Tag Archives: Smart Set

Are You H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan’s Ideal Woman? A Quiz

Hi, everyone! It’s been a while. For a few weeks I was working full-time and also taking this online course at MIT, which taxed my ability to maintain a basic level of sanitation, let alone write a blog. Now that I’ve switched to part-time I have quite a backlog,* but if a post sits around in my head for too long it starts to feel like homework, and it’s Fourth of July weekend and who wants to do homework?

Cover, Smart Set, July 1920, man and woman in bathing suits.

Smart Set, July 1920 (modjourn.org)

Luckily, 1920 came through, in the form of an article by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan in the July 1920 issue of Smart Set called “Répétition Générale.” There are often articles called “Répétition Générale” in Smart Set, consisting of Mencken and Nathan, the magazine’s co-editors (and literary critic and drama critic respectively), going on about whatever they feel like.**

This time, what they feel like going on about is The Ideal Women. Italics theirs, followed by a list of 57 qualities this paragon possesses.

“Yay!” I said. “Quiz time!”

Longtime readers might be thinking, well, she has some nerve, given that I wrote an entire blog post on how Mencken is not my romantic ideal, and another one rejecting Nathan as a possible suitor. But just because you don’t love someone doesn’t mean you don’t want them to love you. So I got out my pen to tally my score. You can follow along, marking your answers as true or false. Because one can only endure so much perfection, I pared the 57 questions down to 25. There’s a scoring chart at the end.

Here goes!***

Smart Set headline, Repetition Generale, H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, July 1920.

The Ideal Woman—

1. In writing a letter, she never adds an apostrophe to every word ending with S, and, when she makes a blot, never undertakes facetiously to comment on it.

TRUE. I never, ever get apostrophes wrong. Admittedly I don’t make many ink blots these days, but due to the ferocity with which I oppose misplaced apostrophes I will give myself full credit here.****

2. Upon deliberately touching a man’s foot under the table, she never makes a pretence of having believed it was the leg of the table and of ejaculating, “Oh, sorry.”

Saturday Evening Post cover, Norman Rockwell, May 1, 1920, man and woman at Ouija board.

Norman Rockwell, May 1, 1920

TRUE. Side note: I think Mencken and Nathan are deluding themselves here.

3. After eating a particularly sticky piece of candy, she doesn’t place her hand on one’s shoulder under the guise of a sudden burst of affection.

Tootsie Roll ad, Saturday Evening Post, May 22, 1920, woman putting candy in mouth.

Saturday Evening Post, May 22, 1920

TRUE. Because I’m not five years old.

4. If she desires to say “I love you,” she says it in English and doesn’t go in for “je t’aime.”

A Dance in the Country, Auguste Renoir, 1883, couple dancing.

A Dance in the Country, Auguste Renoir, 1883

TRUE.

5. She can drink a lemonade or an orangeade, a gin daisy, a milk punch or a mint julep through a straw without making a noise like the last quart of water running out of the bath-tub when she gets to the bottom of the glass.

October 1914 Coca-Cola calendar, woman drinking through straw.

prices4antiques.com

TRUE. See #3.

6. She never makes use of such phrases as “yes indeedy.”

TRUE. As far as I can recall I have never in my life said “Yes indeedy.”

7. She signs her name simply and doesn’t put a bow-knot with two dots underneath it below the signature.

TRUE. Viz:*****

Signature "Mary Grace McGeehan" in library hand.

8. Her handbag contains just and only such articles as she needs, and isn’t packed full of two month’s old streetcar transfers, tops of pill boxes, keys the identity of which she has long forgotten, addresses of dressmakers long since deceased, cigar bands with sentimental histories, and a number of archaeological fuzz-covered salted almonds.

FALSE. It’s only because Coronavirus has brought my handbag-carrying days to a temporary halt that you are not being subjected to an inventory or, worse, a photograph.

9. When tiffing with one over the telephone and at a loss for an appropriate retort, she never tries to gain time by resorting to the subterfuge of clicking the hook up and down and, blaming it on Central, exclaiming, “Isn’t that ma-ddening?”

Women at C&P Telephone Exchange, Washington, D.C., ca. 1920, Herbert French.

C&P Telephone Exchange, Washington, D.C., ca. 1920 (Herbert E. French)

FALSE. I was going to give myself this one until I remembered the time back in the eighties when, desperate to shake off a cluelessly persistent admirer, I unplugged the phone in mid-sentence, and then blamed the phone company when he called back.

10. It is possible for her to pucker up her lips and whistle without imparting to her face the aspect of a dried-up lemon.

FALSE. I can’t whistle so am thankfully spared the dried-up lemon test.

11. She is able to find the telephone number of John Smith & Co. without first looking through all the B’s, M’s, and P’s.

New York telephone directory listings, 1920.

New York Telephone directory listings, 1920 ( Bell Telephone News, Volume 9, Number 9, April 1920)

TRUE. (UPDATE 7/5/2020: Hey, I know one of these guys! The last person on the list, Walter C. Arensberg, was a would-be poet and noted modern art collector. I made fun of one of his poems here.)

12. Entertaining a male guest in her home, she is able imperturbably to observe a spark fall from the latter’s cigarette without following it with her eyes and making sure that it doesn’t burn the carpet.

H. L. Mencken caricature by McKee Barclay, 1920 (Digital Maryland)

FALSE. Okay, it’s their ideal, but “willingness to risk having your house catch on fire to accommodate my sloppy habits” is pushing it.

13. She is able to pass the windows of a man’s club-house without looking in.

Photograph of the Townsend house, now the Cosmos Club, Washington, D.C., 1915.

Townsend House, now the Cosmos Club, Washington, D.C., 1915, Francis Benjamin Johnson (Library of Congress)

TRUE. Granted, I haven’t had a lot of opportunities lately, but I lived not far from the Cosmos Club in D.C. before it went coed in 1988, and I never tried to peek inside.

14. When in a theater, she doesn’t give birth to a look of annoyance when someone (who has paid for it and has a perfect right to it) comes and takes the seat next to her upon which she has placed her hat.

Theater audience, Plaza Theatre, Geelong, Victoria, Australia, 1920.

Plaza Theatre, Geelong, Victoria, Australia, ca. 1920 (Museums Victoria)

TRUE. But I’m lucky this is about theaters, not trains.

15. She is able to walk through one of the poor tenement districts and observe a small child without remarking that the child looks as if it didn’t get enough to eat.

Lower East Side, New York, street scene, ca. 1915.

Lower East Side, ca. 1915 (Library of Congress)

TRUE.

16. When, in an elevator, an operator calls out the sixth floor, at which she desires to get out, she gets out without asking the operator whether it is the sixth floor.

Men tipping hats at woman going into elevator, from the John Lloyd film High and Dizzy, 1920.

Still from “High and Dizzy,” 1920

FALSE. Although with me it’s more a case of the door opening, people starting to get out, and me saying, “Oh, wait, is this six?”

17. She is able to play a sentimental song on a piano without trying to sing it.

Sheet music, I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time, man and woman walking past apple tree, 1920.

Sheet music, 1920 (indianahistory.org)

FALSE. First of all, there’s my inability to play a sentimental song on a piano, period. But there’s also my desire to sing along with whatever music is playing under whatever circumstance, which I often, but not often enough, manage to suppress.

18. She has the kind of lips that look permanently as if they had just said “if.”

FALSE. Although be careful for what you wish for:

Photograph

Me when I just said “if”

Me when I didn’t just say “if”

19. She never asks one to explain to her just what it is that causes the illumination on fireflies.

Erté Harper's Bazar cover, May 1918

Erté, May 1918

TRUE. The master****** of my house in college was one of the world’s foremost experts on bioluminescence, and I never even asked him that. Although that’s a bad example, since I went through college with the extremely misguided policy of never asking anyone in a position of authority anything.

20. She never has her photograph taken showing her looking wistfully at a lily.

Calla Lilies, Irises and Mimosas, Henri Matisse, 1913.

Calla Lilies, Irises and Mimosas, Henri Matisse, 1913

FALSE. When I lived in Cambodia, this was the default photographic pose for women.

21. She has never read Laurence Hope’s “India Love Lyrics.”

Passage from "India's Love Lyrics" by Laurence Hope.

From “India’s Love Lyrics,” by Laurence Hope, 1902

TRUE. Although naturally I had to check it out, and if this passage is anything to go by, it’s pretty steamy by ca. 1900 standards.

22. When a phonograph starts playing a swinging fox-trot, she is able to sit still and behave herself instead of standing up and vouchsafing a movement or two symbolic of her gracefulness and irrepressible gypsy blood.

Sheet music for The Vamp, 1919, woman with flower in hair.

Leo Feist Inc., 1919 (National Museum of American History)

FALSE. See #17.

23. When lunching and shown the tray of French pastry, she is able to make her selection at once, without rolling her eye lingeringly around the platter three or four times.

Illustration of pastries from The Book of Cakes, 1904.

The Book of Cakes, T. Percy Lewis and A.G. Bromley, 1904

FALSE. I see no need whatsoever to justify myself here.

24. There is in her family no rich relative of whom she is very proud but to whom, by way of screening the pride, she is in the habit periodically of alluding in derogatory terms.

Publicity photo of Irene Noblette, also known as Irene Ryan, 1930.

Publicity photo of Irene Ryan, 1930 (beverlyhillbillies.fandom.com)

TRUE. Irene Ryan, best known as Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies, was my grandfather’s cousin’s wife. I have never in my life said a word against her.*******

25. She has at no time in her life evinced any curiosity to see Chinatown.

FALSE. I have, in fact, evinced so much curiosity about Asia as to move not only to Cambodia but also to Laos. Here I am at the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khuong, Laos, in 2008.

Plain of Jars, Xiang Khoang, Laos

That’s it! Time to tally up your scores.

21-25: You are silent film star LILLIAN GISH, with whom Nathan was desperately in love, but who turned down his many marriage proposals.********

Head shot of Lillian Gish, ca. 1919.

Lillian Gish, ca. 1919

16-20: You are writer and college professor SARA HAARDT, whom Mencken married in 1930, when he was 49 and she was 32. She was in poor health at the time of their marriage and died five years later.

Sara Haardt Mencken, wife of H.L. Mencken, 1919.

Sara Haardt Mencken, 1919

11-15: You are Mencken’s longtime lover MARION BLOOM, of whom he wrote in a letter to her sister (!), “Like all other right-thinking gals she wants a husband…For me to marry her would be sheer insanity. The first time she began her childish nonsense about Kant, Hegel, materialism, etc., I’d walk out of the house and never come back.”

Marion Bloom, lover of H.L. Mencken, date unknown, from In Defense of Marion.

Marion Bloom, date unknown

1-10. You are a PROVINCIAL SCHOOLMA’AM, a SUPERSTITIOUS BLUESTOCKING, a SUNDAY SCHOOL-TEACHING VIRGIN, or any of the other terms that Mencken hurled at women, real and imagined, who didn’t share his taste in literature. Although, given the wording of the questions, you’re more likely to be one of the less intellectual members of the Ziegfeld Follies chorus.

I got a 15, so I’m a Marion, one point away from being a Sara. That’s fine with me. They both seem like decent people, dubious taste in men aside. But don’t worry, whatever your score, there’s no chance whatsoever that Mencken or Nathan will call you up, forcing you to cut off the line and blame Central.

Have a safe and happy July 4 weekend, everyone!

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*Including, as I tweeted, a post about the (arguably) first gay American novel, which I didn’t finish in time for LGBT Pride month but will get to sometime. (Except that, oops, I just invoked the promised post curse.)

**Must be nice, I thought reflexively, until I remembered that I don’t exactly have a lot of editorial restrictions here.

***As always, men are welcome to play along! You’re at an unfair advantage, though.

****Apostrophized plurals are a particular scourge in South Africa, where I live most of the time, because in Afrikaans you put an apostrophe before the S when a word ends with a vowel (e.g. foto’s), and this spills over into English.

*****This isn’t my real handwriting–it’s a not completely successful effort at library hand. I don’t think signature forgery is much of a thing anymore, but best to be on the safe side.

******A title that was, amazingly, only retired four years ago. We used to actually call the person “Master So-and-So.”

*******I learned just now that she and her husband Tim Ryan were a well-known Vaudeville duo, and that they divorced in 1942.

********And, according to some sources, dumped him when she found out he was Jewish.

1920 magazine covers bring late winter cheer

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,

Country Life magazine cover, February 1920, woman skiing.

Edwin Wilson

snowshoeing,

and pathetic ice skating.

Norman Rockwell cover, Saturday Evening Post, February 7, 1920

Norman Rockwell

And also engaging in unwholesome outdoor activities like this:

Warren Davis March 1920 Vanity Fair cover, naked woman walking into the ocean.

Warren Davis

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,

Frank Walts The Crisis cover, February 1920, drawing of African-American boy.

Frank Walts

Helen Dryden at Vogue,

Helen Dryden Vogue cover, February 15, 1920, woman looking in mirror.

Helen Dryden

A.M. Hopfmuller at Shadowland,

A.M. Hopfmuller February 1920 Shadowland cover, abstract landscape.

A.M. Hopfmuller

and, as always, Erté at Harper’s Bazar.

Erté February 1920 Harper's Bazar cover, woman in gown on beach.

Erté

There’s a Valentine’s theme at Red Cross

Red Cross magazine cover, February 1920, dog carrying Valentines.

(Google/HathiTrust)

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

Sunset magazine cover, February 1920, woman in traditional Spanish-Mexican dress.

and Liberator

Hugo Gellert

and World Outlook.

I loved these covers from House & Garden

Charles Livingston Bull House & Garden cover, February 1920.

Charles Livingston Bull

and Popular Mechanics

February 1920 Popular Mechanics cover, vehicles transporting houses and stores.

and Elite Styles.

February 1920 Elite Styles cover, woman in gown in room.

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!

St. Nicholas cover, March 1920, young man and women in wind.

(Google/HathiTrust)

Woman's World cover, February 1920, children struggling with kite.

They’re getting in some late-season ice skating at Red Cross**

Norman Rockwell Red Cross cover, couple skating.

Norman Rockwell

and some early-season boating at Motor Boating.

Motor Boating cover, March 1920, woman in pink coat steering wheel of boat.

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.

Popular Mechanics cover, March 1920, elephant hunt.

Everybody’s is late to the Valentine’s Day party.

Everybody's magazine cover, March 1920, soldier with cupid in helmet.

Vogue has a cover by regular George Wolfe Plank

George Wolfe Plank Vogue cover, March 1, 1920, flapper on bed.

George Wolfe Plank

and one by 26-year-old newcomer Harriet Meserole, who would go on to be a Vogue stalwart.****

Vogue cover, March 15, 1920.

Harriet Meserole

Bright spring colors abound at Harper’s Bazar

Erte Harper's Bazar cover, March 1920, Erte.

Erté

and The Delineator

Delineator cover, March 1920, woman in cape.

and The Green Book

Green Book cover, March 1920.

and House & Garden

Harry Richardson House & Garden cover, March 1920, house with path and flowers.

Harry Richardson

and Shadowland

A.M. Hopfmuller Shadowland cover, March 1920.

A.M. Hopfmuller

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 Vanity Fair cover, March 1920, couples dancing.

Anne Harriet Fish

Future New Yorker cartoonist Rea Irvin was the artist for this striking, though problematic to modern sensibilities, Life cover.

Rea Irvin Life magazine cover, March 1920.

Rea Irvin

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.*****

Neysa McMein Saturday Evening Post cover, March 6, 1920.

Neysa McMein

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.

J.J. Lankes Liberator cover, March 1920, woodcut of horse and cart.

J.J. Lankes

This Photoplay cover isn’t particularly notable except that “If Christ Went to the Movies” is the best cover headline ever.******

Rolf Armstrong Photoplay cover, March 1920, Alice Joyce.

Rolf Armstrong

And it wouldn’t be March without a lion and a lamb, courtesy of Carton Moore-Park:*******

Carton Moore-Park Ladies' Home Journal cover, March 1920, lion and lamb with astrological signs.

Carton Moore-Park

Counting the days until spring!

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*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:

Harriet Meserole Vogue cover, March 15, 1920

*****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.

Neysa McMein marching in a suffragist parade, 1917.

New York Times, November 4, 1917

******Excerpt:

Excerpt from March 1920 Photoplay article "If Christ Went to the Movies."

*******Moore-Park also drew the “is it a lady or a parrot?” August 1919 LHJ cover.

Carton Moore-Park August 1919 Ladies' Home Journal cover, parrot looking at caterpiller.

The Top 10 Posts of 1919…and a new name for a new decade

Happy New Year, everyone!

The beginning of a new decade is a good time for a fresh start. A time to review your diet, and your exercise routine, and your blog title. When I launched My Year in 1918 on January 1, 2018, I expected it to be a one-year journey to the world of a hundred years ago. Which it was, in the sense that I spent that year reading ONLY as if I were living 100 years ago. Since this is not something one can do indefinitely, I reentered the 21st century at the beginning of 2019. I found I didn’t want to leave the 1910s behind, though, so I continued reading and writing about the world of 1919.

Vanity Fair cover, January 1920, cartoon of people driving cars.

Which, since I didn’t listen to my friend Emily, who warned me about this exact scenario, left me with an outdated blog name. I didn’t worry about this too much in 2019, seeing the year as an extended victory lap. But, as the 1920/2020s approached, I was growing tired of having to give long-winded explanations about why my blog was called My Year in 1918.

So I’m excited to announce this blog’s new, non-expiring, name: My Life 100 Years Ago.*

The Crisis cover, January 1920, woman wearing turban.

Now on to the most popular posts of the year.

The Top 10 wasn’t as competitive a category in 2019 as it was in 2018, when, posting with monomaniacal zeal, I ended up with 94 contenders. Last year I only published 21 posts. Still, thanks to the magic of Google search engine optimization—the more you’ve written the more important Google thinks you are, so you end up being, say, the go-to person on glamorous spy ring leader Despina Storch—I ended up with a slightly higher number of views in 2019 than in 2018.**

Here are the top 10 posts, starting with #7 because there is, weirdly, a four-way tie in that position.

#7 (tie). Ten 1919 Illustrators I’m Thankful For

Coles Phillips Vogue cover, woman with hat,

I had a great time learning about the lives and art of these illustrators. My favorite discovery was Coles Phillips, who pioneered the Fadeaway Girl technique.***

#7 (tie). Can you beat me at this 1919 intelligence test? Probably!

Number chart for intelligence test, American Magazine, 1919.

Last year, I took a vocabulary-based intelligence test from 1918 and did pretty well. This year, I took a series of intelligence tests from 1919 and, well, the title says it all.

#7 (tie). My Perfect 1919 Summer Morning

I woke up one day in D.C. to find it was a miraculously beautiful August morning, then spent the whole day inside writing this blog post. It was worth it, though. For one thing, I now know way more than I used to about 1919 deodorant.

#7 (tie). Nobel Prize Laureate Selma Lagerlöf: A Swedish storyteller whose own story couldn’t be told

Posed photograph of Selma Lagerlof leaning against Sophie Elkan.

While spending a month in Sweden, I looked into the life of the first woman Nobel Prize laureate in literature and found lots of romantic intrigue.

#6. Princeton interlude: Orange and black is the new black

Princeton students in beer suits, ca. 1926.

In which I go to my Princeton grad school reunion and take on a burning question: What’s with those goofy jackets?

#5. And the best novel of 1918 is…

Good news—clickbait works! So I won’t tell you what it is here either. Hint: it’s based on the real-life woman pictured with her family in this photograph.

#4. My Quest to Earn a 1919 Girl Scout Badge, Part 2

I have had a huge amount of fun doing this blog. The intelligence tests! The quizzes on What’s Your 1918 Girl Job? and Did College Shrink Your Breasts?! The search for 1918 love! But setting out to earn badges from the 1916 Girl Scout handbook was the most fun of all. In this second round, I polished silver and translated Proust and played the recorder and…well, read for yourself!

#3. Children’s Books: Your 1919 Holiday Shopping Guide

Man shooting duck, illustration by Boyd Smith, Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.

This was another of my favorite projects of the year, and readers must have agreed—this post shot up to #3 in only twelve days. One surprise was the amount of violence in children’s books of 100 years ago. The illustration here is from a NURSERY RHYME.

#2. April 1919 Ladies’ Home Journal Ads: A Riot of Color for Spring

1919 Uneeda Biscuit ad with slogan Peace and Plenty, illustration of cornucopia.

The popularity of this post taught me this lesson: “People don’t care what you write, just put up a bunch of cool pictures and they’ll be happy.”

#1. My Quest to Earn a 1919 Girl Scout Badge

The humongous success of this post—it had three time as many views as the next most popular post of the year—shows that readers had as much fun as I did with the Girl Scout badge quest. Luckily, there are more badges to be earned this year, with a new edition of the Girl Scout handbook out in 1920. And if you missed the second installment, it’s just a click away at #4!

Honorable Mentions:

Downtown Provo

Exploring Provo–and Mormon History: Sometimes initial popularity hurts a post in the stats, because if you read the post at the top of the blog without clicking on it then it’s credited to the home page. This is what happened with this post, which tied the record for daily views when first published but ended up as #18 of 21 for the year.

Celebrating 100 Posts: 2017 Me Interviews 2019 Me about My Year in 1918: There’s no particular reason to give this post an honorable mention except that I like it, it wasn’t far out of tied-for-tenth place, and it’s a good introduction to the blog if you’re just discovering it now.

Dishonorable Mention

More beautiful images from 1918: I always hope that the least-viewed post of the year doesn’t turn out to be a labor of love that I spent days and days on. Luckily (and perhaps not coincidentally), this hasn’t been the case so far. 2019’s worst performer, with 10 views**** (which is at least better than last year’s two), is one of three posts of images that I published in the first weeks of 2019, when I was shell-shocked after emerging from 1918. So I guess the “people only want to look at pictures” rule isn’t infallible.

Best-Performing Post from 2018

In search of a good mother poem: Posts originally published in 2018 didn’t qualify for Top 10 honors. Which is bad luck for this one, which only came in 17th last year but was this year’s second most viewed overall. I hope that all these visitors weren’t seeking inspirational Mother’s Day verse, since they would have been disappointed. That is, I think “Dedication for a Plot of Ground,” William Carlos Williams’ tribute to his fierce grandmother, is inspiring, but I can’t imagine it on a needlepoint sampler.

All the best for the new year! I’m looking forward to sharing the Roaring Twenties with you.

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*UPDATE 1/2/2020: This blog’s URL is now officially mylife100yearsago.com. Myyearin1918.com redirects to this site, so everything should happen seamlessly from your end regardless of how you access it, except maybe RSS feeds. (Drop me a line if it doesn’t.) Everyone on the internet made this process sound incredibly scary–“you’ll want to brush up on your FTP skills,” etc.–but it ended up taking five minutes on WordPress.

**Another thing about search engine optimization: Google severely punishes broken links, which my blog suddenly has lots of. The Modernist Journals Project recently revamped its site, breaking my many links to magazines such as The Smart Set, The Crisis, and The Little Review. I’m fixing them one by one. If you encounter a broken link to something you need (or just want) to see, send me a message on the Contact page and I’ll send you the link. (To the person who clicked eight times last week trying in vain to get to the issue of The Smart Set with H.L. Mencken’s review of My Ántonia in it, here it is.)

***Phillips seems to have been the inspiration for Grace Lin’s children’s book A Big Bed for Little Snow, which was just reviewed in the New York Times, with a fadeaway illustration from the book of a mother and child. In the book, Lin writes, “Little Snow listened to Mommy’s footsteps fade away,” which I suspect is a shout-out. (UPDATE 1/18/020: I sent a message to Grace Lin’s website to ask about this and got a response saying that Lin discusses the connection in this video. It’s well worth watching if you’ve got five minutes, and not just because of the Phillips connection.)

****But, remember, more people read it on the home page.

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New on the Book List:

I have been very lazy about updates. I’ve recently added mini-reviews for the latest (and last) entries for 2019:

The Girl from the Marsh Croft, by Selma Lagerlöf (1908; translated 1910)
Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1916)
Pictures of the Floating World, by Amy Lowell (1919)

The best and worst of April 1918: Magazines, stories, faint praise, and neologisms

A third of the way through!

After four months in 1918, I’ve become both more optimistic and more pessimistic about our present world. More optimistic because so many problems that seemed intractable back then, like the acceptability in mainstream circles of overt racism, sexism, and antisemitism, are gone now. More pessimistic because of all the new problems, like global warming, that people back then couldn’t have conceived of.

Okay, enough philosophizing. On to the best and worst of April 1918.

Best magazine: The Dial

The Dial is one of the most reliably interesting reads of 1918. It started out in 1840 as an outlet for the Transcendentalists (Louisa May Alcott’s father came up with the name) and was now a Chicago-based political and literary journal. H.L. Mencken wasn’t a fan—he ridiculed the “insane labeling and pigeon-holing that passes for criticism among the gifted Harvard boys of the Dial and the Nation”—but staff writer Randolph Bourne gave as good as he got, saying that Mencken and Theodore Dreiser “beat at a straw man of puritanism which, for the younger generation, has not even the vitality to be interesting.”*

The Dial did have a tendency to review seemingly every book that showed up on its doorstep, like Colorado, the Queen Jewel of the Rockies. But when a single (April 11) issue includes John Dewey on education, historian Charles Beard (who had recently resigned in protest from Columbia) on universities and democracy, Conrad Aiken on poetry,** and Bourne on immigrant fiction, I can forgive a lot.

Best short story: “The Swimming Pool” by Evelyn Campbell, Smart Set

I haven’t read many magazine short stories this month. In fact, I’ve read just one: this one. And I wouldn’t call it a great story. So this might strike you as a shoddy bit of best-and-worst selecting. But something about this story by Evelyn Campbell, a 22-year-old screenwriter and Ziegfeld Follies girl, got to me.

A woman, swimming in a pool as darkness falls, strikes up a conversation with a man. They’re both natural swimmers, creatures of the water, and during their brief conversation they fall a little in love.

Suddenly it was dusk. Not in the enclosure made brilliant by white bulbs, but up above in the oblong of dark blue sky where newly awakened stars began to show timid faces to their bolder rivals. They were in the deep water which lay densely beneath them. Again they turned upon their backs and floated.

As the woman leaves the country club with her horrible rich husband and their children, she passes the man, who’s wearing an ill-cut suit. Her daughter says, Oh, look, the new janitor. A typical Smart Set snappy ending. In most stories, though, the twist at the end is the point—the rest is just setup. Here, the spell that the water casts on the swimmers is the point, and the ending is just the resolution.

Some of Campbell’s descriptions work better than others—I can’t picture what “in the middle of the pool a big golden square turned the water to bright emerald” looks like—but she’s trying something other writers just weren’t doing in 1918. That is, Imagist poets were, but not magazine short story writers.

Best magazine cover: The Crisis

Even by 1918’s high standards, this was an exceptional month for magazine covers. I’ve posted pictures of several of them already (here and here and here). The standout, though, is the cover of the April issue of The Crisis, the NAACP magazine edited by W.E.B. Du Bois. It features a copy of a painting called “Lead Kindly Light,” made for the magazine by 34-year-old William Edouard Scott (and now owned by the Huntington Museum of Art in West Virginia).

Here’s how the magazine’s editorial, probably written by Du Bois, interprets the painting.

It is just an old lantern, filled with grimy oil. It cannot lead anywhere, yet its light leads. Its golden light streams through the night.

Whose is the light?

It is not the lantern’s. It simply seems to be the lantern’s radiance. It is the Light of the World and it leads not toward the millennium in the North, but out of the insult and prostitution and ignorance and lies and lynchings of the South—up toward a chance, a new chance,—nothing more. But thank God for that…

Lead, Kindly Light.

Worst magazine cover: Ladies’ Home Journal

This is a repeat, but nothing was going to beat this Ladies’ Home Journal cover, titled (by me) “Oh, how sweet! My boyfriend killed someone!”

Best poem: “Is It Worth While,” Violet Hunt, Poetry

Violet Hunt, ca. 1900

Reading Poetry magazine, you can see how living in 1918 was like living in two worlds. In the April 1918 issue, there’s page after page of purple mountains, and it could be 1868, and suddenly there’s Violet Hunt mourning her relationship with Ford Madox Hueffer (Ford), and it could be 1968.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Faintest praise in a book review: T.S. Eliot, The Egoist

archive.org

This was a surprisingly competitive category. At first, this unsigned review in the April 11 Dial, of Lorinda Munson Bryant’s American Pictures and their Painters, looked like a shoo-in:

One sincerely wishes that Mrs. Bryant in her enthusiasm for nature, both inanimate and human, had focused her numerous descriptions of the subject matter of the paintings. That the painter has chosen to paint a wintry landscape…is surely no excuse for a genteel panegyric on winter, or that the artist has selected a human being…is no excuse for a general eulogy of mankind. In the family circle a little girl, it is true, may be a “darling,” but in a painting that may be the least interesting of her attributes….If the subject is a woman, and a thin one at that, the author thinks the artist would have been wiser to select a plumper and rosier model…Aside from these minor defects the book is a handy and valuable compendium.

From “Hearts of Controversy,” by Alice Meynell, second edition, 1918

But then I came across this review of Alice Meynell’s Hearts of Controversy by Apteryx, AKA T.S. Eliot, in the April issue of The Egoist, and we had a winner.

In its peculiar anti-style, Mrs. Meynell’s book, like all her books, is extremely well written, and she can incidentally pick out good bits from authors. If we can accept this attitude, we shall enjoy the book very much. And people who have a taste for that antiquated genre, that parlour-game, the Polite Essay—which consists in taking a tiny point and cutting figure eights around it, without ever uttering one’s meaning in plain words—will find in Mrs. Meynell’s last essay (“Charmain”) an almost perfect example of a forgotten craft which indeed had its attractions.

*                                              *                                              *

But we must learn to take literature seriously.

(Asterixes Apteryx’s.)

Best neologism: Surréaliste

Study for a portrait of Guillaume Appolinaire, Jean Metzinger, 1911

“SURRÉALISTE is the denomination M. Guillaume Apollinaire—there is no doubt his astounding name continues to have good reason for keeping well in evidence—has attached to his play, Les Mamelles de Tirésias,” the Paris correspondent for The Egoist tells us. I knew that the surrealist movement was just getting underway in 1918, but it seemed strange to think of the word itself being a novelty. So I crunched some big data—that is, did a Google Books N-Gram***—and it’s true, surreal and its variants were pretty much non-existent at that point. So what did people say when things were, you know, surreal?

Best humor: 

In The Bookman, there’s a report about the mystery surrounding the identity of the author of The Book of Artemas, a bestselling British spoof relating current events in biblical style. Was it G.K. Chesterton? J.M. Barrie? Hilaire Belloc? George Bernard Shaw? (It would turn out to be someone no one ever heard of named Arthur Telford Mason.) Here’s an excerpt:

5. Whilst Wudro, the son of Wyl, was tending his flock of young men in the pasture that is knowledge, and after he had taught them how they should go and what things they should know,
6. Behold, the men of Amer came unto him, saying, We have chosen thee for to rule over us; and we have
brought thee an high hat for to wear as the badge of thine office; and the size of the hat, it is six and seven-eights.
7. And because he knew not what he was letting himself
in for, he gave way to their importuning, and did put on the high hat, the size whereof was six and seven-eights.
8. And it came to pass that when the men of En fought against the men of Hu, they did send messengers unto the land of Amer for to buy them munitions for the war. And they took
with them gold in great quantity wherewith to satisfy the merchants that did sell unto them. Therefor did the land of Amer prosper exceedingly.

Worst joke:

Judge, April 27, 1918

On to May!

*Kind of harsh, since Bourne was only six years younger than Mencken.

**He agrees with me about Christopher Morley’s goopiness.

***Which is really fun—you should try if you’re off Facebook and looking for new ways to waste time.