Eulogy on the Flapper – Zelda Fitzgerald (1922)

What follow is the first couple of paragraphs of Eulogy of the Flapper, published in 1922. Of course the flapper was very much a part of the years to come, but she makes some salient observations.

“The Flapper is deceased. Her outer accoutrements have been bequeathed to several hundred girls’ schools throughout the country, to several thousand big-town shopgirls, always imitative of the several hundred girls’ schools, and to several million small-town belles always imitative of the big-town shopgirls via the “novelty stores” of their respective small towns. It is a great bereavement to me, thinking as I do that there will never be another product of circumstance to take the place of the dear departed.

“I am assuming that the Flapper will live by her accomplishments and not by her Flapping. How can a girl say again, “I do not want to be respectable because respectable girls are not attractive,” and how can she again so wisely arrive at the knowledge that “boys do dance most with the girls they kiss most,” and that “men will marry the girls they could kiss before they had asked papa”? Perceiving these things, the Flapper awoke from her lethargy of sub-deb-ism, bobbed her hair, put on her choicest pair of earrings and a great deal of audacity and rouge, and went into the battle. She flirted because it was fun to flirt and wore a one-piece bathing suit because she had a good figure; she covered her face with powder and paint because she didn’t need it and she refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring. She was conscious that the things she did were the things she had always wanted to do. Mothers disapproved of their sons taking the Flapper to dances, to teas, to swim, and most of all to heart. She had mostly masculine friends, but youth does not need friends—it needs only crowds, and the more masculine the crowds the more crowded for the Flapper. Of these things the Flapper was well aware!

“Now audacity and earrings and one-piece bathing suits have become fashionable and the first Flappers are so secure in their positions that their attitude toward themselves is scarcely distinguishable from that of their debutante sisters of ten years ago toward themselves. They have won their case. They are blasé. And the new Flappers galumping along in unfastened galoshes are striving not to do what is pleasant and what they please, but simply to outdo the founders of the Honorable Order of Flappers: to outdo everything. Flapperdom has become a game; it is no longer a philosophy.

~ Zelda Fitzgerald, from Metropolitan Magazine, June 1922.

Robert Benchley (1889-1945)

A graduate of Harvard University (1912), Benchley held a variety of jobs in New York City before becoming managing editor of Vanity Fair in 1919. There he worked with Robert Sherwood and Dorothy Parker until January 1920, when both Sherwood and Benchley resigned to protest the firing of Parker. About this time Benchley, Parker, and other wits of the Algonquin Round Table—which its members referred to as the Vicious Circle—began their celebrated lunchtime meetings at Manhattan’s Algonquin Hotel. In April 1920 Benchley joined the staff of Life magazine as drama critic (1920–29). During this period he published his first collection of essays, Of All Things! (1921), and became a regular contributor to The New Yorker (1925). He was drama critic for The New Yorker from 1929 to 1940 and wrote its “The Wayward Press” column (under the pseudonym Guy Fawkes).

His monologue “The Treasurer’s Report,” initially delivered as a skit in an amateur revue for the Algonquin group in 1922, was the basis for one of the first all-talking cinema short subjects. He subsequently acted in and sometimes wrote motion-picture short subjects—The Sex Life of a Polyp (1928), Stewed, Fried, and Boiled (1929), How to Sleep (1935; Academy Award for best live-action short film), The Romance of Digestion (1937), and The Courtship of the Newt (1938)—among them. In all, he made more than 40 short subjects and appeared in minor roles and a few supporting roles in some 50 feature films. He often played a confused, annoyed, and mildly sarcastic drunk. It was a role that suited him. He once said, “I know I’m drinking myself to a slow death, but then I’m in no hurry”; he died of cirrhosis of the liver.

Benchley, Robert

Although films and radio brought Benchley wide public acclaim, his writings constitute his most lasting achievement. His essays are collected in 15 books and illustrated with Gluyas Williams’s superb caricatures; the books include Pluck and Luck (1925), The Early Worm (1927), My Ten Years in a Quandary, and How They Grew (1936), and Benchley Beside Himself (1943). As he grew older, however, his whimsical, even absurd humor became increasingly at odds with his darker vision of the world. Many critics consider his early writing his best, and he himself said in 1943:

It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.

~ Robert Benchley

Notable Books of the Twenties: The Inimitable Jeeves – P.G Wodehouse (1923)

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G Wodehouse (1923)

PG Wodehouse is, without a doubt, England’s preeminent genius of gentle comedy. There is not an author of any period in history whose writing better embodies his or her particular time and space. In Wodehouse’s case, bumbling Bertie Wooster and his bacon-saving butler Jeeves have become synonymous with that shrinking gene pool of upper-class Edwardian England, where wars were won on cream tea and croquet and lunch could last a lifetime.

It wasn’t just that his comedy was clever, but that it was so painstakingly precise in its lampoonery of the era. But it was the author and social satirist Evelyn Waugh who said it best, during a BBC broadcast in 1961: ‘Mr. Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.’

Robert Benchley on Bohemians

“Like the measles, which are so delightful in retrospect because we remember only the period of convalescence and its accompanying chicken and jellies, Bohemia seems to be a state which grows dearer the farther away you get from it.

The only trouble with this pitiless exposé of Bohemia is that I know practically nothing about the subject at all. I have only taken the most superficial glances into New York’s Bohemia and for all I know it may be one of the most delightful and beneficial existences imaginable. It merely seemed to me like a good thing to write about, because the editor might, while reading it, think of a dashing illustration that could be made for it.

And, if I have been entirely in error in my estimate of Bohemia, maybe some real, genuine Bohemian will conduct me, some night, where the lights and good-fellowship are mellow and rich and where we may sit about a table and sing songs of Youth and Freedom, and Love, and Girls, like so many Francois Villons.”

~ Robert Benchley, 1919 from “Vanity Fair Magazine: The Art of Being a Bohemian.”

Pictured Above: Cartoon of Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker.

The Flapper – Dorothy Parker

In “The Flapper,” Dorothy Parker shares the wild charisma of a young woman in the 1920s by describing her actions as well as reactions from others. As stated in the poem, “Her golden rule is plain enough- just get them young and treat them rough,” the flappers’ only rule was to have no rules. This is important because the carefree nature of the flapper was envied by their fellow young women, admired by gentlemen and frowned upon by elders. Parker explains this by saying that “Her girlish ways make a stir… All tongues her prowess herald,” this proves that they didn’t go anywhere unnoticed. Whether she received a good reputation or bad; she just appreciated the attention. Because of the line from the poem, “She’s not what grandma used to be, you might say, au contraire,” meaning that while times were changing, women were as well. This demonstrates that Flappers were independent, original women. They were nothing like past women of America; they created a new outlook, and with that, a new era. The individuality and strong traits of these young women are that of what inspires girls today to be one of a kind, powerful people.

The Flapper – by Dorothy Parker

The Playful flapper here we see,
The fairest of the fair.
She’s not what Grandma used to be, —
You might say, au contraire.
Her girlish ways may make a stir,
Her manners cause a scene,
But there is no more harm in her
Than in a submarine.

She nightly knocks for many a goal
The usual dancing men.
Her speed is great, but her control
Is something else again.
All spotlights focus on her pranks.
All tongues her prowess herald.
For which she well may render thanks
To God and Scott Fitzgerald.

Her golden rule is plain enough –
Just get them young and treat them

Quips, Wit and One liners of Yesteryear

Insults from an era of quips and wit, “before” the English language got boiled down to 4-letter words:

  1. “He had delusions of adequacy ” Walter Kerr
  2. “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”- Winston Churchill
  3. “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure. – Clarence Darrow
  4. “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”-William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)
  5. “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”- Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)
  6. “Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.” – Moses Hadas
  7. “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” – Mark Twain
  8. “He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.” – Oscar Wilde
  9. “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend, if you have one.” -George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
  10. “Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second… if there is one.” – Winston Churchill, in response
  11. “I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here” – Stephen Bishop
  12. “He is a self-made man and worships his creator.” – John Bright
  13. “I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.” – Irvin S. Cobb
  14. “He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.” – Samuel Johnson
  15. “He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up. – Paul Keating
  16. “He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.” – Forrest Tucker
  17. “Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?” – Mark Twain
  18. “His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” – Mae West
  19. “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” – Oscar Wilde
  20. “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts… for support rather than illumination.” – Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
  21. “He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” – Billy Wilder
  22. “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But I’m afraid this wasn’t it.” – Groucho Marx
  23. The exchange between Winston Churchill & Lady Astor: She said, “If you were my husband I’d give you poison.” He said, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”
  24. “He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.” – Abraham Lincoln
  25. “There’s nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won’t cure.” — Jack E. Leonard
  26. “They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.” — Thomas Brackett Reed
  27. “He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them.” — James Reston (about Richard Nixon)