Largely set in Paris, 1937 (with flashbacks to the mid 1920s), Good Morning, Midnight’s broken narrative also takes us to Antibes on the French Riviera and the Bloomsbury district of London.
Paris, the capital of France, was settled over 2,000 years ago by the Parisii, a Gaul tribe. Popularly and romantically known as ‘The City of Light’ (‘La Ville-Lumière’) owing to the city’s reputation as a hub of ideas and artistry during the Enlightenment, it was, for the first half of the 20th century, the centre of Western culture, art, fashion, music and literature. The city is characterised by broad, tree-lined boulevards and countless café-bars.
Located on the Left Bank of the Seine, Montparnasse is famous for being a hothouse of intellectual and artistic creativity in the interwar years. Owing to the area’s vertiginous incline (later levelled for the building of Boulevard du Montparnasse in the 18th century) it was nicknamed ‘Mount Parnassus’ in the 17th century, from which its name derives.
Montmartre had played host to an earlier generation of artists, writers and leading thinkers, but Montparnasse was an altogether grittier affair. From around 1910 to the outbreak of World War II, artists flocked from all corners of the globe to its damp, cheap, vermin-infested studios, raucous music-halls, seedy hotels and gaudy cabarets.
Luminaries of Montparnasse include Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie, Nina Hamnett, Salvador Dalí, Kiki de Montparnasse, Henry Miller, Anaїs Nin, Man Ray, André Breton, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. Political exiles including Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin also sought sanctuary there. In the 1920s, Americans flooded in, including Peggy Guggenheim.
Marc Chagall summed up the area’s significance succinctly: “The sun of art then shone only on Paris”.
Less obviously, it made its own contribution to 20th century modernism: tanned, bare flesh and women in loose, sheer trousers were the norm in Antibes long before such behaviour was widespread.
This district of central London, much like Montparnasse in Paris, is associated with artists, writers and assorted Bohemians conducting experiments in living in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Notables include Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and E.M. Forster. Extending from Tottenham Court Road in the West End to the Gray’s Inn Road eastwards, the area is characterised by five and six-storey Georgian terraces and garden squares, including Mecklenburgh Square, which is now Grade II listed.
From Victorian times until around World War II, these houses were mostly broken up into bedsitters and flats, but are now home to the capital’s wealthier scions.