Friday, December 30, 2005

The Damned and the Beautiful

For a change of pace, I thought I would take a break from reading film biographies. Instead, I thought I might read up on the Jazz Age - one of my favorite periods in history. I've had a copy of The Damned and the Beautiful, by Paula Fass, sitting around for sometime. Originally published by Oxford University Press in 1977, this almost 500 page book is a sociological study of American youth in the 1920's. After the first few chapters, I decided I really couldn't finish this book. I found it somewhat dry, though interesting at times. I skimmed over the remaining chapters.

The author did her homework. She quotes from a number of books, magazine articles, and even student newspapers from the time. (Thus, I found the footnotes especially interesting! Fass cited a bunch of university newspapers, some of which I hope to eventually explore for Louise Brooks / Denishawn reviews.) One thing I especially liked about the book were the quotes which prefaced each chapter. Chapter 7 begins with these.

"To me the Jazz Age signifies an age of freedom in thought and action. The average young person of today is not bound by the strict conventions which governed the actions of previous generations." - University of Denver coed

"The word flapper to us means not a female atrocity who smokes, swears, delights in pictures like The Shiek and kisses her gentlemen friends goodnight, although there is no particular harm in any of the foregoing. We always think of the flapper as the independent, 'pally' young woman, a typical American product. Frivolity . . . . is not a crime, and flappers, being young, are naturally frivolous.

Any real girl . . . who has the vitality of young womanhood, who feels pugilistically inclined when called the 'weaker sex,' who resents being put on a pedestal and worshipped from afar, who wants to get into things herself, is a flapper . . . . The flapper is the girl who is responsible for the advancement of woman's condition in the world. The weak, retiring, 'clinging' variety of woman really does nothing in the world but cling." - Letter to the editor, Daily Illini, April 20, 1922

I will probably go back to this book sometimes, at least to pick through the footnotes. I've starting reading another, less academic, book - That Jazz, by Ethan Mordden. Originally published in 1978, this 300-plus page book is subtitled "An Idiosyncratic Social History of the American Twenties." I first notice this title in the bibliography of Louise Brooks, by Barry Paris. I am about thirty pages into it - and am liking it.

p.s. Mordden is best known as the author of well-received books on opera, film, and theater. He is also a novelist. In 1988, he published a novel entitled Everybody Loves You: Further Adventures in Gay Manhattan, in which he drops the name of a certain silent film star. . . ."When we gather at the board, I babble, dispersing the attacks. I am like a bag lady in the scattered energy of my references. I speak of Louise Brooks, of The Egoist, of Schubert's song cycles. They nod. They ask intelligent questions."

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