Bohemia on Toast

Dawn Powell's Village

Powell well knew the dangers of a home, noting in her diary, "Homes are bad places. Either they are so comfortable . . . yet psychic and family connections are such that you can never enjoy those comforts. . . . Or else you have no comfortable place to work in your home and in spite of privacy or other ideal personal relations are unable to enjoy it. Yet in both cases there is a hold that interferes with your life work that bitches you, ruins you, sends you to the madhouse or the grave.’’ As her homes very often included her alcoholic husband, developmentally disabled son, and numerous dipsomaniacal cohorts, Powell never could work there, and regularly booked rooms in Atlantic City hotels, Coney Island flophouses, or Long Island cottages to write.

But she had to live somewhere, even if she had to write elsewhere, and no other neighborhood would have suited Powell as well as the Village. She delighted in the twisty streets, wood frames, row houses, wrought iron, clandestine gardens, carriage houses, and basement apartments and in its semi-demimonde cast of characters: artists, writers, models, "fairies," Lesbians (Powell always capped the word), newspapermen, and salonnières. As she wrote to a college classmate soon after her arrival in New York, "I've been 'doing the Village' quite consistently and feel that sooner or later I’ll be among 'em. There are three stages you go through. . . . First and foremost, 'Oh-so-this-is-Bohemia!! . . . Bohemia—oh thrills!' Stage No. II— . . . you begin to see it with jaded eyes. Everyone tries to be a freak—tries to be noticed—does everything for effect and down in his heart is worse than ordinary. . . . Bah! Village theatricals! Bah! Bah! Bah! Stage No. III—you combine and condense and admire and sit—and after all the Village is the Village when all’s said and done."

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