Copyright © the Estate of Ross F. Lockridge, Jr., 1947, 1948 , 1998, All rights reserved

Letter from Paris, April 30, 1934

Ross Lockridge, Jr. passport picture which he gave to Vernice Baker to have during his Junior Year at the Sorbonne, 1933-34.


Ross Lockridge, Jr.'s family received thirty-four letters from Paris, of which thirty-three survive. Related to the significance of the letter of April 30, 1934 (transcribed below), Larry Lockridge notes:

In 1947, at the request of the publicity people at Houghton Mifflin, my father immodestly described in third person the vision that fell upon him at this time. "One day in the spring of 1934, in a small bedroom-and-study of a third floor apartment on the Rue d'Ulm in Paris, a nineteen-year-old American boy sprang suddenly from his typewriter and began to pace excitedly back and forth. This was the idea-genesis of Raintree County.... It was on that day that Ross Lockridge, Jr. awakened to the fact that certain Nineteenth Century backgrounds in the life of his own family could be transmuted into the content of a novel, which, if it fully realized the possibilities of its content, might really merit the title of 'The Great American Novel.' "

If we accept "nineteen-year-old" as accurate, the only date for this event would be April 24, probably in the evening after he watched Madame Pernot pack her trunk. --[From Shade of the Raintree, pp. 132-3]

(Facsimiles: Click image to enlarge)

Paris Letter 4/30/34
Letter from Paris, April 30, 1934
Click to enlarge Facsimile  p. 1 (151k)



(Practice for setting ribbon)

Monday, April 30, 1934


Dear Folks:


I'm now installed at my new residence, 4bis Rue d'Ulm, Paris, France, Ve, just around the corner from the Pantheon, a little farther from the Sorbonne, a little nearer to the Glacière, and, all in all, very comfortably settled. I did my own moving in four trips on foot from my former residence to the new one, carrying each time all I could in the portmanteau and the handgrip, and concluding with the antique trunk. All this occurred a week ago, last Monday, April 23. From then on until, Wednesday, the day of my birthday, I spent a great deal of time helping Madame Pernot off to the South of France. She and the Old One kept us right up until there were no longer tables to eat on and beds to sleep in. Sunday, we took their pictures in the Luxembourg, Madame, La Reine, Felix, Jack and I mixing up in little groups as indicated by the enclosed photos. Observe how heavy I'm getting. At my last weighing, I tipped the scales at about 150 pounds stripped. It seems I've gained about twenty pounds. Before returning home, I may have lost it again by arduous bicycle trips, train rides, ocean voyages, and irregular nourishment, but I don't think so.


I was very sorry to say good-bye to Madame. She has certainly been charming to us from beginning to end. Mademoiselle Littlefield considered her establishment as the best in the group. I actually felt as though I were in a family there, for she treated us as though we were her own children and insisted always that we consider her as our French mother. Madame is the perfect example of a well-bred French woman. Her life is in the past. All her ancestors for generations back have been warriors, and fatality made her the wife of a warrior--her husband having been killed in the World War. Since then, she has lived sixteen years in the self-same apartment where I have spent seven months. The futility of that woman is extraordinary. Before being married, her entire life was spent in a convent for the "Demoiselles de St. Cyr." St. Cyr is one of the greatest military academies in France, and this convent was opened to those girls whose fathers were officers of the academy. She passed abruptly from the walls and sheltered ways of the convent to the arms of her husband, who led her a stormy life over a large part of the world, his position in the army calling for frequent service in the French colonies. Feliz was born in South America and his sister in Paris. After her husband's death in the World War, Madame was left with two young ones, several beautiful military uniforms, a number of yellowing family portraits, a box-full of lustrous medals won at the cannon's mouth, several shelves of books treating of military science and tactics, two old sabres, and no money. Madame doesn't like War. I dont know how she weathered the next sixteen years with her children and her sister-in-law, prisoned away in the dusty, nineteenth-century walls of her appartment. I suppose she had a little pension, and has possibly taken roomers always, sleeping herself in the dining room where she scurries when everyone else is in bed. Her own children are far from comprehending the sublimity of her character, and are always mocking her for the naiveté of her ways or exploiting her for the kindliness of her heart. If the Italian Marquis, her son-in-law, ever did a deed worthy of a particle of the boasting he does on many that are far inferior, it was to rescue Madame from the haggard turmoil of Paris and spirit her away to the south of France, where I hope she will pass the remainder of her days in the gentleness of soft climates and quiet places, so well merited by her simple and idealistic soul.


I visited them in the evening of the night before their departure. Madame was packing up the last things. Her sister and brother-in-law had assisted her with the heavy expedition of baggage and there only remained a few personal odds and ends to be crammed in a large open trunk which was to go on the train with Madame. The Old One was completely exhausted, but since there were no chairs to sit on, she was obliged to hold herself erect, and so went drooping about close to the walls and corners, like a resurrected ghost visiting the deserted abode of her childhood. They brewed me some tea and insisted on my staying with them a while. Madame sat down on the floor in front of her trunk already bristling with odds and ends, and talking as she worked, showed me many old papers, books, and objects, recalling former grandeurs and long-forgotten happinesses. There were fine parchments attesting to the election of such and such a military ancestor to the Legion of Honor, signed by the Emperor Napoleon III; eagle feathers badly eaten by time which used to adorn Madame's more sumptuous headdresses in the blush of maidenhood or of young wifehood; several old books, one of them




dating back to the time of Molière, Corneille, Racine--brilliant century of Louis XIV. Madame tenderly deposited packets of letters and postcards, ribboned and dusty, in the corners of the trunk, & showed me photographs of her husband, always the biggest and most handsome man in each photo, always wearing the most impressive mustache. Several revolvers were put away next, many military hats, and a sabre that Madame could scarcely hold out at arm's length with which her husband had wounded another officer in a duel. I silently take off my hat to any man who had arm enough and heart enough to swing that gigantic sabre in a duel, for it was one of the most redoubtable, long-bladed weapons that ever flashed above the battle-smoke of a French cavalry charge. Several family portraits, ignominiously rolled up in one, went in next, one or two half-destroyed albums, some children's garments, and at length her husband's military coat, with which I pleased Madame by showing that it was much too big for me. Many poignant memories were exhaled from the dust and clutter of the old trunk. She finally closed the lid on it, shutting many a sigh with its contents.


I returned the next day twice, once in the afternoon to take the last trunks to the station and help Madame secure her tickets, once in the evening to see them off finally. Along the boulevard that flanks the Seine, Madame made her last ride with a full heart and tearful eyes. I don't believe she's left Paris for 16 years. I finally got her through the station control with all her baggage, and hustled her and the Old One into an empty compartment of the train, where Madame nearly fainted away every time the train whistle blew. I felt pretty sad when I said good-bye to them. Madame said "Embrassez-moi, Frank," so I kissed her à la française. The Old One got up for hers. The train started off, so I skipped out and stood on the platform waving until they had gone. Then I returned to my new appartment. I was twenty-years old that day, and it seemed to me that in many ways I was just as big a baby as I had been twenty years ago.


My new place is very nice--not as much freedom with the family proper as at Madame Pernot's, but good meals, and a nice room all to myself. The room, though not as large as the one I inhabited before, is, all the same, nearly twice as large as my room at home and very well furnished with a bed, two small tables, one large writing table or desk, and a big cabinet where I easily file all my things. There's an English girl rooming at the house who sustains admirably her national tradition of mumbling abominable French, but who is in other ways a very charming personnage, plays the violin, dances, plays cards, chews with her mouth closed, and conducts herself very fashionably withal. Monsieur is a little man with a distinguished air, completely tyrannized by his gross but good-natured wife, and obliged to seek his compensation in harmless little witticisms, ordinarily directed at the English girl--who has everything repeated twice. The most animated character in the house is a little French girl of six years, who seems to be staying with the Vincent family for the time being. she speaks French with admirable purity, and has set herself up as my instructor, reading to me out of a little Mickey Mouse book, and explaining the pictures with childish prolixity. Madame is very kindly, but lacks the sensibility and natural refinement of Madame Pernot. Henry, the boy, is never at home, always pretending to be on his way to important conferences which he never attends. He doesn't seem to have any ambition nor very much energy. The other boy, Maurice, is a fine, energetic young man who is at this time serving his military period.


My school-work is prodigious just now and perhaps will be until the end of the year. It may yet be weeks before I have the opportunity to finish the record of my trip. Mr. Brinton just threw a bomb-shell into everyone's plans by ordaining the submission of the thesis for the 30th of May. I have hardly more than broached mine, and the subject is such that nothing short of 100 pages will suffice at minimum. With this I am two dissertations behind, and about 30 letters. My last dissertation received 18 and many compliments from my teacher. That's the highest grade yet given. I hope the next two together will be as high as that, for I'm going to write them breathlessly.


I have received all your letters, having changed my address at the post office, so that all subsequent letters posted to 19 Rue Soufflot would be received by me here. Thank all the people who have remembered me in any way--by work or letter--Tommy O'Haven, Wilma Stafford, Rob Keck, etc.


I'm glad that everyone at home is healthy. Remember that I shall come all the way home on the money I now have. I hope Dad will have high sailing in all his new connections. More power to Baby Anne! Love to all,

Ross, Jr.


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