The legend of Harold Sterns, the Last of the Bohemians, begins in 1912 when he runs naked through Harvard Yard, a twenty year-old man acting on impulse and looking like Shelley. At thirty-two he had left the United States, disgusted with the sordid red-baiting and prohibition snooping of the early twenties, disgusted also perhaps with himself, vowing never to return to a country so inhospitable to civilization.
Harold Stearns symbolized the bitter emptiness, the bewildered desperation of the generation that had survived a war only to face a world bent on forgetting its political sins in lust and liquor, or whatever anodyne the moment might bring. Those strange futile years have been immortalized in the fiction of Hemingway and Fitzgerald; but here, in Stearn's narrative, they make their way into biography. No one has written more soberly about that drunken state of mind; no one has been more continent in describing these excesses; no one has romanticized less about the absurd romantic attitudes of the literary Bohemia. Stearns recreates for us a world that is already as remote and fantastic as a lost continent that has sunk beneath the sea. The legend is completed by Stearn's return to America and his telling of this tale.
Harold Edmund Stearns was known as a prolific critic, journalist, editor and essayist during the 1920's and 1930's. He wrote essays in The New Republic, edited both The Dial and the famous iconoclastic symposium "Civilization in the United States". He was a member of the American expatriate group in Paris along with other notable exiles such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Dos Passos. For many chroniclers of the era, Stearns was the quintessential expatriate - a symbol of the 'exile' period in American literature.