An occupational hazard of reading as if you were living a hundred years ago is that you start turning into a curmudgeon. “Things were so much better in the 1910s,” you (okay: I) grumble on a regular basis, apropos of 1920. Not everything, of course—the 1910s had the war and the Spanish influenza, for starters, and with starters like that there’s no point racking your brain for additional examples. But some things definitely got worse.
“The First Shows of Summer,” Vanity Fair, August 1919
and hate poems.
“Our Office: A Hate Poem,” Vanity Fair, May 1919
And then there are the magazine covers. Every time I’ve thought about doing a magazine cover post in the last few months, I’ve found some dispiriting examples,
thought wistfully about the good old days,*
William Edouard Scott
and given up.
I wondered sometimes whether I was being fair. Maybe, like so many people, I was longing for a golden age that only existed in my mind. But how to measure such a thing?
And then inspiration struck. The magazines could duke it out, mano a mano, 1920 vs. the 1910s. I chose 1915 as the opponent, a nice round number but not so far back that it’s super-old-timey like this 1910 Ladies’ Home Journal cover:
As I assembled the covers, it dawned on me that maybe I still wasn’t being fair. What was to stop me from picking all the 1915 covers to prove a point? I pondered this for a while, and then the answer came to me: the people!
Normally, I’m very limited as to what I can do on this blog because I’m a wordpress.com member, meaning that WordPress hosts my blog as well as being the platform for designing it, as opposed to the far cooler wordpress.org members, whose blogs are hosted by other companies so they can get all sorts of plug-ins that don’t run on wordpress.com.** But one thing that wordpress.com lets you do now is run polls. And what’s more fun than a poll?***
So I leave it to you, the people, to decide, for each of the 16 magazines below, whether its September 1915 cover (top) or its September 1920 cover (bottom) is better. (In several cases, as it turns out, artists are competing against themselves.) The polls will stay open for a week, and the winners will be announced in early October. If the covers I’m rooting for don’t win, I promise to accept your verdict graciously. Because that’s what democracy is all about!
And, in case you find your energy flagging, there’s a prize at the end.
Helen Dryden, September 15, 1915
Helen Dryden, September 1, 1920
2. Harper’s Bazar
3. Ladies’ Home Journal
4. Vanity Fair
5. The Crisis
Sculpture by C. Matey
6. St. Nicholas
Charles Livingston Bull
8. Good Housekeeping
Jesse Wilcox Smith
9. The Masses/The Liberator****
10. The Smart Set
John Held Jr.
12. La Vie Parisienne
14. Saturday Evening Post
Charles Livingston Bull
Alfred E. Orr
16. The Best of the Rest
There were two covers that didn’t have a counterpart in the other year but that were too good to leave out, so I’ll let them face off.
That’s it, the hard work of voting is over. Now for the prize!
My friend and fellow blogger Deborah Kalb’s book Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat is being published this week. It’s the third in a series of books about the adventures of a group of fifth-grade friends who travel back in time and meet America’s founding presidents. The first three readers who let me know which magazine cover was their favorite will receive a free copy. You can post a comment below or drop me a line through the Contact page.******
I’ve read the book and highly recommend it—it’s a lot of fun but at the same time it engages seriously with the issue of slavery. As the U.S. prepares to choose its next president, the timing couldn’t be better. So hurry up and vote!
*I know, apples and oranges. But I’m describing a mental state, so bear with me.
**Like PUTTING PHOTOS SIDE BY SIDE, FOR EXAMPLE, WORDPRESS!
****The Masses, a socialist monthly, ceased publication in 1917 after editor Max Eastman and several staff members were charged with conspiring to obstruct conscription. Eastman and his sister Chrystal Eastman founded The Liberator in 1918.
*****Which I am very proud to tell you I deciphered from this:
******For readers living outside the United States, I’ll do my best to get a copy to you, but I can’t make any promises.
When I picked up my mail after arriving in D.C. from Cape Town a couple of weeks ago, I found to my surprise that I have been a New Yorker subscriber since September. My first reaction: “Oh, look, a giant pile of guilt!” Then I saw the brightly colored covers, and I wanted to gather them all in a slippery embrace, like fellow survivors from a lost world. Few things from 100 years ago bring me as much joy as magazine covers, and few things (well, few non-news-related things) are as dispiriting as a 2020 magazine rack.
I had a post on February 1920 covers almost ready before I left Cape Town, but what with all the electricity cuts I didn’t manage to post it. So I’m covering both February and March here.
The February magazines feature lots of women engaging in wholesome outdoor activities like skiing,
and pathetic ice skating.
And also engaging in unwholesome outdoor activities like this:
The artist for this surprisingly risqué cover is Warren Davis. He also drew this February 1918 Vanity Fair cover,
which I took note of back in February 2018. That one was also daring, but it struck me as having that Greek mythology vibe that lets you get away with anything. It turns out, though, that young women cavorting around outdoors naked, or at most with a diaphanous scarf, comprise pretty much Warren Davis’ entire oeuvre.*
Some favorite artists are back: Frank Walts at The Crisis,
and at Smart Set, which I’m pleased to see breaking out of its face-of-young-attractive-woman rut.
There are people in traditional dress at Sunset
and World Outlook.
I loved these covers from House & Garden
Charles Livingston Bull
and Popular Mechanics
and Elite Styles.
As I prepared for my trip, I was all psyched up to leave the southern hemisphere summer for some outdoor winter fun. Of course, what I actually ended up doing was lugging groceries home in the rain. So good riddance to February…
…and onward to blustery March!
They’re getting in some late-season ice skating at Red Cross**
and some early-season boating at Motor Boating.
Am I reading this wrong or is this elephant being used as an accessory to kill other elephants?*** And don’t get me started on the African man in the loincloth.
Everybody’s is late to the Valentine’s Day party.
Vogue has a cover by regular George Wolfe Plank
George Wolfe Plank
and one by 26-year-old newcomer Harriet Meserole, who would go on to be a Vogue stalwart.****
Bright spring colors abound at Harper’s Bazar
and The Delineator
and The Green Book
and House & Garden
and Vanity Fair, which features a cover by Anne Harriet Fish, an artist whom I wasn’t familiar with but who will now join Gordon Conway and John Held Jr. in the ranks of VF artists whose work I can’t tell apart.
Anne Harriet Fish
Future New Yorker cartoonist Rea Irvin was the artist for this striking, though problematic to modern sensibilities, Life cover.
This woman on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post seems to be about to ditzily cast her first vote for the supposedly more handsome candidate, which I would take offense at, except, um, Warren Harding.*****
The woodcut on the cover of Liberator is by J.J. Lankes, who was a friend of, and illustrator for, Robert Frost and Sherwood Anderson.
This Photoplay cover isn’t particularly notable except that “If Christ Went to the Movies” is the best cover headline ever.******
And it wouldn’t be March without a lion and a lamb, courtesy of Carton Moore-Park:*******
Counting the days until spring!
*Google him if you don’t want to take my word for it. Just don’t do it at the office.
**According to the go-to site for Norman Rockwell cover information, this was Rockwell’s fourth and last cover for Red Cross, which folded in late 1920. Rockwell turned to smaller magazines when large-circulation magazines passed on his illustrations.
***I always thought you couldn’t ride African, as opposed to Asian, elephants. Apparently you can, although, according to animal rights advocates, you shouldn’t.
****As far as I can tell, this is Meserole’s first Vogue cover other than this February 1919 one, which is mostly white space:
*****Also, the cover artist, Neysa McMein, was a woman and an ardent supporter of gender equality. Here she is marching in a suffragist parade in 1917.
Happy Thanksgiving! Or, as we say in South Africa, “Happy Normal Day When Spouses’ Employers Schedule Evening Work Events!”
So I won’t be celebrating with turkey this year, but I do want to pause to think about some people of 1919 I’m particularly thankful for. Last year, I thanked some of my most admired people from 1918. This year, as the end of the decade rolls around, I’m celebrating the illustrators of the 1910s who made the decade such a visual delight to go back to. You can learn about their lives, or, if you’re too zonked out from overeating, skip the words and feast your eyes on their beautiful art.
Gordon Conway, who despite her name was a woman, was born in Texas in 1894, the daughter of wealthy parents. Encouraged in her artistic aspirations by her globetrotting mother, she began her career with Condé Nast at the age of 20. She also designed costumes for film and the stage in New York and in Europe, where she moved in 1920 with her husband. The marriage didn’t last long, but she stayed in London, living with her mother. Conway’s work ethic was legendary, but ill health forced her into early retirement in 1937. She returned to the United States as World War II approached, moved to a family estate in Virginia, and died in 1956.
Here’s how Vanity Fair described her in a contributors column in August 1919:
She is one of the more temperamentally inclined of the younger artistic set; she finds it absolutely impossible to get any real stuff into her sketches unless she is sitting in the midst of her pale lavender boudoir, and wearing a green brocaded robe de chambre lined with dull gold and having a single rose on the shoulder. Miss Conway is justly proud of the fact that she draws entirely by ear—never had a lesson in her life.
Here are two of her covers for the magazine,
here is one that Condé Nast lists as “artist unknown” but sure looks like her,
and here is an illustration that Vanity Fair rejected but was later used as a Red Cross poster:
The “new women” Conway portrayed helped shape an era.
Thank you, Gordon!
Georges Lepape, born in 1887 in Paris, was a regular cover artist for Vogue. He lived in France, aside from a brief stint at Condé Nast in New York. He died in 1971.
Here are some of his Vogue covers from 1919,
and here’s one from Vanity Fair.
John Held Jr.
John Held Jr. was born in Salt Lake City in 1889, the son of a British convert to Mormonism. He went to high school with future New Yorker founder Harold Ross, a lifelong friend and associate. Held had just about the best job you could have as a soldier in World War I, supposedly copying hieroglyphics from Mayan ruins but really drawing maps of the coastline and keeping an eye out for German submarines.*
My family had an anthology of New Yorker cartoons when I was growing up, and Held’s woodcuts used to give me the creeps.** So I was surprised to see that he was the artist behind some of Vanity Fair’s cheeriest covers, like these:
Held would go on to do cover illustrations for F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Like a Fitzgerald character, he lived a riotous life, marrying four times, earning a fortune, losing most of it in the 1929 stock market crash, and suffering a nervous breakdown. Fitzgerald notwithstanding, his life did have a second act: he designed the sets for the phenomenally successful 1937 Broadway revue Helzapoppin and served as an artist-in-residence at Harvard. He died in 1958.
Thank you, John!
Last year, my favorite leftist artist was Hugo Geller, who did several cover illustrations for The Liberator. I couldn’t find a trace of him in 1919, though. Luckily, the progressive press had another talented illustrator, Frank Walts.
Walts was born in Indiana (like a surprisingly large number of people I’ve come across in 1919***) in 1877. His art appeared frequently on the cover of The Masses, which shut down in 1917 amid legal problems and was succeeded by The Liberator. He drew the January and February 1918 covers for the NAACP magazine The Crisis,
both of which I featured on my blog without paying much attention to Walts because I was new at this and not focused on who drew what.
In 1919, Walts drew the cover illustration for the annual children’s issue of The Crisis in October
as well as the magazine’s July 1919 issue
and the December 1919 issue of The Liberator, which shines in an otherwise mediocre year of Liberator cover art.
Walts, who also worked as a civil engineer, would go on to illustrate many more covers for The Crisis and The Liberator. He died in 1941.
Thank you, Frank!
I wrote about Dryden in my post for Women’s History Month, so you can read about her life there and enjoy more of her Vogue covers here:
Thank you, Helen!
I first noticed Coles Phillips as the artist behind this haunting hosiery ad:
He was born in Ohio in 1880, moved to New York after graduating from Kenyon college, took night classes in art for a few months, and soon established his own advertising agency, because that’s how life worked in 1919, for some people, anyway. Among his employees was the young Edward Hopper. He joined the staff of Life magazine in 1907 and drew his first “fadeaway girl” cover the next year.
He repeated this technique on many subsequent covers of Life and other magazines, including Good Housekeeping, where he was the sole cover artist for two years beginning in 1912.
By 1919, though, he was focusing mostly on advertising, and specifically on women’s legs.****
He contracted tuberculosis in 1924 and died of a kidney ailment in 1927, at the age of 46.
Thank you, Coles!
Remember Selma Lagerlöf, the Nobel Prize-winning Swedish author I wrote about in September? In the course of researching her life, I came across some amazing Swedish posters for silent films, some of them made from her books. Digging around, I discovered that most are the work of the incredibly prolific Eric Rohman.
Rohman was born in Sweden in 1891. He became an actor and illustrator in the mid-1910s and opened an art studio in about 1920, where he designed posters for Swedish and foreign films. By his own estimate, he produced 7000 posters over the course of his career. He died in 1949.
Here are some of my favorites:
House & Garden is one of those 1919-era magazines that consistently punches above its weight in terms of cover art, but in an unassuming way, so it had never occurred to me to ask who the artists behind my favorite covers were.
One of them, I learned, is Henry George Brandt. (The other is Harry Richardson, but there is even less information available about him online than there is about Brandt, so Brandt it is.) Brandt was born in Germany in 1862, immigrated to the United States in 1882, and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1911 to 1916. (Yes, in his fifties!) He was a painter and muralist as well as an illustrator. He died in Chicago in 1946.
Here are some of his House & Garden covers:
Thank you, George!
Erté is a repeat–he was one of the people I was thankful for last year. But you can’t talk about illustration in 1919 without talking about him. He was born in Russia in 1894 (real name Romain de Tirtoff–his father wanted him to be a naval officer and he adopted the pseudonym to avoid embarrassing his family*****). He moved to Paris as a young man and began a career as an illustrator and costume designer; Mata Hari was among his clients. Harper’s Bazar hired him in 1915; he would go on to illustrate over 200 covers for the magazine. He later went into theater, designing sets and costumes for ballets, revues, and films. He died in Paris in 1960.
I wasn’t able to find most of Erté’s 1919 Harper’s Bazar covers–they’re missing from Hathitrust, the most reliable source of online magazines, and few and far between on the internet. Here are two I was able to find:
Спасибо (and merci), Erté!
10. Norman Rockwell
It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without Norman Rockwell. In 1919, his iconic 1943 Thanksgiving picture Freedom from Want was still far in the future, but he did do a Thanksgiving cover for the November 22 issue of Literary Digest:
Rockwell is one of those people I was surprised to come across in the 1910s because he lived well into my lifetime. (Anthologist Louis Untermeyer and poet Marianne Moore are others.) And he was pretty young then, born in New York in 1894. An early bloomer, he became the art editor of Boy’s Life magazine at the age of 19. His first cover for the Saturday Evening Post appeared in May 1916;
322 others were to follow.
The humor magazines Life and Judge published some illustrations apparently deemed not wholesome enough for the Saturday Evening Post, like this one
****UPDATE 12/3/2019: I originally included this ad, which I’d seen identified as being from 1919. I had my doubts, because it seemed too risqué for 1919, plus would Phillips really have been working for competing hosiery companies? But I was in a rush so I put it in. Turned out I was right: it’s from 1924.
*****No doubt unaware that it would gain him immortality as a crossword puzzle clue.
Every month is Women’s History Month at My Year in 1918. I’m celebrating the official one, though, by taking a closer look at some women I’ve come across in my reading but hadn’t gotten to know very well until now. For each of them, I’ll share something she left behind.
The Poet: Louise Bogan
Louise Bogan, ca. 1920 (Curt Anderson)
Louise Bogan had an illustrious career. She was named to the post now known as the Poet Laureate of the United States in the 1940s and was the New Yorker’s poetry critic for over three decades. When she died in 1970, the New York Timescalled her “one of the most distinguished lyric poets in the English language.”
Bogan’s life was not an easy one. She was born in Maine in 1897, the daughter of a mill superintendent and a mentally unstable woman whose inappropriate sexual behavior contributed to the severe depression Bogan suffered from throughout her life. Her family moved to Boston in 1909 and Bogan attended the famed Girls’ Latin School. After a year at Boston University, she turned down a scholarship to Radcliffe and instead married a soldier. By the time she was 23, she had given birth to a daughter and separated from her husband, who died of pneumonia in 1920. Bogan lived in Vienna for a few years, leaving her daughter behind with her parents (!), and then moved to New York, where she spent the rest of her life.
In 1919, 22-year-old Bogan had already begun to make a name for herself. I first came across her work in the December 1917 issue of the experimental poetry magazine Others. In “The Young Wife,” she describes what it was like to be a woman in an age when premarital sex was forbidden for women and condoned for men.*
Here’s an excerpt from “The Young Wife.” You can read the rest here. Bogan didn’t include it in her 1923 collection Body of This Death, and it’s not widely known today, but it’s become one of my favorite poems.
Others, December 1917
The Artist: Helen Dryden
American Club Woman Magazine, October 1914
1919 was a golden age of illustration, and Helen Dryden’s cheerful, colorful Vogue covers were one reason why. Born into an affluent Baltimore family in 1882, Dryden grew up in Philadelphia and began her career as an artist there. She moved to Greenwich Village in 1909 and soon signed a contract with Condé Nast, where she worked for the next thirteen years. In later life (as I learned in a comment on this blog by fashion blogger witness2fashion) she designed Studebaker car interiors. At one point she was reported to be the highest-paid woman artist in the United States. By 1956, though, she was living in a welfare hotel. I’m not sure what happened in between, and there doesn’t seem to be a biography of Dryden. I hope someone will write one.
In the meantime, here are some Dryden Vogue covers from 1919.
Vogue, January 15, 1919
Vogue, February 15, 1919
Vogue, March 15, 1919
(UPDATE 11/29/2019: Oops! I realized when I did my post on illustrators I’m thankful for that the January 15 cover is by Georges Lepape. To make it up to you (and her), here’s a House & Garden cover Dryden did for House & Garden. I featured it on my blog banner without realizing it was hers.)
The Educator: Josephine Turpin Washington
The Afro-American Press and Its Editors, 1891
I first came across Josephine Turpin Washington when I read her short piece “A Mother’s New Year’s Resolution” in the January 1918 issue of The Crisis. Washington was born in Virginia in 1861, the granddaughter of a Louisiana man named Edwin Durock Turpin and a woman named Mary whom he bought as a slave and, according to a family memoir, fell in love with and married. Washington grew up in Richmond and attended Howard University, working as a clerk for Frederick Douglas during the summers. She taught math at Howard for a few years and then married a doctor and moved to Alabama, where she taught at several African-American universities and wrote on a wide range of issues of concern to the black community. It turns out that we’ll have a chance to learn more about Turpin—a collection of her essays, edited by Rita B. Dandridge, was published last month.
Here’s the beginning of “A Mother’s New Year’s Resolution.”** You can find the rest of the article here. My favorite lines:
I will live with my children not merely for them; since such companionship is worth more than divergent ways, marked by needless sacrifices on the one side and a growing selfishness on the other.
The Crisis, January 1918
The Writer: Mary Roberts Rinehart
Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1914 (Theodore Christopher Marceau)
Mary Roberts Rinehart is often called the American Agatha Christie, although she started writing mysteries more than a decade before Christie did. Rinehart was born outside Pittsburgh in 1876, the daughter of an unsuccessful entrepreneur who committed suicide when she was 19. She attended nursing college, married a doctor, and turned her writing hobby into a profession after she and her husband lost $12,000 in the 1903 stock market crash.*** In 1908, she published her first mystery novel, The Circular Staircase, which sold 1.25 million copies. Reinhart was amazingly prolific, turning out several books a year in a variety of genres—mainstream fiction, travel books, and short stories as well as mysteries. She also wrote several plays, including the 1920 Broadway hit The Bat.
First edition, 1908
Oddly, Rinehart was almost murdered herself. In 1947, while she was staying at her summer house in Bar Harbor, Maine, a chef who had worked for her for 25 years shot at her and then tried to slash her with a pair of knives. Apparently he was angry that Rinehart had hired a butler.**** Other servants subdued him, and he killed himself in jail the next day. Later that year, the house burned down in a huge fire that destroyed 250 Bar Harbor homes. Also in 1947—a horrific year for Rinehart, it seems—she revealed in a Ladies’ Home Journal article that she had had a radical mastectomy and urged women to have breast examinations.
I haven’t read any of Rinehart’s mysteries yet, but I did read, and love, her 1917 comic novel Bab: A Sub-Deb. Here’s the first page. You can read the rest here.
The Playwright: Susan Glaspell
Susan Glaspell, date unknown
Susan Glaspell first won fame as a short story writer and novelist, but she’s best known today as a playwright and as the co-founder, with her husband, of the Provincetown Players, an avant-garde theater group.
Glaspell was born on a farm in Iowa and moved with her family to Davenport when she was a teenager. After graduating from Drake College, she worked in Davenport for a few years as a journalist and then turned to writing fiction full-time. She quickly found success as a short story writer***** and published a bestselling novel called The Glory of the Conquered in 1909. After her second novel appeared in 1911, the New York Times said she was “high among the ranks of American storytellers.”
Glaspell fell in love with a married writer named George Cram Cook, married him in 1913 after his divorce came through, and moved to Greenwich Village. In 1916, she and Cook founded the Provincetown Players in Cape Cod, working alongside friends, including leftist journalist John Reed, to produce a series of innovative one-act plays. Always looking for material, Glaspell asked an acquaintance one day whether he had written any plays. He said he hadn’t, but a friend of his had. The friend was Eugene O’Neill, and the theater produced his first one-act play, Bound East for Cardiff, in July 1916. The group continued its work at the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village.
George Cram Cook and Susan Glaspell, New York Tribune, July 15, 1917
Glaspell’s success continued after her husband’s death in 1924. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1931 for her play Alison’s House. Her best-known work today, though, is the 1916 one-act play Trifles, which was inspired by a murder trial she covered as a journalist. As it opens, a surly farmer has been killed and his wife has been taken in for questioning. The county attorney and the sheriff are interviewing a neighboring farmer in the dead man’s house. The sheriff’s wife and the neighboring farmer’s wife have tagged along. The women make occasional comments about the murder suspect’s preserves and her quilting, and the men snicker. While the men are upstairs investigating, the women discover a dead parakeet, apparently killed by the husband. The investigators haven’t been able to find a motive, and this seems to be it. To protect the abused wife, the women hide the incriminating evidence.
Here’s the first page of Trifles. You can read the play here. (It’s really short!)
Trifles, 1916 edition
It was great to learn more about these inspiring women. But women’s history, like men’s history, isn’t just a pageant of hero(in)es. In my next post I’ll tell you about some 1919 women I’m not such a big fan of.
*Before this project, I had the impression that premarital sex for men was frowned upon in principle but tolerated. In fact, it was more or less encouraged, the theory being that men were physically incapable of abstaining from sex and were better off sleeping with prostitutes or loose women than marrying before they were ready to support a family.
**The Crisis often used swastikas in its graphic design—this was, of course, before the emergence of the Nazi party.
***As an MFA graduate, I’m envious of all those 1919-era women who turned to writing short stories to make money.
****Speaking of butlers, we have Rinehart to thank for the phrase “the butler did it,” which originated with her 1930 novel The Door. She didn’t use those exact words, but—SPOILER ALERT—the butler did do it.
Happy February! I can say this without irony because I live in the southern hemisphere, where it’s like this:
I had a rocky entry into 2019. I had fantasized about all the great new books I’d be able to read once I rejoined the 21st century, but when January 1 rolled around I couldn’t stop reading as if I were living in 1918. The whole idea just freaked me out. It was like reverse culture shock when you return home from overseas, which anyone who’s experienced it can tell you is the worst kind of culture shock. Then there was a transition period when I read “The Waste Land” and other non-contemporary but post-1918 poetry. Now I’ve (mostly) gotten over it and am happily reading Stephen McCauley’s 2018 novel My Ex-Life. In the meantime, I just finished the last 1918 book that I started in 2018 (although I’m still listening to the audiobook of The Education of Henry Adams). As soon as I read the last page, I metaphorically jumped up and said, “I’m ready to go back to blogging!” (Real blogging, not just posting pictures like this.) And I will soon. In the meantime, here are more of the images I’ve posted on Twitter during the hiatus.
During WWI, Americans were warned to “Hooverize,” or conserve food. (The future president was the “Food Czar” and a huge celebrity.) This poster by John Sheridan was one reminder.
U.S. Food Administration poster, John Sheridan, 1918
For those of you suffering through the cold spell in the U.S., here’s a reminder of spring from The Liberator’s wonderful Hugo Gellert.
Variations on a theme, February 1918: Helen Dryden (Vogue) and Erté (Harper’s Bazar).
The Crisis, the NAACP magazine edited by W.E.B. Du Bois, took on discrimination and lynching and other horrors, but it was black America’s community newspaper too. There was an annual children’s issue, with lots of pictures of cute babies. Here are some from October 1918.*
Another luminous William Edouard Scott painting, on the cover of the December 1918 issue of The Crisis. In his editorial, W.E.B. Du Bois poetically identifies African-Americans’ flight north with Joseph and Mary’s flight to Egypt.
See you soon!
*Surprise surprise: people love cute babies. This was by far my most popular tweet of the week, although not as popular as the constipation ad.
Two months into My Year in 1918, I feel like I used to feel two months into a Foreign Service posting: completely at home in some ways but totally bewildered in others. I know who Viscount Morley was*, and which author every critic trots out to bemoan the sad state of fiction**, but there are references that go right over my head. Who is Baron Munchausen? What is Fletcherizing? And the jokes. I’ll never get the jokes.
Best magazine: The Crisis
The Crisis, February 1918
This is a repeat, but no other magazine approaches The Crisis in terms of quality of writing and importance of subject matter. Aside from W.E.B. Du Bois’ autobiographical essay, which I wrote about last week on the 150th anniversary of his birth, the February issue includes Du Bois’ scathing take-down of a government-sponsored study on “Negro Education” that advocated the replacement of higher education institutions with manual, industrial, and educational training. There’s a horrifying account of the mob murder of an African-American man in Dyersburg, Tennessee—so brutal, the magazine reports, that some white townspeople felt he should have had a “decent lynching.” On the literary side, there’s “Leonora’s Conversion,” a slight but engaging story about a wealthy young black woman’s brief flirtation with the church.
I’m not awarding a Worst Magazine this month. Good Housekeeping was a contender again—dialect-talking black maid Mirandy has the month off, but Japanese manservant Hashimura Togo*** expounds on his employer’s marital problems in equally fractured English. (“‘You have left off kissing me as usually,’ she dib. ‘O.’ He march and deliver slight lip.”) The magazine redeems itself somewhat, though, with an article by suffragist Anna Kelton Wiley called “Why We Picketed the White House.”
Good Housekeeping, February 1918
Best short story: “A Sordid Story,” by J., The Egoist
February wasn’t a great month for short stories. Most of the ones I read, including two that made it into The Best American Short Stories of 1918, started out promisingly but ended with pathos or a gimmicky twist. “A Sordid Story,” in the January**** Egoist, isn’t great literature, but it has daring subject matter and lots of atmosphere. It features a Cambridge student named Alphonse, whose life is described in the most British sentence I’ve ever read:
He made friends easily and took friendship seriously; so seriously that he spent nearly the whole of the Michaelmas term following the taking of his degree in reading Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound and The Gospel according to St. Luke in the Greek with a much younger man—a certain Roderick Gregory—who was in his second year, but had hitherto failed to pass his Little-Go.
Maxwell Armfield, from “Cambridge and its History,” 1912
Alphonse falls for Roderick’s sister Beatrice, who “used to have a pet pig, and she called him Shakespeare, because he would be Bacon after his death.” But he spends the night with a working-class girl who grabs his arm as he’s walking near Midsummer Common and says, giggling, “Can yer tell me what o’clock it is?” Horrified with himself the next day, he goes back to her lodgings to pay her off. She tells him that he was her first lover, then, when he tells her it’s over, says, “Yer weren’t the first, then!” Relieved “not to be the first to help send a woman downward,” he goes back to his rooms, where Roderick is playing the cello and twenty-five copies of the Quarterly Journal of Mathematics, in which he has published a paper, await him. It’s only years later that he figures out that he was, in fact, the first.
Worst short story: “A Verdict in the Air,” J.A. Waldron, Judge
Lawrence Fellows, Judge, February 9, 1918
Harwood, on leave from aviation training, goes to a cabaret in Chicago. To his surprise, one of the singers is his childhood sweetheart Bessie Dean, who left their Ohio hometown to pursue a career in opera. She introduces Harwood to her husband Grindel, who takes a dislike to him. A few days later, Harwood is training on the Pacific Coast, when who should show up as a mechanic but Grindel! Harwood has a series of flying accidents, and Grindel is suspected, but he goes AWOL. Harwood is sent to fight with the French army. He visits a friend at a field hospital, where the nurse is none other than Bessie, who has escaped her husband. Back at the front, there’s a heated battle. Harwood pursues the last remaining German plane and hits its rudder after a lively skirmish. As the plane plunges to the ground, he sees that the pilot is—you guessed it—Grindel!
February was a great month for magazine covers. I just wish that the insides of the magazines were half as good. Besides the ones from Harper’s Bazar and Vanity Fair that I’ve mentioned already, there’s this Helen Dryden cover from Vogue,
Helen Dryden, February 1918
and this one, which Norman Rockwell sold to Judge after the Saturday Evening Post turned it down. I can kind of see why.
Norman Rockwell, Judge, February 9, 1918
This isn’t exactly a joke, but it made me laugh. It’s the opening of Louis Untermeyer’s review of poetry collections by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Samuel Roth, and Edwin Curran in the February 14 issue of The Dial.
These three first volumes, with their curious kinship and even more curious contrasts, furnish a variety of themes. They offer material for several essays: on “What Constitutes Rapture”; on “The Desire of the Moth for the Star”; on “The Growing Tendency among Certain Publishers to Ask One Dollar and Fifty Cents for Seventy Pages of Verse”; on “A Bill for the Conservation of Conservative Poetry”; on “Life, Literature, and the Last Analysis”; on “Why a Poet Should Never be Educated.”
Louis Untermeyer, ca. 1910-1915, Library of Congress
The Growing Tendency among Certain Publishers to Ask One Dollar and Fifty Cents for Seventy Pages of Verse! That Louis Untermeyer is such a card!
Not amused? Okay, then, you go back to 1918 and try to find something funnier.
Judge magazine, February 9, 1918
Once again, hard to choose. Maybe this, from the February 9 issue of Judge:
“You don’t—know me, do you, Bobby?” asked a lady who had recently been baptized. “Sure I do,” piped the youth. “You’re the lady what went in swimming with the preacher, last Sunday.”
On to March!
*A British diplomat
**Mrs. Humphrey Ward
***Really Wallace Irwin, who made a career of writing about Togo. Mark Twain was a fan.
****I was reading The Egoist a month late on the principle that it would have taken time for the magazine to get to the United States, which I’ve since decided is ridiculous.