Happy New Year, everyone! This is the day that I turn the clock back. The day I tune out of 2018 and into 1918. The day I’ll look back at in December and say, “I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”
For the next year, I’ll be following the news and reading books and magazines as if I were living a hundred years ago. Goodbye Jonathan Safran Foer, hello Booth Tarkington. Goodbye Buzzfeed, hello Smart Set. This will be the record of my journey to a time when the world we now know as modern was emerging, but nineteenth-century attitudes were very much alive. T.S. Eliot’s poetry shared the page with faux-archaic nature verse. Women, African-Americans, and other marginalized groups were standing up for their rights, but casual sexism and racism were everywhere.
A few words on what this blog is, and what it isn’t.
It isn’t: A work of performance art. I’m not going to wear vintage dresses and go around saying, “O that this war would end!”
It is: An attempt to see 1918 as those who lived then saw it. When I wake up every morning, I’ll read the newspaper from a hundred years ago. Every book I’ll read would have been accessible to someone living then. I’ll read magazines, watch movies, listen to music, and cook recipes from that time.
It isn’t: A “this day in history” blog.
It is: A look beyond the 1918 news cycle. I’ll write about what was going on in the news, but I’m just as interested in literature, popular culture, and the world of ideas.
It isn’t: An expert analysis of the literature, politics, and social forces of the era. I’m not an academic or a specialist on the early 20th century. I’m sure I’ll misunderstand things and make mistakes along the way. (UPDATE 10/31/2020: This was an accurate prediction.)
It is: An effort to learn what 1918 itself—and not the historians and critics who came later—has to tell us.
It isn’t: An exercise in moral superiority. I expect I’ll write quite a bit about attitudes on race and gender, but simple finger-pointing wouldn’t be very interesting. In any case, I don’t think that moral superiority is a particularly appropriate attitude in 2018.
It is: An attempt to get to know the period, with all its faults and virtues, all its heroes and villains. And to have fun. There will be farmerettes! And flappers! (Or at least their ancestors, known, apparently, as salamanders.) And Dixieland jazz! And did I mention recipes?
So here goes. I’m looking forward to the journey.