Publisher’s Note: We join The Ohio State University at Mansfield in celebrating Bromfield Anniversary Week by sharing stories from our archives centering on the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Today’s story was posted on July 14, 2018.
Today marks Bastille Day in France, commemorating the 229th anniversary of the storming of the famous prison in Paris. In honor of that event, and of France’s upcoming World Cup soccer final match on Sunday, we thought we would join north central Ohio and north central France for a special story today.
So are Mansfield and Paris similar in any way? At first glance, one may not find that to be the case. Nearly one hundred years ago, however, the two had something in common. Many Ohioans have visited that region of France, and some have had the opportunity to live there for some period of time. One such individual was noted writer Louis Bromfield, the proprietor of Malabar Farm who made a village near Paris his home for over a decade.
After serving in France during World War I and writing his acclaimed first novel, The Green Bay Tree, in 1925 Bromfield took his family to Europe on vacation. Thirteen years would pass before the Bromfields returned home.
During their years in Paris, Bromfield became acquainted with the amazing collection of American expatriate writers and artists, including Edith Wharton, Sinclair Lewis, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. His writing blossomed, with many books being written there including The Farm, which looks at one family’s relationship with a Western Reserve farm over multiple generations and once tempted President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara to become farmers themselves.
As noted above, the Bromfields did not live in the city itself, but rather – as you might guess – in a place where he could have his own small farm. The town was Senlis. The residence was a the Presbytere de St. Etienne. There, he grew vegetables and some 350 varieties of flowers; the Bromfields’ daughters Hope and Ellen were born there.
Ellen would later describe the Presbytere in this manner, “The walls of the Presbytere, sunk into crookedness, had been seemed together again in their misshapen state with heavy bonds of ivy and soft, pale green and black patches of moss. It was aged and kind and tolerant, with the happy tolerance of a house which is decrepit yet indestructible.” “The Heritage: A Daughter’s Memories of Louis Bromfield.” Author, Ellen Bromfield Geld. Publisher, Harper, 1962.
The life in Senlis was a rich one of society events and functions. Bromfield’s works were well known in France, and he fit in well with the Parisian literary scene.
The big city did beckon, however, and the family did have apartments in Paris itself. That included an apartment in the building show below, which featured both heat and bathrooms – something which rendered him subject to ridicule for being vulgar. It was directly across the street from the scenic Bois de Boulogne.
It was the prospect of war again which prompted Bromfield to return his family to America, which in turn prompted the purchase of what was to become Malabar Farm. His new home welcomed his French friends who became displaced in the conflict.
Sources: Wikipedia; sources named above – Photo: Creative Commons License