Flapper by Joshua Zeitz
My fascination with the roaring twenties was well nourished with this informative yet light-hearted and enjoyable book.
Taking the flapper as the personification of the Jazz Age, the author looks in detail at some of the trends and personalities that contributed to the overall mood of the decade. All the Bright Young Things – Clara Bow, Coco Chanel, Louise Brooks, Lois Long and, of course, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald – are here, dancing the Charleston, drinking bootleg liquor and generally shocking Victorian sensibilities by having a roaring good time.
I particularly enjoyed meeting, for the first time, Lois Long (pictured below) – a journalist on The New Yorker, who wrote about her social life under the pen-name ‘Lipstick’. She was seen as an embodiment of the ‘New Woman’:
She smoked; she drank; she stayed out all night. She worked for her own money and made no apologies for her lifestyle (page 89).
Witty, beautiful and fun, she is my new ‘I wish I was her’ heroine. Even her name is cool.
Fresh from a night on the town, dressed to the nines, and flush from hours of heavy drinking, Long managed consistently to leave the key to her enclosed cubicle at home and amused her colleagues by kicking off her heels, climbing in stocking feet onto the doorknob of her workstation, and hoisting herself over the demipartition wall. In hot weather, she’d casually strip down to her slip and clack away at her typewriter (page 91).
Overall, this is one of those books that gives you a taste that makes you hungry for more information. I now want to read biographies of all the main characters mentioned, especially Ms Long.
Other books recommended for anyone with an interest in this era are:
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
- Fictional story about movie star Louise Brooks’ first trip to New York. Lots of detail about her life (all pretty accurate), but it is the chaperone of the title that steels the show.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Written, as I have just discovered, while his wife was having an affair with a Frenchman and asking for a divorce, this is a novel in which Fitzgerald portrays the dark side of the American Dream. Quite frankly, after reading about the amout of alcohol he put away (in Flapper), I’m amazed he could string a sentence together, let alone write something as good and insightful as this.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
- Although I wasn’t blown away by this book, it does offer an insight into the lives of the Fitzgeralds while they were in Paris. It is fiction, written from the point of view of Hadley Hemingway (another amazing name) and worth a read.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
- OK, this isn’t set in the twenties. But it’s awesome. Katey Kontent (these fabulous names are killing me! Must reinvent myself with an alliterative name immediately) (is alliterative a word?) is just the most amazing heroine ever.
"Katey’s the hottest bookworm you’ll ever meet. If you took all the books that she’s read and piled them in a stack, you could climb to the Milky Way" (page 20).