The February House: Something To Aspire To

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I’ve recently been in awe of the short stories of Paul Bowles, the American ex-pat novelist, composer, and translator who lived in Morocco and wrote The Sheltering Sky and who was basically Beat before the Beats.

Besides maybe Flannery O’Connor and Poe, I can’t think of any other short stories that have so riveted me.

I’m also in the midst of a much-delayed reading of Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter which is heart-rending, exquisite and lush like few novels are and which she wrote, amazingly at 23.

I happened to mention my appreciation for these two authors to my coworker. And she got a very enthusiastic look on her face which led me to believe there was more I needed to know.

So she started to tell me about “The February House” which was an old house in Brooklyn in the 1940’s that served as a petri dish for artistic communal living. Both McCullers and Bowles lived in that house she said, along with some other artists and writers whose names escaped her.

She added that it was kind of like the prototype to our more contemporary “punk houses” — all of which have some distinctive names, like the Orange Creamsicle House.

I did some research and discovered that there is a book of cultural history called, appropriately enough, February House.

A few glowing reviews suggested some of the amazing, sordid and volatile scenes that must have gone down nightly in that house, rife with all the hard-boozing, creative jealousies and pan-sexual pandemonium you could want.

For one thing, you had McCullers who, besides being a tremendous writer, was also a sherry-sipping, bisexual free spirit from the south.

You had W.H. Auden who was something like the den mother and very much gay. But then, I guess, Paul Bowles’ wife, Jane, who was also bisexual had a crush on Auden which drove Paul up the wall.

But then the gay composer Benjamin Britten was living there too and he was fighting with Paul Bowles for practice space (Bowles started off as a composer).

And to top it off you had one of the most famous strippers in American history, Gypsy Rose Lee hanging out there attempting to write a mystery novel while Thomas Mann’s adult children were doing who knows what.

I’ve also heard Salvador Dali stopped by once in a while to encourage more nuanced forms of depravity.

Now I’ve tried my hand at communal living before and I have to say it didn’t work so hot, but after I get my hands on this book (which I intend to procure for Christmas) I might reconsider getting all my soon-to-be-legendary artistic friends as well my already famous friends together in one rickety warehouse and hosting beautiful disasters every night of the week.

And then one day somebody can write a book about that.


Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →