, sickness, politics, recent deaths and weather prospects. Mothers were nervous, and afraid their boys would be hurt....
   The parade confined itself to the more pretentious streets, in order to save the bandsmen from swallowing their instruments as they walked into holes or tripped over bumps. Did you ever thy to play a clarinet on a rough street?
   Jack Standwood followed the band, driving the fire engine, tiny flags tickling the ears of the proud, white horses. A float, on which sat a dozen cheering adolescents, consisting of a platform on one of W.W. Hale's erstwhile coal wagons. The Republican Town Committee in an open carryall. (They were not so open when they met to determine whom the people should elect.) (Impromptu, 34-6)



That passage echoes an early memory, perhaps Elliot's first, when his father took him to hear his first brass band, on Powderhorn Hill: "The sound of those instruments [he later wrote] and the glint of the setting sun on the bass horns and the buttons of the uniforms excited me to such a point that I ran a high fever that night, and could not sleep" (Linden, 373). This is a key memory, uniting in an image his father and excitement, uncontrollable, fevered. He came to identify public, especially outdoor events with energy, enthusiasm and joy; private life, indoors, with "nerves" and repression - with the solitary mother who stayed at home and worried that he was his father's son, with his father's future. For Elliot the party, the festival, the parade, the celebratory (or dissenting) public event became a crucial symbol of human warmth and unpredictability.

As he wrote later of a different neighborhood which he had adopted, the rue de la Huchette in Paris, France: "In times of excitement and general good feeling in our little street, human fellowship and tolerance blossomed and penetrated dim corners with a wholesome fragrance. A drink with a friend became a symbol reaching back into time and forward into the future.... Enmities, if not forgotten, were temporarily laid aside. One of the most important elements in national or community life is public entertainment, not the formal kind that is presented, like canned food, for sale at a price, but piquant incidents the people make their own and in which they have the illusion, at least, of being participants" (A Narrow Street [The Last Time I Saw Paris], Penguin ed., p. 66).


There was no money for Elliot to go to college in 1907. A desk job, regular hours, seemed threatening. Life with mother was becoming increasingly difficult.

Elliot didn't even stay in town long enough to collect his Malden High School diploma. His older brother Charles had gone west, as an engineer with the U.S. Reclamation Service. At sixteen, Elliot joined him in the Lower Yellowstone, in Montana, taking what jobs they gave him. Later, he felt it changed not so much his outlook on life as his sense of what place he could have in it:


After a spring and summer on the Yellowstone I no longer speculated about what I should do, or worried about the money to do it with. I had not made any conscious decisions, but I knew that I should never live in a town like Linden, or be cooped up anywhere at all, for long. [MUSIC under.] ...I knew that I should not stay forever in Montana. The sensible way of life seemed to me to be a wandering existence, with frequent changes of scene. I had no impulse to take root anywhere.... What had depressed me about the "jobs" or "occupations" the Linden folks had was their permanence. In Montana, I felt that I could know almost anything the others did. In a pinch I could work in a store or bank, or in the harvest fields, or a construction camp. After six or eight weeks, if I got restless, I could change my job, or blow.
   ... From my point of view, what was important had to do with independence. I felt as if, in any populated place, I could earn enough to eat, drink, sleep, amuse myself and get acquainted with the people. (Ghost Town, 204-5)


That was from Elliot's second volume of memoirs, A Ghost Town on the Yellowstone, 1948. All life was there, God's plenty of people in their "tackle and trim," and he among them. This Yankee had a instinctive zest for what we would call a "multicultural, multiracial society." It extended to all conditions of mankind, the common humanity of whom he would enumerate in appreciative catalogues, as in Walt Whitman's poetry. All were Americans, and later, all were citizens of the world.

A year at the University of Maine returned Elliot temporarily to a boy's life. Then, through his engineering connections he found a job in Louisville, Kentucky, working for the Sewer Commission. He was now eighteen. His formal education was over; the informal one resumed with gusto.

In Linden, Elliot had taken piano lessons from Miss Mary Clapp and played in recitals and at supper events in the old Congregational Church. Out west less presentable selections had been called for and his piano playing gave him a relatively safe perch in Madam "Jack" Little's house of ill fame. Now in Louisville he found the music which colored his life thereafter, jazz:


What I was not prepared for, in any way, before I encountered it in Louisville was the type of narcotic called jazz. Young men nowadays [in 1949] have heard it from the cradle, although usually in strained and bastard form.... Whatever else I remember about Louisville, my most poignant recollections have to do with hearing the beginnings and development of jazz.... [MUSIC under.]
   ...Nearly everything else could be taken away from [black people], or aroused the white man's jealousy. In those years, jazz was their own, and had little or no monetary value. There were no white critics writing about it, no violent supporters of one school or another, no white composers to scramble it with the classics or dilute it with their own amorphous product. The jazz men who were playing... worked themselves into trances and frenzies outdoing the others and themselves. (My Old Kentucky Home, 215)



Though Elliot had abandoned his college course, it was for a kind of desk job, and though "the Gateway to the South" held an exotic interest for a New Englander, the West held more. He went out west again to another dam-building project. With increasing maturity he began to see the implications of something that was changing the face of America - more than its face, its nervous system, its circulatory system, its musculature:


Suddenly I realized that engineering was not merely a pleasant pretext for getting from place to place and earning board money, but had ramifications in the field of progress, science, humanity and art. [MUSIC under.] The Jackson Lake project was a challenge to all of us, a kind of very big game that mattered. Would it be possible to build a wagon road sixty miles long, over rough mountain country; buy hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of machines, vehicles and goods; put up a telephone line from Ashton, Idaho, to Moran, Wyoming, in the heart of the Tetons; transport men and horses and materials to the dam site before the snow blocked all ingress and egress; and build a concrete structure with steel gates that must fit exactly the places we laid out for them, under conditions of snow, isolation and cold that might reach 50 degrees below zero? (Desperate Scenery, 50-51)


Now, in 1910, Elliot was in Wyoming and Idaho, working on reclamation projects. But there is some "lost" time when he apparently bummed around, taking any job, playing barroom piano. By 1914, at 23, he was back home in Linden, and soon living and working in Boston, under Bulfinch's gold dome at the State House, a reporter on legislative events. And when the country went to war in 1917, he joined the locally-recruited 317th Field Signal Battalion, which took him abroad for the first time. He described his first contact with Europe, his troop ship coming in to land in France at the harbor of Brest:


[MUSIC under.] the ominous night movements of the great machinery, sombre shadows of captive balloons over the harbour, variegated shapes of anchored transports, trails of blue lights and red lights, brown sleeping sails of fishing craft, and the square rim of the fortress in a horizontal streak across the sky. As windows in the city were painted in and blotted out, [Irwin Atwood] wondered what they meant, what was concealed behind them, what manner of people dwelt there. Mademoiselles? Light wines and beer? When would they have a chance to see the place....
   A narrow, cobbled street with queer dark houses, all the shutters tight like front parlours sheltering a corpse. French signs along the shops. A strange, sleeping city and he was sloshing through it in the middle of the night. They started up an endless hill, on and on, until their legs ached.
   [MUSIC under.] ...They could not be more wet. The mist gained confidence as the city was left behind, and drizzled into rain, beating their faces, soaking the sensitive area on the back of their heads which the military haircuts exposed. A cold wind was blowing. They steamed on the march and shivered during rests, mud tugging at their boots, buckles chafing their shoulders.
   No houses at all now. Only rain-soaked fields, and mud, deeper and heavier, on their soles. Pup tents cowered in the muck to the left. A halt, - the men in front staring at the yellow wall, overgrown with ivy. A Camp. Sentries scurried to and fro. Orders were flapped into the rain. Flashlights. Curt voices. Then the regiment marched into the old, stone camp, muddier inside than out, dodging the flying ends of duckboards. Before a low stone building "C" Company lined up, shivering in a wet night. (Impromptu, 104-06)


Before long, Paul's regiment went into battle. In his war fiction, he recorded the power of a barrage:


the entire universe burst into sound, stripped its gears, rocking schools of stars like millions of storm-tossed boat lanterns. Great sheets of sound leaped like flames, roaring, flaring, reverberating. All the thunder in a sky of angry clouds snarled over the earth, and, flinging back the challenge, the earth bristled with an answering roar. Lions bellowed into the open throats of lions. Zigzag whiplashes of blue-white skipped and danced about the horizon. Blood red lyddite paled the rest. Every thicket pounded, boomed and crackled. Cannon barked from every tree. The air overhead was a swirl of whines, shrieks, hisses and wails. The shattered air cut the eardrums like falling glass. Shrill, speeding parabolas leaped with seven league boots. The jar of the earth prodded the knee caps. Clashes of sharp coloured lights showered sparks inside the eye-lids.
   The barrage had burst. (Impromptu, 181)


Paul went in to the army as a private and came out a sergeant, took part in three campaigns, and after the Armistice left his regiment early to return home to marry a Linden girl, Rosa Gertrude Brown, of Oliver St, in St Luke's Episcopal Church. It was one of his last conventional actions, and though he resumed State House work, he was becoming restless. Though married, he seemed only now to be sowing his wild oats.

In 1921 Paul produced the manuscript of a first novel, walked across Boston Common and handed it in at Houghton Mifflin on Park St. They published it, and on publication day he seems to have hired a taxi and told it to head north. (It may have taken him and some friends to Montreal.) The novel, Indelible, contrasted a reserved and restricted Linden life with a more vibrant, immigrant life of Boston's Jewish and Italian West and North Ends. The Linden Protestant boy married a Jewish girl. A second novel followed two local boys to war and, unpatriotically to some, exposed their intellectual, emotional and moral unreadiness. A year later, a third novel retraced the events of his own life and sought an unlikely "imperturbability" in the face of the world's stresses and strains. For all the contemporary toughness of his writing, he could show a keen appreciation of the appeal of the city of Boston:



the towers of the nearby cities talk to one another in solemn bronze tones every hour. Cambridge, Quincy, Brookline, Somerville, Chelsea, - the spires of each sending out their drowsy sound waves above the Charles, over the Mystic, the Neponset, the harbour. Searchlights and funnels of large boats, lanterns on masts of little boats, nodding with the waves, all in the sweet salt smell of the Atlantic. Cabs wheeling, autos purring, tramps, scrubwomen, brokers, immigrants, Catholics, Yankees, Jews, pouring through the thoroughfares at noon, scurrying along the narrow streets at night. He liked to cross the bridge from the Esplanade and watch the city shadows in the late afternoon weaving patterns in black and gold on the hill and back of Beacon Street, - to see the shadow city pass slowly over the city of brick and stone on its way to the sunset. Chequer-boards, tiles, lacquers, - angles, planes, pyramids and cones and, over all, the gleam of the sun on the State House dome. What a gift to the passing years had the man bequeathed who saw, long ago, that radiance over Beacon Hill when there was to other eyes no dome at all. In the bright sun, it reflected a brilliant gold orange, slashed by the black shadow of the flag in front. And at night it was half moon, half sun, making the sky a deeper indigo around it.
   [MUSIC under] ....The West end had its crowd of Jewish mothers, patriarchs in black skull caps before their little shops, children swarming the sidewalks in sun or rain. The North end stabled the hurdy-gurdies at night, with clarinets, push-carts, bandannas and snatches of Neapolitan songs. Tyler street, smelling of tea and incense, where the Chinese fiddle squealed at midnight and Orientals stood impassive by the hour or shuffled mysteriously along the sidewalks. Back Bay with heels clicking on the pavements, plain-clothes men, clang of patrol wagons, furtive apartment-dwellers. Hudson Street with Armenians and Turks and Greeks, hookahs, fezes, turbans, riot calls. The market at Faneuil Hall with its fragrant heaps of fruit and vegetables fresh every morning, shabby and deserted each evening. The wharf and the waterfront, where the liners and freighters rode in and out with the tides, carrying coal, bananas, leather, lumber, canned goods, cattle. (Impromptu, 276-78)



This was perhaps the moment when Elliot Paul might have settled down to become a respected New England author, eventually a pillar of the Boston literary community. But there was a wanderlust, such as had taken him in 1909, and while he celebrated community and communities, neighborhood and neighborhoods, there was something which impelled him to leave them behind. In 1925, like so many writers in the 1920s - but older than most - Paul was off, for Paris, but alone.

To be a writer only, without a regular salary, wasn't Paul's way. Perhaps it was just that he had no royalties or remittances to support him, perhaps it was the memory of his straightened Linden background. He took a job on the English-language daily Tribune, offshoot of the Chicago Tribune, where his colleagues included James Thurber, William L. Shirer and a poet named Eugene Jolas. Jolas invited him to leave the Trib and co-edit - for a salary - a monthly literary review, which they named transition. Between them the editors gained the regular contributions of the two lions of expatriate experimental literature, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. The young Ernest Hemingway said that if you mentioned Joyce twice to Stein, you were dead: Paul was the exception to the rule.

Paul's Paris wasn't, however, just the Café du Dôme and other expatriate haunts in Montparnasse. He had found another, more authentic Left Bank on the rue de la Huchette, that of the common people of Paris, and it gave him a new "home town." He was in love with Paris:

VIIIa: Springtime in Paris

[excerpt omitted]


VIIIb: Les Halles

[excerpt omitted]


Newspaper and transition magazine work was both demanding and harum-scarum with adventure, and stories abound of Paul as a prankster, some probably true. Did he really lose everything but his shorts in a strip-poker game, and to get home put on a runner's red sash? And did the Paris police really stop traffic to let him run by? He had fallen in love with Camille Haynes, a young (and beautiful) American journalist in Paris. They were married in 1928 and Paul took a job on the more staid Paris Herald newspaper, at the same time returning to novel-writing. In the next three years he produced two long and two short novels. One of these, Low Run Tide, is set in coastal Maine, and has the clarity and economy of a story by Chekhov; another, titled The Governor of Massachusetts, was written in Castine, Maine, in 1930, during Paul's first return to the United States since 1925. It has a character based on Governor Alvin Fuller. Satirical, and said to pay off old scores, it is a wry if not affectionate revisiting of old haunts. Paul looked like becoming a full-time writer, but it was more a sabbatical. After a trip across America to California, Camille's home state, the couple returned to Paris, despite the Depression which brought so many Americans home from Europe, and Paul rejoined the Herald. Then he disappeared from sight.

What even most of his friends never knew was that he had had a severe depressive nervous breakdown, one of those writers' "crack-ups" that Scott Fitzgerald would famously chronicle. Looked after by Camille, but now without income, Paul went late in 1931 to the village of Santa Eulalia on the island of Ibiza off the coast of Spain, where he attempted to recuperate. It was a slow business, and while he could disguise his inner condition from the few other foreign residents and from the locals, he could not bring any of his writing in progress to a successful completion. He was sometimes near to despair while outwardly carefree (if clearly poor), playing piano and his accordion in Cosmi's Hotel and Antonia's fisherman's bar, to entertain but to earn his drink money. The Ibicencos grew to love him, and he them. (Until I met them, I had only his word for this.) And as we know from the book he wrote when he left the island, he had kept his appreciation of the ordinary work of the world which ordinary people do and of the world's bounty:

IXa: Fishing in Ibiza

[excerpt omitted]



During the long years of marking time, Paul and Camille were divorced, apparently amicably [untrue: 2001] and Paul married again - Flora Thompson, whom he had met on the island. She was from a wealthy Southern American family, and his means changed radically. The couple left, but returned to Santa Eulalia, just as it was drawn into a conflict not of its making.

On 18 July 1936, the Spanish Nationalists rebelled against the country's Republican government. There were few chances to leave and Paul had fellow-feeling for his Ibizan friends, mostly republicans loyal to the legitimate Government. First, the Ibiza military governor assumed command of the island in the name of the rebels. Then Government forces arrived by sea to retake the island. The villagers were told to leave Santa Eulalia for their safety, and the Paul family fled with them, including Flora's young son and the island's only boxer dog Moritz. Paul left octopus cooking on the stove. Ominous news came of the death of a priest in the next village, and the voices which had been saying, "we shall not begin killing one another" now changed: "Now," they said, "Now it never will be over." Country people took the fleeing villagers in:


[MUSIC under.] The entire family and all the guests sat around the long table, and for us plates were set and glasses for the wine. Our hosts ate from the common dish and drank from the wine pitcher, catching the stream at a distance of four or five inches from the spout. We had boiled chickpeas seasoned with port, a potato omelette, dark home-made bread in huge slices, almonds and dried black figs for dessert. The women were unbelievably shy until we got started, then thawed and there was liquid laughter when we spoke Ibicenco (not one of them spoke Spanish). We assured them that bombs were nada (blessed word) and that everything would be "regulated" without delay. They believed, not our words, but the plaster walls and the ceiling beams from which hung peppers and sobresada, the sound of their mules in the stable, the night stillness of their nest of hills....
   Girl's laughter and exclamation. "Moritz! Supper for Moritz!" And hearing his name, the dog squealed hopefully. Young Maria put chickpeas on a plate. Titter of young aunts. A plate for a dog. Strange ways of [foreigners]. But not to be outdone, young Xumeu's wife rose daintily and offered also a spoon. I explained that Moritz did not use a spoon. More laughter, but she would not have been impolitely surprised if he had used a knife and fork. (The Life and Death of a Spanish Town, 310-11)


The Government forces, first landing on terrain that looks like the Cape Ann peninsula, recaptured Ibiza, and the Santa Eulalians put the Nationalist rebels - traitors really - into the local prison. They didn't really know what to do with their prisoners, who were their neighbors. They didn't want to sentence them, much less execute them for treason against the state. When they held an outdoor celebration for the reassertion of civic legitimacy - Elliot Paul's dream of social participation - they couldn't really believe that the traitors shouldn't have a place in their community still.


[excerpt omitted]


Then the Government military forces were ordered to evacuate Ibiza to retake the nearby island of Majorca. Though the soldiers left the civil authorities in charge, "irregulars," armed anarquistas (anarchists) from Barcelona, soon replaced them, shouldering the police aside. But the invasion of Majorca bogged down, and the Government troops were ordered back to the Spanish mainland. When it became clear that the rebel Nationalists, using Italian planes for bombing, would retake Ibiza, the Barcelona anarchists murdered the local Nationalist prisoners in the fortress, machine-gunning them. Then they abandoned Ibiza and its Loyalist civilians to their fates, and to take the punishment for the murders. All was eerily quiet. Paul went to the fortress.


The inner harbor, smashed fishing boats and fish, belly up and stinking. At the corner, the wreck of the tobacco shop and the gasoline pump. Bloodstains on all the walls. On the broad paseo, one building still inhabited.... I walked alone through the old Roman gates to the walled city and through narrow slits of street and up stairways to the fortress. About a hundred bodies were still lying on the floor, and the first I recognized was that of Francisco Ribas, the boy I had promised [his father] to save. Ex-Capitain Nicolau's head, or rather the top of his head, had been blown off. Francisco Guasch and old Bonéd had fallen side by side....
Alone, I stood in that frightful hall, too numb to be saddened or horrified, faint from the unspeakable smell, alone in the ancient town the sight of which had always raised such thankful emotion in my heart, alone in blaming or not blaming or what or who, alone in yesterday's riddled hopes and illusions, unable to be sick, to vomit, to weep, to tear my hair, unable to... stay or go away or not do either. Later I snapped out of it, and numbly and dutifully, as being the only man alive for miles around who tapped nightmares on typewriters, I found the fascist boy survivor and the militia boy survivor, and separately and together I listened and asked and prodded my numb brain and obtained what facts I have written of events I did not actually see but only heard and smelled the morning following, as other mornings and events will be following following [sic] ever. (The Life and Death of a Spanish Town, 417-19)


When an opportunity presented itself to leave, Paul took his new family and went, smuggling on board ship with them as their cook the Ibizan Republican leader, his hotel-keeper friend Cosmi Mari. (I thought this was a fictitious touch until I met Cosmi's wife and son, who not knowing what Paul had written, confirmed it.)

The accounts of Ibiza come from the book Paul now wrote at speed, which he called The Life and Death of a Spanish Town. The war had galvanized in him a spirit and an energy that he had perhaps thought he had lost. The book is full of love and of anguish for a way of life and for friends he believed to have been destroyed. Just when a democratic and republican spirit, itself native - not an import from Moscow - had come into the light in previously monarchist and still Catholic Spain, it was being snuffed out. The young girl-women especially, he felt, would be thrust back into the Dark Ages of repression. At least he would publicise to the world the horrible wrong being perpetrated in his beloved Spain.

On the basis of his book about Santa Eulalia and the Spanish Civil War, Paul became an international celebrity, raising money for the Spanish Loyalist cause. And he resumed writing fiction, full of literary plans, publishing two more novels and then beginning a series of comic detective stories, set in Paris, and featuring the cosmopolitan sleuth Homer Evans. The Mysterious Mickey Finn, Hugger Mugger in the Louvre, and Mayhem in B-Flat followed in quick succession, celebrating the more chaotic side of his earlier life. It seemed partly as though he was making up for the fallow years, having the energy of two authors. He even used a pseudonym to disguise the fact that he published four books in 1940. But partly he drove himself to stave off depression from the failure of the Loyalist cause in Spain, and the success of Generalissimo Franco's Nationalists. And worse, as so many including Paul had predicted, the Spanish Civil War became a rehearsal for a greater fascist takeover. The Nazi threat loomed over Europe. Paul's other European hometown, Paris, found itself in the throes of a catastrophe.

Fleeing once again, from America Paul wrote another documentary book on the plan of his Spanish one. This time he considers first the life of Paris as he had known and loved it - not the colorful newspaper world and the world of expatriate authors, but the life of the common people on the rue de la Huchette and its immediate environs. He recalled how the writer Sherwood Anderson, famed for his fictions about American small towns, recognised the neighborhood's equivalent of American small town life: "he felt [Paul wrote] the genuineness of the atmosphere and its relation to communities in America he had known." And in The Last Time I Saw Paris, he described what the coming of war meant to the Quarter's inhabitants, here using the symbol he always found potent, the sensibility of a young woman, an actress, for him the very spirit of a besieged country:


[excerpt omitted]


The Last Time I Saw Paris consolidated Paul's fame, and he now shuttled between Hollywood, where he was scripting films, and New Milford, Connecticut, where he had purchased Pumpkin Hill Farm. But his third marriage also ended and he stayed more and more in California, and married again, the marriage to Barbara Mayock producing Paul's only child, a son.

Then Paul and his publisher, Random House, agreed on a series of memoirs which would begin with Paul's Linden childhood. We have already heard selections from Linden on the Saugus Branch (1947), A Ghost Town on the Yellowstone (1948), My Old Kentucky Home (1949) and Desperate Scenery (1954). They are wonderingly recreative of the detail of a lost America between 1900 and 1912, brought to life with a keen relish for human weakness, deception and honesty alike. In letters to a friend in 1949, he wrote perceptively of his writing, "my observations to be most effective have to be on minute details.... That makes for slow development...." His prose, he knew, worked by "microscopic or molecular action." "When I started writing the Spanish Town I was depressed constantly with the idea that no-one cared where bushes grew or what rocks were strewn around or whether some obscure guy got up at sunrise or later. I was very wrong. That's all the reader cares about. The intimate images, phrases, situations, etc. which are evoked."

Before the fourth of these memoirs appeared, Paul returned to Paris to write a sequel to The Last Time I Saw Paris. (The persistence of Franco in Spain meant, of course, that he couldn't return to Ibiza.) The trip abroad, in 1949, marked Paul's separation from his fourth wife and his companionship with Nancy McMahon Dolan, who became his fifth. The sequel, Springtime in Paris, is set on the Easter weekend when the street-lights were kept on all night for the first time since the inception of hostilities in 1939. He found that against his expectations many of his old friends had survived the war. Like them, Paris, "The plants and the people were persistently alive." Easter 1949 marked the end of a long, dark decade for France. Life moved into the streets once again, where Paul was always happiest with humanity.

He had, however, misjudged the tenor of the times, or perhaps simply failed to turn them back towards the gaiety and human kindness he recalled. Reviewers like Time magazine's complained that he treated the French Communist Party just like any other political party, comically, and not like the vicious and menacing enemy of the American way which it was. Paul's liberalism - which had room for all races and classes, and all kinds of idiosyncrasy - became increasingly intransigent as he came to believe that the forces of reaction were taking his country over.

Biography has a sadder trajectory than autobiography: there is only one end, always the same, and we are approaching it. After Paul's return from Paris to New York, he suffered a series of heart attacks, and was brought to Cranston, Rhode Island, where friends and his brother Leslie lived. He convalesced there for many months, under watchful eyes, making many good new friends. Gradually he gained strength. The editor of the Malden Press and Medford Mercury, David Brickman, helped Paul to keep hold of his journalistic skills by offering him a column in the paper, which Paul contributed regularly for a year. It is notable for a proud liberalism which we could scour other Boston area papers for in vain in the era of Joe McCarthy and the Korean War.

Nancy joined him in Cranston and they were married in 1951, living for a time in Boston and then in California. He revived his detective series from time to time, also producing other miscellaneous work, including a book on American music. He hoped but failed to write a book on cooking, to crown years devoted both to preparing and to eating the world's foods with zest. He labored longest and hardest on the successor volume to his memoir series, a book on his decade in Boston from 1914. It was to have recaptured the heights of his achievement, but his Boston typescripts never satisfied his New York publisher, were never published, and are lost. His marriage to Nancy also ended and one day in 1957 he reappeared on his Cranston friends' Josef and Ann Lorenzo's doorstep, having suffered a further heart attack. He never fully recovered, eventually went to the Veterans' Hospital in Providence, and typing away to the end, converted to the Greek Orthodox Church - a characteristically flamboyant gesture - and died there in April 1958. He is buried with his parents in Beech Grove Cemetery, Rockport.

Elliot Paul sought tumult and he longed for calm and peace, perhaps the more because of the toll which he knew uproar caused in him. When in May 1953, he played evening recitals of piano music in the Cafe Paesano in Los Angeles - and a bar-restaurant was the nearest thing to an outdoor festival for him - he included selections from folk musics, from rowdy jazz and from the classics. Shubert's "Litany," his notes say, is "for a solemn moment, which begins, 'peace to all the souls departed' and [it] is the simplest expression of tribute to the memory of departed friends." It can be our tribute, to him.



After the performance, the poet John Gilgun, a native of Malden, spoke of growing up in the City and of his discovery - as it had been Elliot Paul's - of the world of literature in the Malden Public Library.

see a chronology of Elliot Paul's life and works

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