Edgar Allan Poe, Richmond, Virginia, 1849

Restoration and Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

“Thompson” daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe, 1849 (Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University)

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) was an American writer, editor, and literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States and American literature as a whole, and he was one of the country’s earliest practitioners of the short story. Poe is generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre and is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.
Poe was born in Boston, the second child of two actors. His father abandoned the family in 1810, and his mother died the following year. Thus orphaned, the child was taken in by John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia. They never formally adopted him, but Poe was with them well into young adulthood. Tension developed later as John Allan and Edgar repeatedly clashed over debts, including those incurred by gambling, and the cost of secondary education for the young man. Poe attended the University of Virginia but left after a year due to lack of money. Poe enlisted in the Army in 1827 under an assumed name. It was at this time that his publishing career began, albeit humbly, with the anonymous collection Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), credited only to “a Bostonian”. With the death of Frances Allan in 1829, Poe and Allan reached a temporary rapprochement. However, Poe later failed as an officer cadet at West Point, declaring a firm wish to be a poet and writer, and he ultimately parted ways with John Allan.
Poe switched his focus to prose and spent the next several years working for literary journals and periodicals, becoming known for his own style of literary criticism. His work forced him to move among several cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City.
In 1835, Poe, then 26, obtained a license to marry his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm. They were married for eleven years until her early death, which may have inspired some of his writing. In January 1845, Poe published his poem “The Raven” to instant success. His wife died of tuberculosis two years after its publication.  Poe was increasingly unstable after his wife’s death. He attempted to court poet Sarah Helen Whitman who lived in Providence, Rhode Island. Their engagement failed, purportedly because of Poe’s drinking and erratic behavior. Poe then returned to Richmond and resumed a relationship with his childhood sweetheart Sarah Elmira Royster.
On October 3, 1849, Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, “in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance”, according to Joseph W. Walker who found him. He was taken to the Washington Medical College where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849 at 5:00 in the morning. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. All medical records have been lost, including his death certificate.  The actual cause of death remains a mystery.
The day that Edgar Allan Poe was buried, a long obituary appeared in the New York Tribune signed “Ludwig”. It was soon published throughout the country. “Ludwig” was soon identified as Rufus Wilmot Griswold, an editor, critic, and anthologist who had borne a grudge against Poe since 1842. Griswold somehow became Poe’s literary executor and attempted to destroy his enemy’s reputation after his death. He depicted Poe as a depraved, drunken, drug-addled madman. Many of his claims were either lies or distorted half-truths. For example, it is now known that Poe was not a drug addict. Those who knew Poe well, denounced Griswold’s book, but it became a popularly accepted one. This occurred in part because it was the only full biography available and was widely reprinted, and in part because readers thrilled at the thought of reading works by an “evil” man.

Edgar Allan Poe’s final portraits are two quarter-plate daguerreotypes taken by William Abbott Pratt (1818 – 1879) in Richmond, Virginia, approximately three weeks before the writer’s death in Baltimore in October 1849. The two images, which differ from each other only slightly, are known as the “Thompson” and “Traylor” daguerreotypes.
A talented if slightly eccentric individual, the daguerreotypist William Abbott Pratt had been born in England in 1818, emigrating to America in 1832. He studied architecture and engineering (reportedly excelling at both), but in 1844 abandoned what seems to have been a promising career to open a daguerrean parlor on Richmond’s Main Street. As a daguerreotypist, he was immensely successful. During a twelve-year period he reportedly took some 35,000 portraits (including two of Poe and at least one of John Quincy Adams), and in 1851 displayed his wares at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London.

“I knew him well and he had often promised me to sit for a picture, but had never done so. One morning — in September, I think — I was standing at my street door when he came along and spoke to me. I reminded him of his unfulfilled promise, for which he made some excuse. I said, ‘Come upstairs now.’ He replied, ‘Why, I am not dressed for it.’ ‘Never mind that,’ said I; ‘I’ll gladly take you just as you are.’ He came up, and I took that picture. Three weeks later he was dead in Baltimore.”
William Abbott Pratt’s interview about E. A. Poe, 1854

Miniature portrait of E.A.Poe by John A. McDougall, ca. 1846 (The Huntington Library, San. Marino, Calif.)

In 1856 William Pratt turned over his business to the partnership of Sanxay & Chalmers, which in November of that year presented the original “Thompson” plate to John R. Thompson. Thompson, who had known Poe and would later deliver a series of exploitative lectures on “The Genius and Character of Edgar Allan Poe,” evidently lent the daguerreotype to a number of artists and photographers; by 1860 several wood engravings and at least two copy daguerreotypes were being circulated across the country. The original daguerreotype remained in Thompson’s possession until his death in New York in 1873, when it passed to his sister. In 1951, the plate was bequeathed to Columbia University.

Poe’s best known fiction works are Gothic, a genre that he followed to appease the public taste. His most recurring themes deal with questions of death, including its physical signs, the effects of decomposition, concerns of premature burial, the reanimation of the dead, and mourning. Many of his works are generally considered part of the dark romanticism genre, a literary reaction to transcendentalism which Poe strongly disliked.
Beyond horror, Poe also wrote satires, humor tales, and hoaxes. For comic effect, he used irony and ludicrous extravagance, often in an attempt to liberate the reader from cultural conformity. Poe wrote much of his work using themes aimed specifically at mass-market tastes. To that end, his fiction often included elements of popular pseudosciences, such as phrenology and physiognomy.
Poe and his works influenced literature in the United States and around the world, as well as in specialized fields such as cosmology and cryptography. Poe and his work appear throughout popular culture in literature, music, films, and television. A number of his homes are dedicated museums today. The Mystery Writers of America present an annual award known as the Edgar Award for distinguished work in the mystery genre.
Links / Sources / More to Read:
Wikipedia: Edgar Allan Poe
The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore
The “Thompson” Daguerreotype
The Poe Museum
The Humble Fabulist: Philadelphia – The House of Edgar Alan Poe
Wikipedia: Death of Edgar Allan Poe
Biography.com: 13 Haunting Facts About Edgar Allan Poe’s Death
Wikipedia: Rufus Wilmot Griswold
Sothebys Auctions Catalog: Lot 37

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Emily Dickinson at Mount Holyoke, ca. 1846

Colorization & Restoration by Manos Athanasiadis

Daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson at Mount Holyoke, ca. 1846 (Todd-Bingham collection, Amherst College)

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830 – 1886) was an American poet. She was born at the family’s homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts, on December 10, 1830, into a prominent, but not wealthy, family. Her father, Edward Dickinson was a lawyer in Amherst and a trustee of Amherst College. Two hundred years earlier, her patrilineal ancestors had arrived in the New World—in the Puritan Great Migration—where they prospered. Emily Dickinson’s paternal grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, was one of the founders of Amherst College. In 1813, he built the Homestead, a large mansion on the town’s Main Street, that became the focus of Dickinson family life for the better part of a century. Her father married Emily Norcross in 1828 and the couple had three children: William Austin, Lavinia Norcross and middle child Emily.
An excellent student, Emily Dickinson was educated at Amherst Academy (now Amherst College) for seven years and then attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for a year, before returning to her family’s house in Amherst. Though the precise reasons for Dickinson’s final departure from the academy in 1848 are unknown; theories offered say that her fragile emotional state may have played a role and/or that her father decided to pull her from the school. Dickinson ultimately never joined a particular church or denomination, steadfastly going against the religious norms of the time.
Although part of a prominent family with strong ties to its community, Dickinson lived much of her life in reclusive isolation. Considered an eccentric by locals, she developed a noted penchant for white clothing and became known for her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, to even leave her bedroom. Dickinson never married, and most friendships between her and others depended entirely upon correspondence. Dickinson was a recluse for the later years of her life. Scholars have thought that she suffered from conditions such as agoraphobia, depression and/or anxiety, or may have been sequestered due to her responsibilities as guardian of her sick mother. Dickinson was also treated for a painful ailment of her eyes. After the mid-1860s, she rarely left the confines of the Homestead. It was also around this time, from the late 1850s to mid-’60s, that Dickinson was most productive as a poet, creating small bundles of verse known as fascicles without any awareness on the part of her family members.
In her spare time, Dickinson studied botany and produced a vast herbarium. She also maintained correspondence with a variety of contacts. One of her friendships, with Judge Otis Phillips Lord, seems to have developed into a romance before Lord’s death in 1884.
Dickinson died of kidney disease in Amherst, Massachusetts, on May 15, 1886, at the age of 55.

Amherst College holds the original of the only currently authenticated photograph of Emily Dickinson

The heart asks pleasure first,
And then, excuse from pain;
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering,

And then, to go to sleep;
And then, if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor,
The liberty to die.

While Dickinson was a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly 1,800 poems were published during her lifetime. The work that was published during her lifetime was usually altered significantly by the publishers to fit the conventional poetic rules of the time. Dickinson’s poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles, and often use slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two recurring topics in letters to her friends.
Although Dickinson’s acquaintances were most likely aware of her writing, it was not until after her death in 1886—when Lavinia, Dickinson’s younger sister, discovered her cache of poems—that the breadth of her work became apparent to the public. Her first collection of poetry was published in 1890 by personal acquaintances Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, though both heavily edited the content. A complete, and mostly unaltered, collection of her poetry became available for the first time when scholar Thomas H. Johnson published The Poems of Emily Dickinson in 1955.
Emily Dickinson’s stature as a writer soared from the first publication of her poems in their intended form. She is known for her poignant and compressed verse, which profoundly influenced the direction of 20th-century poetry. The strength of her literary voice, as well as her reclusive and eccentric life, contributes to the sense of Dickinson as an indelible American character who continues to be discussed today. Jane Campion’s film The Piano and its novelization (co-authored by Kate Pullinger) were inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson as well as the novels by the Bronte Sisters. The 2016 film A Quiet Passion by Terence Davies is a biography of Dickinson, in which Cynthia Nixon plays the poet.

Sources / More to Read:
Wikipedia: Emily Dickinson
Biography.com: Emily Dickinson
Biography.com: Poetic Provocateur: 7 Surprising Facts on Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson Museum
Yale University Library
Amherst College
Flickr: The Dickinsons of Amherst
IMDb: A Quiet Passion (2016)

Central Park, New York, 1961

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

September 1961: Three women keep cool during a heat wave by moving a park bench into the water in Central Park, New York. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

September 1961: Three women keep cool during a heat wave by moving a park bench into the water in Central Park, New York. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Central Park is an urban park in middle-upper Manhattan, within New York City.
Between 1821 and 1855, New York City nearly quadrupled in population. As the city expanded northward up Manhattan, people were drawn to the few existing open spaces, mainly cemeteries, to get away from the noise and chaotic life in the city.
New York City’s need for a great public park was resounded by the famed poet and editor of the Evening Post, William Cullen Bryant, as well as by the first American landscape architect, Andrew Jackson Downing (1815–1852), who predicted and began to publicize the city’s need for a public park in 1844.
A stylish place for open-air driving, similar to Paris’ Bois de Boulogne or London’s Hyde Park, was felt to be needed by many influential New Yorkers and in 1853 the New York legislature settled upon a 700-acre (280 ha) area from 59th to 106th Streets for the creation of the Park, at a cost of more than US$5 million for the land alone.
The Park was established in 1857 on 778 acres (315 ha) of city-owned land and a Central Park Commission held a landscape design contest. In 1858, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) and Calvert Vaux (1824–1895), a landscape architect and an architect respectively, won the design competition, to improve and expand the park, with a plan they titled the “Greensward Plan”.
Andrew Jackson Downing was friend and mentor to Olmsted, and Vaux was his architect collaborator. After Downing died in July 1852, Olmsted and Vaux entered the Central Park design competition together. Vaux had invited the less experienced Olmsted to participate in the design competition with him, having been impressed with Olmsted’s theories and political contacts. The design of Central Park embodies Olmsted’s social consciousness and commitment to egalitarian ideals. Influenced by Downing and his own observations regarding social class in England, China, and the American South, Olmsted believed that the common green space must always be equally accessible to all citizens, and was to be defended against private encroachment. This principle is now fundamental to the idea of a “public park”, but was not assumed as necessary then. Olmsted’s tenure as park commissioner in New York was a long struggle to preserve that idea.
Construction began in 1858 and the park’s first area was opened to the public in the winter of the same year. Construction continued during the American Civil War farther north, and was expanded to its current size of 843 acres (341 ha) in 1873.
Central Park was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962.
Today, the park is maintained by the Central Park Conservancy, a private, not-for-profit organization that manages the park under a contract with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
While planting and land form in much of the park appear natural, it is in fact almost entirely landscaped. The park contains several natural-looking lakes and ponds that have been created artificially, extensive walking tracks, bridle paths, two ice-skating rinks (one of which is a swimming pool in July and August), the Central Park Zoo, the Central Park Conservatory Garden, a wildlife sanctuary, a large area of natural woods, a 106-acre (43 ha) billion-gallon reservoir with an encircling running track, and an outdoor amphitheater, the Delacorte Theater, which hosts the “Shakespeare in the Park” summer festivals. Indoor attractions include Belvedere Castle with its nature center, the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, and the historic Carousel. In addition there are seven major lawns, the “meadows”, and many minor grassy areas; some of them are used for informal or team sports and some set aside as quiet areas; there are a number of enclosed playgrounds for children. The 6 miles (9.7 km) of drives within the park are used by joggers, cyclists, skateboarders, and inline skaters, especially when automobile traffic is prohibited, on weekends and in the evenings after 7:00 pm. The park has its own NYPD precinct, the Central Park Precinct, which employs both regular police and auxiliary officers. In 2005, safety measures held the number of crimes in the park to fewer than one hundred per year (down from approximately 1,000 in the early 1980s).
Central Park’s size and cultural position, has served as a model for many urban parks. The park, which receives approximately 35 million visitors annually, is the most visited urban park in the United States. It is also one of the most filmed locations in the world.
Advise and Consent is a 1959 political novel by Allen Drury (1918–1998) that explores the United States Senate confirmation of controversial Secretary of State nominee Robert Leffingwell, who is a former member of the Communist Party. The novel spent 102 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1960 and was adapted into a successful 1962 film starring Henry Fonda.
Sources/More to Read:
Wikipedia: Central Park
Wikipedia: Andrew Jackson Downing
Wikipedia: Frederick Law Olmsted
Wikipedia: Calvert Vaux
Central Park Conservancy
Wikipedia: Advise and Consent
Wikipedia: Allen Drury

William Butler Yeats, by Alice Boughton, 1903

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

William Butler Yeats, 1903 (Alice Boughton / William Michael Murphy Collection?)

William Butler Yeats, 1903 (Alice Boughton / William Michael Murphy Collection?)

William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature.
He was born in Sandymount, Ireland and educated there and in London. Yeats published his first works in the Dublin University Review in 1885 while a student at Dublin’s Metropolitan School of Art. Following the publication of his poems, he soon abandoned art school for other pursuits.
After returning to London in the late 1880s, Yeats met writers Oscar Wilde, Lionel Johnson and George Bernard Shaw. He also became acquainted with Maud Gonne, a supporter of Irish independence. This revolutionary woman served as a muse for Yeats for years. He even proposed marriage to her several times, but she turned him down. Around this time, Yeats founded the Rhymers’ Club poetry group with Ernest Rhys. He also joined the Order of the Golden Dawn, an organization that explored topics related to the occult and mysticism. While he was fascinated with otherworldly elements, Yeats’s interest in Ireland, especially its folktales, fueled much of his output. Those topics feature in the first phase of his work, which lasted roughly until the turn of the 20th century. From 1900, Yeats’s poetry grew more physical and realistic. He largely renounced the transcendental beliefs of his youth, though he remained preoccupied with physical and spiritual masks, as well as with cyclical theories of life.
In addition to his poetry, Yeats devoted significant creative energy to writing plays. Yeats was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival and, along with Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, and others, founded the Abbey Theatre, where he served as its chief during its early years.
Yeats married Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917, and they soon had daughter Anne and son William Michael. Then he became a political figure in the new Irish Free State, serving as a senator for six years beginning in 1922.
In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature as the first Irishman so honoured for what the Nobel Committee described as “inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation”.
Yeats continued to write until his death. Some of his important later works include The Wild Swans at Coole (1917), The Tower (1928) and Words for Music Perhaps and Other Poems (1932). Yeats passed away on January 28, 1939, in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France. He is remembered as one of the most significant modern poets of all time.
Alice Boughton (1866–1943) was an early 20th-century American photographer known for her photographs of many literary and theatrical figures of her time. She was a Fellow of Alfred Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession, a circle of highly creative and influential photographers whose artistic efforts succeeded in raising photography to a fine art form.
Boughton became one of the most distinguished portrait photographers of New York, although she did many landscapes in US and Europe. She produced studies of children, as well as female nudes in allegorical or natural settings. Among her more famous works are portraits of Eugene O’Neill, Albert Pinkham Ryder, George Arliss and Robert Louis Stevenson. Her works are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British National Portrait Gallery, the U.S. National Portrait Gallery, the George Eastman House and other important museums.
Sources / More to Read:
Wikipedia: W. B. Yeats
Biography.com: W. B. Yeats
Wikipedia: Alice Boughton

George Bernard Shaw, 1889

160 years since the birth of George Bernard Shaw

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

George Bernard Shaw in 1889

George Bernard Shaw in 1889 (Berg Collection/The New York Public Library)

George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950), known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic and polemicist whose influence on Western theatre, culture and politics extended from the 1880s to his death and beyond. He wrote more than sixty plays, with a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory. In 1925 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Born in Dublin, Shaw moved to London in 1876, where he struggled to establish himself as a writer and novelist, and embarked on a rigorous process of self-education. By the mid-1880s he had become a respected theatre and music critic.

“George Bernard Shaw… has a fund of dry Irish humour that is simply irresistible. He is a clever writer and speaker – is the grossest flatterer I ever met, is horribly untrustworthy as he repeats everything he hears, and does not always stick to the truth, and is very plain like a long corpse with dead white face – sandy sleek hair, and a loathsome small straggly beard, and yet is one of the most fascinating men I ever met.”
Edith Nesbit, letter to Ada Breakell – 19th August, 1884

Following a political awakening, he joined the gradualist Fabian Society (a British socialist organisation whose purpose is to advance the principles of Democratic Socialism via gradualist and reformist effort in democracies, rather than by revolutionary overthrow) and became its most prominent pamphleteer.
Shaw had been writing plays for years before his first public success, Arms and the Man in 1894. Influenced by Henrik Ibsen, he sought to introduce a new realism into English-language drama, using his plays as vehicles to disseminate his political, social and religious ideas. By the early twentieth century his reputation as a dramatist was secured with a series of critical and popular successes.
Shaw’s expressed views were often contentious; he promoted eugenics and alphabet reform, and opposed vaccination and organised religion. He courted unpopularity by denouncing both sides in the First World War as equally culpable, and although not a republican, castigated British policy on Ireland in the postwar period. These stances had no lasting effect on his standing or productivity as a dramatist; the inter-war years saw a series of often ambitious plays, which achieved varying degrees of popular success.
In 1938 he provided the screenplay for a filmed version of Pygmalion for which he received an Oscar Academy Award.
In the final decade of his life he made fewer public statements, but continued to write prolifically until shortly before his death, aged ninety-four, having refused all state honours including the Order of Merit in 1946.
Sources/More to Read:
Wikipedia: George Bernard Shaw
Wikipedia: Fabian Society
Gutenberg: E-Books by Bernard Shaw
Spartacus Educational: George Bernard Shaw
New York Public Library
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Castro, Sartre and de Beauvoir, Cuba, 1960

Colorization & Restoration by Manos Athanasiadis

Fidel Castro, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir with Celia Sanchez and Juan Arcocha in the Cienaga de Zapata, Cuba. (Photo by Alberto Korda) October 1960

Fidel Castro (middle), Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (front) with Juan Arcocha (left) and Celia Sanchez (behind) cruising the Cienaga de Zapata, Cuba in October 1960 (Photo by Alberto Korda)

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (born August 13, 1926) is a Cuban politician and revolutionary who served as Prime Minister of the Republic of Cuba from 1959 to 1976 and then President from 1976 to 2008. Politically a Marxist–Leninist and Cuban nationalist, he also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from 1961 until 2011. Under his administration Cuba became a one-party socialist state; industry and business were nationalized, and state socialist reforms were implemented throughout society. Internationally, Castro was the Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1979 to 1983 and from 2006 to 2008.
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (1905-1980) was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism and phenomenology, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism. His work has also influenced sociology, critical theory, post-colonial theory, and literary studies, and continues to influence these disciplines. Sartre has also been noted for his open relationship with the prominent feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir.
He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature but refused it, saying that he always declined official honours and that “a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution”.
Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir (1908-1986), was a French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist and social theorist. Though she did not consider herself a philosopher, she had a significant influence on both feminist existentialism and feminist theory. De Beauvoir wrote novels, essays, biographies, autobiography and monographs on philosophy, politics and social issues. She is known for her 1949 treatise “The Second Sex”, a detailed analysis of women’s oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism; and for her novels, including “She Came to Stay” and “The Mandarins”. She is also known for her open relationship with French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.
Alberto Diaz Gutiérrez, better known as Alberto Korda (1928-2001) was a Cuban photographer, remembered for his famous image “Guerrillero Heroico” of Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.
Juan Arcocha (1927-2010) was a Cuban intellectual; lawyer, writer, journalist, translator and interpreter. He wrote numerous novels that have been translated into several languages.
Celia Sánchez Manduley (1920–1980) was a Cuban revolutionary, politician, researcher and archivist. She was a close friend of Fidel Castro. Her face appears in the watermark on Cuban peso banknotes.
–  Excerpts from Eugene Wolters’ article in Critical Theory
In 1960, during the afterglow of the Cuban revolution, Simone de Beauvoir, the famous feminist philosopher took a trip with her long-time companion Sartre to Havana. They were part of a larger flock of leftist intellectuals who were invited to Cuba to attend cultural congresses. When they arrived in February, they met with Che Guevara and talked for hours. Photos were taken by Cuban photographer Alberto Korda. Korda is often known for his iconic photo of Che that has since become the basis for the image plastered on t-shirts, buttons and posters. Incidentally, that image shares the same reel of film as many images featuring Sartre and de Beauvoir in Havana.
De Beauvoir later wrote: “Well-known performers danced or sang in the squares to swell the fund; pretty girls in their carnival fancy dresses, led by a band, went through the streets making collections.”It’s the honeymoon of the Revolution,” Sartre said to me. No machinery, no bureaucracy, but a direct contact between leaders and people, and a mass of seething and slightly confused hopes. It wouldn’t last forever, but it was a comforting sight. For the first time in our lives, we were witnessing happiness that had been attained by violence.”
Later that year in October, Sartre and de Beauvoir returned to Cuba, but were somewhat disappointed. Fidel invited Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir to visit Cuba again, and they did, but this time they weren’t so entranced. “Havana had changed; no more nightclubs, no more gambling, and no more American tourists; in the half empty Nacional Hotel, some very young members of the militia, boys and girls, were holding a conference. On every side, in the streets, the militia was drilling,” de Beauvoir wrote. The atmosphere was tense with rumors of invasion, and a notable air of repressive uniformity was seeping into Cuban life. When Sartre and de Beauvoir asked workers at clothing mill how their lives had benefited from the revolution, a union leader quickly stepped forward to speak on their behalf, parroting the government’s dogma.
Later, Sartre’s relation with Castro soured. In 1971, after Sartre had taken up the case of the imprisoned Cuban poet Herberto Padilla, he found himself being denounced by his erstwhile comrade Castro as being among the “bourgeois liberal gentleman…two bit agents of colonialism…agents of the CIA and intelligence services of imperialism” who had dared to criticize Cuba. Sartre responded with a plea to Castro to ‘spare Cuba the dogmatic obscurantism, the cultural xenophobia and the repressive system which Stalinism imposed in the socialist countries.
Sources/More to Read:
Critical Theory: Incredible Candid Photos of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in Cuba
Wikipedia: Fidel Castro
Wikipedia: Jean-Paul Sartre
Wikipedia: Simone de Beauvoir
Wikipedia: Alberto Korda
Wikipedia: Juan Arcocha
Wikipedia: Celia Sánchez