There are no photographs of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald chatting above the voice of a perfumed chanteusse, in the parlor of Natalie’s salon. No pictures of Greta Garbo strolling in Natalie’s garden after a soft Paris rain. It would be a Friday night. They all gathered at Natalie’s on Friday nights. And they have taken their secrets and anecdotes to their graves, leaving us to call up mental images of the madcap schemes and licentious escapades that likely occured for over six decades (1910-1970), in the rooms and by-rooms at 20, rue Jacob, the most famous of all the
literary salons in Paris. Somewhere between a chathedral and a bordello is how it has been described. If we know anything for certain, it’s that Natalie Clifford Barney was a piece of work.
…Consider her mother, Alice Pike Barney, married to a wealthy, conservative man, yet famous in her own right, as
a painter and fringe Bohemian – the wife with interesting hobbies, not the least of which was her smart little daughter, Natalie, a child who knew by age twelve that it was women, not men, who would accompany her through
life. Alice Pike Barney, feeling her own restraints in life, may have passed the torch of independence to her
daughter, when daddy wasn’t watching. Poor daddy. Upon discovering that his daughter was sexually involved
over in Paris, with a famous courtesan named Liane de Pougy, he ordered her to return home to America so
he could find her a husband. He died shortly after, his mission incomplete. Natalie scooped up her inheritance, returned to Paris and bought the house on rue Jacob. She was 33 years old.
……….The French writer, Colette, made Natalie the heroine of her “Claudine” novels (as the character Flossie).
Djuna Barnes (1892-1982), one of Natalie’s lovers, fashioned the character of Dame Evangeline Musset after Natalie, in the Ladies Almanack, a journal for the expatriate lesbians of Left Bank Paris in the 1920’s and the poet and novelist, Renee Vivienne (1877-1909), translated the work of Sappho into modern French, then traveled, with Natalie, to Lesbos in an attempt to revive a women’s artist colony on the island. The aforementioned Liane de Pougy, wrote “Idylle Sapphique”, the story of her affair with Natalie. But, among all the women Natalie loved in her lifetime,
only one stood the test of time – the painter and beauty, Romaine Brooks, another American girl who had moved
to Paris to live openly among her peers, the bohemians of the Lost Generation.