“We had been planning the trip for over a year… exchanging letters brimming over with rapturous plans and lyric anticipation…”
Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay
In June of 1922, Cornelia and Emily, fresh out of college, travel to England and France on their own (an adventure which was rare – practically unheard of – for young ladies at that time). And pretty much from the very start, their journey is filled with crazy misadventures, large and small.
Their first ship runs aground before it ever gets into open water. Emily attempts to assist a “man over board” by dropping a deck chair on top of him. Cornelia contracts measles and has to be smuggled past English health inspectors at the risk of being discovered and sent to a German quarantine camp. And this is all before their travels officially begin.
From getting lost in the maze at Hampton Court to unknowingly spending the night in a French brothel, the young ladies encounter one hilarious incident after another. Along the way, they meet such notables as H.G. Wells and Margaret Sanger, sometimes with embarrassing results.
Told in Cornelia’s marvelously witty voice, with her droll, self-deprecating humor, this book has been adored by fans ever since its publication in 1942. What makes this story especially addictive is that it is a work of non-fiction, as Cornelia and Emily attest at the beginning of the tale:
“Lest the reader should be in any doubt, we wish to state that the incidents in this book are all true and the characters completely non-fictitious.”
The first time I read Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, I was in high school. Like so many who have read it, I was captivated by this engaging, delightful and downright funny tale of the misadventures of these two young women.
My copy of Our Hearts, circa 1940s, has gone with me on all of my travels for the last 30 years, and the story remains to me as enchanting as ever. It journeyed with me on my own first sojourn to England and France, and though my adventures were a bit different to those of Cornelia and Emily, I found kinship in their spirit and their all-too-true recognition that, “there would never again be a first time”.
I am now older than Cornelia and Emily were when they sat down in 1942 to write the story, and I can say, thirty-plus years after first reading Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, it remains my all-time favorite book. And in the summer of 2017, ninety-five years (almost to the day) after the girls made their journey, I followed in their footsteps, recreating their travels, seeing those sights they marveled at, discovering what of their world still exists, and I wrote about what I learned from their journey and my own in my upcoming book, Enchanted Summer.