February House by Sherill Tippins

February_house In 1940, a dilapidated Brooklyn brownstone at 7 Middagh Street became, for one year-long period, the center for a highly diverse group of artists and writers.  Its inhabitants at this time included poet W. H. Auden, writer Carson McCullers, composer Benjamin Britten, and other luminaries.  Although their tenure in the house was short, the time spent there proved to be a catalyst to producing some of their best work.  The house during this time became a hotbed for visiting European refugee literati and New York socialites alike, becoming the "in" place for partying and lively discussion.  The looming uncertainty of World War II played its part in casting the tone of both Auden’s and Britten’s work of this time, as they struggled intellectually to find their place as British expatriates in the United States while facing criticism from their home country.

The originator of this commune of artists and writers was George Davis, an editor of Harper’s Bazaar who had a keen eye in finding and fostering literary talent.  He saw the merit of bringing together such a  diverse group of people as a great cross-pollination of thought and talent.  He also saw and encouraged writing endeavors from the queen of burlesque herself, Gypsy Rose Lee, who lived at 7 Middagh briefly and completed some early drafts of her first novel while there.

The situation eventually imploded, as ill health, broken relationships, and the sheer intensity of living in such a situation took their toil.  But during this brief stretch of time, this run down house proved to be fertile ground for creativity and international thought in Pre-World War II America.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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