In 1918, Boni and Liveright, publishers of the Modern Library series, started running ads admonishing people, “Don’t be a Stagnuck.” The way not to be a Stagnuck: read every Modern Library book. Woodrow Wilson! Max Beerbohm! H.G. Wells! The Baron of Dunsany! And sixty-two more! A bargain at 70 cents each.
But what was a Stagnuck? The world was clamoring to know. Or so claimed Boni and Liveright, which answered the question in another ad:
Ha ha! A Stagnuck thinks The Way of All Flesh is a sex book! That John Macy is the proprietor of a department store! Imagine!*
In December 1918, The Bookman reported in its “Gossip Shop” department that Boni and Liveright’s request for definitions of “Stagnuck” had yielded six hundred suggestions. Their favorite: “a person who thinks that George Eliot was the father of ex-president Eliot of Harvard.”** The publisher was printing a booklet of the hundred best suggestions, which sadly seems to be lost in the mists of time.
But don’t worry! You can still find out how much of a Stagnuck you are. Just take this year-end quiz on your 1918 knowledge. And there’s a prize!!! I’ll randomly select a winner from the correct responses submitted to the Contact page by 1 a.m. EST on January 4, 2019, and he/she will receive a 1918-era book of his/her choice from the Book List.***
Get out your pencils! (Which, if you’re a veteran of My Year in 1918 quizzes, you already know were not actually made of lead in 1918, or ever.) Good luck, everybody!
1. Noel Pemberton-Billing was prosecuted for:
a. Demonstrating sympathy for Germany by painting a blue stripe on a red, white, and blue pencil black.
b. Implying that dancer Maud Allan was part of a 47,000-member lesbian-German cabal.
c. Writing a short story about a young man who, about to be sent to the Western Front, sees animals mating and gets into the spirit with a local lass.
2. Nutrition and food safety pioneer Harvey Wiley described what food as follows? “It has in its composition more protein than has wheat flour, and about twenty times as much fatty material, and a considerable proportion of starch as well. It is, therefore, extremely nourishing and is usually easily digested.”
b. Graham flour.
c. Meaty little pig snouts.
3. Alan Dale not only penned The Madonna of the Future, a scandalous play about a society woman who became a single mother, he also (choose all that apply):
a. Wrote the first gay-themed novel in English.
b. Won an Olympic silver medal for watercolors and drawing.
c. Was a Hearst drama critic, derided by George Jean Nathan for making puns like “‘Way Down Yeast’ ought to get a rise out of everybody.”
4. In addition to being Woodrow Wilson’s son-in-law, William Gibbs McAdoo was (choose all that apply):
a. Secretary of the Treasury.
b. Director General of Railroads.
c. The Chief Magistrate of New York who said that, if called upon, he would rule that the play The Madonna of the Future was obscene.
5. Poet George Sterling earned the sobriquet “Uncrowned King of Bohemia” for (choose all that apply):
a. Founding the modernist journal The Little Review.
b. Living in a tent on Lake Michigan (with servants).
c. Establishing Carmel-by-the-Sea as an artists’ colony.
d. Having a partner, in work and life, who dressed as a member of the opposite sex.
6. Dorothy Parker published hate poems in Vanity Fair about which of the following? (Choose all that apply.)
7. Joyous crowds poured out onto the streets of New York to celebrate the end of World War I on:
a. November 7, 1918.
b. November 11, 1918.
c. Both a and b.
8. Which of the following were enthusiasts of eugenics? (Choose all that apply.)
a. Daddy-Long-Legs author Jean Webster.
b. Marie Carmichael Stopes, author of the banned marriage manual Married Love.
c. Fired Columbia university professor James McKeen Cattell.
d. The American Journal of Insanity.
e. How to Live co-author Eugene Lyman Fisk.
9. Which of the following were described as “virile”? (Choose all that apply.)
a. Society portrait painter Cecilia Breaux.
c. George Grey Barnard’s statue of Lincoln in Cincinnati.
d. Converting people to Christianity.
e. Readers of the literary magazine The Egoist.
f. William Carlos Williams’ grandmother.
10. Match the following people with criticism of their writing in the literary magazine The Egoist, where T.S. Eliot was literary editor:
a. John Drinkwater.
b. H. G. Wells and Arnold Bennet.
c. G.K. Chesterton.
d. Rebecca West.
1. “What interest can we take in instruments which must of nature miss two-thirds of the vibrations in any conceivable situation.”
2. “___________ says, ‘Hist!’.”
3. “As a tale of human emotion it is altogether quite indecently unjust.”
4. His or her “brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it thinks.”
(UPDATE 3/28/20: I’m re-running this quiz so I’ve temporarily removed the answers.)
*Feeling quite the Stagnuck, I Googled John Macy and learned that he was a Harvard University instructor, critic, and editor who helped Helen Keller with her books and married Keller’s teacher and interpreter Anne Sullivan. The three of them lived together for a while but Sullivan and Macy eventually separated. Ellen Key, by the way, was a Swedish feminist.
**I would think that even knowing the name of an ex-president of Harvard would move you out of Stagnuck territory. I went to college there, and I don’t even know the name of the president. (In my defense, they just got a new one, and I do know the name of the previous one: Drew Gilpin Faust, who I further know is not the protagonist of a classic German legend. I also know who the president of Harvard was in 1918: Abbott Lawrence Lowell, brother of poet Amy.) But, as I’ve said, the definition of celebrity has changed a lot over the past hundred years. In 1918, being president of Harvard was like being a late-night talk show host today.
***Subject to the availability of a reasonably priced edition of decent quality. (If I read an okay edition, I’ve linked to it.) If you live someplace outside the United States where shipping presents difficulties, I’ll come up with an equivalent prize. Please include your name, your city and state (or country) of residence, and your e-mail address in your submission. Answers are as they appear on the blog. If no one gets all the answers right, I’ll choose randomly from the entries with the most correct answers. But that shouldn’t happen because, like I said, they’re all right there on the blog!