Tag Archives: 1910s

Wednesday Miscellany: Virile modernists, “quotation marks,” and a masterpiece on the way

An ad for The Egoist in The Little Review: “Obviously a journal of interest to virile readers only.”  In that case, I want my $1.60 back.

Also: “It is not written for tired and depressed people.” Sorry, Egoist, but in our day only tired and depressed people read T.S. Eliot.

“Transforming the whole conception of poetic form.” Okay, I’ll give you that one.

Little Review ad for The Egotist, "obviously a journal of interest to virile readers only."

Little Review, February 1918

An ad for next month’s Little Review: “We are about to publish a prose masterpiece.” Okay, if you’re publishing Ulysses, and your other contributors are Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, and Ford Madox Hueffer (aka Ford), then you’re entitled to a little attitude.

(In case you’re wondering what they had in store for February that made them reduce Ulysses to a footnote, it was a full issue devoted to French poets, in French. Cool, but no Ulysses.)

Little Review ad for Ulysses serialization, February 1918.

Little Review, February 1918

One last Little Review ad, showing us that “overuse” of “quotation marks” is not a strictly “contemporary” phenomenon. I do like “Solve Your Food Problem” as a restaurant slogan, though. Sometimes, it’s just that simple.

Little Review, February 1918

Dear Daddy-Long-Legs, Drop dead!

If you’ve followed My Year in 1918 since the beginning, you may be thinking around now, “What’s with this person? She said she was going to read her way through 1918, but all she does is sit around looking at magazines. She’s mentioned one book so far, and it wasn’t exactly Dostoevsky.”

As my Book List will attest, I have, in fact, read other books. I just haven’t had much to say about them. But now I’ve read a book that I have a lot to say about—Jean Webster’s 1912 epistolary novel Daddy-Long-Legs.

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster, first edition cover, 1912.

First edition, 1912

Daddy-Long-Legs—which I’d read before, when I was twelve or so—is the story of Jerusha Abbott, a foundling who was raised, if that’s the word for it, in the grim John Grier Home. A trustee of the home offers to put her through college. She’s supposed to write him a letter every month, and he keeps his identity secret. She renames herself Judy and—despite never having seen the inside of a house—adapts quickly to college life. She sends her benefactor cheery, breezy missives, illustrated with whimsical drawings. She saw his elongated shadow in the hallway once, so she nicknames him “Daddy-Long-Legs.”

Daddy-Long-Legs illustration, News of the Month.

Daddy-Long-Legs, illustration by Jean Webster

Judy tells Daddy-Long-Legs everything—about her (quickly overcome) academic struggles, her fun-loving roommate Sally McBride of Worcester, Mass.*, her snooty roommate Julia Pendleton, and her growing fondness for Julia’s young uncle, Jervie, who’s a socialist and not at all like the rest of his clan.

If you haven’t read Daddy-Long-Legs, and are planning to, and are the world’s densest reader**, then stop here, because I’m going to give away the ending.

JERVIE AND DADDY-LONG-LEGS ARE ONE AND THE SAME!

Judy discovers this after she writes to Daddy-Long-Legs, broken-hearted after turning down Jervie’s marriage proposal because of the vast social divide between them, and begs for a meeting. Her last letter, written after she discovers the truth and accepts his proposal, is an outpouring of joy.

From a twenty-first-century perspective: No. Just…no.

Daddy-Long-Legs illustration, Judy Wins the Fifty Yard Dash.

Run, Judy, run! (Daddy-Long-Legs, illustration by Jean Webster)

How about this instead?

Dear Whoever,

Of all the sick mind games anyone ever played, yours is the sickest. I came from nowhere. I had nobody. Nobody, that is, except the benefactor who lifted me from poverty—in spite of everything, thank you for that—and the man I loved. I told my benefactor all about him—his generosity, his liveliness, but also his little inconsiderate acts (showing up at inconvenient times and expecting everyone to drop everything) and his horrible family. And you let me do this—for FOUR YEARS—even as our friendship turned to love.

Two men in the world cared about me. Now it’s just one. Daddy-Long-Legs is dead. No, worse—he never existed. I can always find another lover, but I’ll never have another father. I’ll miss him, Jervie, more than I’ll miss you.

And all that string-pulling along the way…making me spend the summer at your old nanny’s farm when I begged to go to the McBride family camp in the Adirondacks. “It’s the kind of nice, jolly, care-free time that I’ve never had; and I think every girl deserves it once in her life,” I said. But no, to the farm it was—so that I could keep you entertained during your brief visit. I’m not your plaything, Jervie.

You probably think I’m going to run off and marry Jimmie McBride. But you know what? I’m twenty-one. I’ve never lived anywhere but in a foundling asylum and a girls’ college. I’m not going to marry anyone. I need some time on my own.

 Not yours, not anyone’s,

 Judy

 There. That’s better.

Portrait photograph of Jean Webster, Bookman magazine, 1916.

Jean Webster, Bookman magazine, July 1916

The ending aside, though, Daddy-Long-Legs was my most enjoyable read of the year so far—bright and breezy and fun. Jean Webster seems like she would have been bright and breezy and fun too. But her life was shadowed with tragedy. Her father started a publishing business with Samuel Clemens (AKA Mark Twain), who was his wife’s uncle, but it ended up going broke, and he committed suicide when Jean was fourteen. She had a long affair with Standard Oil heir Glenn Ford McKinney, whose wife suffered from severe mental illness. They finally married in 1915, after his divorce, but she died in childbirth the next year, at the age of thirty-nine. Her daughter was named Jean in her memory.

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster, first edition cover, 1912.

First edition, 1915

A bright light, gone far too soon. But she left a lot of books behind. There’s a sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs called Dear Enemy, which I’ll read later in the year.*** For now, on to more serious fare—Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!

 I’m sure it will be great, but I miss Judy already.

*Shout out!

**Well, tied with twelve-year-old me

***UPDATE 4/2019: I did, and wrote about it here and here.

Are you a superior adult? Take this 1918 intelligence test and find out!

Intelligence tests were all the rage in 1918. Without them, how could you determine whether someone was a dullard, a laggard, an imbecile, feeble-minded, retarded, or deficient (all terms I found in a single article in Century magazine)? How could you implement your eugenics program?

There were lots of articles about intelligence tests, but I was having trouble finding the tests themselves, so I had no idea where I fit in, 1918-intelligence-wise. Luckily, Literary Digest stepped in. Its February 16, 1918 issue included a test that, it promised, “is so easily used that within a brief period readers of The Digest will doubtless be applying it to their family and friends.” Okay, a hundred years isn’t all that brief, but here we go.

Science and Invention, A Test of Your Intelligence.

The test goes like this: you go through a list of 100 words, which have been selected randomly from the dictionary and placed in order of difficulty, and see how many you can define. 75 and above makes you a “superior adult”—top third of the population. 65 makes you an average adult. There are different scales for kids, but, trust me, if you’re a kid and you’re reading this blog, you’re superior.

The test designers are pretty flexible about scoring. Like, if a child defines “orange” as “an orange is to eat,” or “gown” as “it’s a nice gown that ladies wear,” then that’s okay. The key is to establish that you have a clear understanding of what the word means.

The easiest words are at the beginning, so you get a free pass on some of them depending on your age. A fifteen-year-old starts with #21. I’d suggest starting at #51.

Here’s the test. If you’re going to take it, don’t read any further until you’re finished—spoilers lie ahead. The Google dictionary is an easy way to check your answers.

Intelligence test testing recognition of 100 vocabulary words, from easiet, orange, to hardest, complot.

Literary Digest, February 16, 1918

Whew! That was exhausting, wasn’t it? And surprisingly hard. Or maybe that’s just me.

I was pretty cocky going in. Not to get all braggy on you, but vocabulary is my thing. Whenever there was a vocabulary test—which, luckily for me, there is at several key junctures in the American educational process—I would ace it. Random dictionary words, how hard can they be? I figured I might miss a couple of 1918-specific words, about wireless telegraphy or animal husbandry or whatever, but I was counting on upper nineties.

I got a 92. Safely in the superior adult range, but not spectacular. If there had been a competition, with a prize like, say, a date with Ezra Pound, I definitely wouldn’t have won.

Here’s where I went wrong: Depredation. Drabble, Declivity. Ambergris. Theosophy. Parterre. Shagreen. Limpet.

A limpet (Tango 22)

In some cases I was close. I knew that theosophy was a philosophy related to theology, and that there were societies about it, but I didn’t know exactly what they believed. I knew a limpet was a sea creature, but I thought it was a wiggly fish. (Which doesn’t make sense in retrospect, given the phrase “stuck to me like a limpet.”) Other words, like drabble*, sounded like I should know them, but when I thought about the meaning I drew a blank. The only one that didn’t even sound familiar was shagreen. So. 92.

At this point, you may be thinking, false advertising—the blog title is about an intelligence test, not a vocabulary test. But the amazing thing is, it IS an intelligence test! The result, Literary Digest says, is reliably within ten percent of your score on the Binet-Simon (IQ) scale. And it doesn’t depend much on your level of schooling.

That’s right, this is a reliable, objective test of intelligence! There’s no earthly reason why, say, a sharecropper’s child should have more trouble identifying a cameo

Tobias “ToMar” Maier

or a parterre

or the other kind of parterre

than the child of a Rockefeller or a Carnegie.

It makes you think, doesn’t it? If a vocabulary test that’s so clearly reliant on cultural background is such an accurate predictor of your score on an IQ test, then maybe that should raise questions about the IQ test?

But that’s just me, with my 21st-century nitpicking.

I hope you had fun. If anyone got 100, please be in touch—and let me know where the hell you ever heard of shagreen!

A box covered with shagreen

*A cool feature of the Google dictionary is that it has a little graph showing how the word’s popularity has changed over time. Generally, these are fairly predictable, but “drabble” takes off like crazy in the 1960s and peaks in about 1975. I was puzzled, since I didn’t recall everyone suddenly talking about things becoming wet and dirty by movement into or through muddy water. Then it dawned on me: the graph traces the career path of Margaret Drabble, the British novelist. Who’s great! If, unlike me, you’re allowed to read books written in the last hundred years, I recommend The Millstone.

 

Wednesday Miscellany: Romantic magazine covers and a Hoover-themed valentine

Strange as it sounds, government administrators were huge celebrities in 1918. And none was more famous than Herbert Hoover, head of the U.S. Food Administration. (Yes, that Herbert Hoover.) To reduce consumption so that food could be sent to Europe, he led campaigns for “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays.” Ads for food and cooking equipment touted their effectiveness in helping housewives “Hooverize.” Good Housekeeping magazine called him–with a wink, presumably–“the man who made food famous.”

In that spirit, here’s a 1918 valentine to all of you:

1918 Hooverizing-themed valentine.

Magazines in 1918 were pretty conservative about portraying any kind of romantic activity, but judging from the cover of the February 1918 Cosmopolitan, soldiers got a free pass.

Harrison Fisher Cosmopolitan cover, soldier kissing wife, February 1919.

Harrison Fisher, Cosmopolitan, February 1918

Finally, the February 1918 cover of Vanity Fair…not Valentine’s-themed, but definitely romantic.

Vanity fair cover, three topless nymphs dancing in front of a tree, February 1919.

Warren Davis, Vanity Fair, February 1918

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

America at war: Suddenly, it’s real

I didn’t learn much about World War I in school. It was the seventies, and there was a backlash underway against the rote memorization of battle dates and that sort of thing. It was all about cause and effect. One day we’d be learning about Archduke Ferdinand and the alliances, and the next day the teacher would say, “Now, after the Allied victory…” We’d say, “Wait, what about the war?” and the teacher would ask us if we really wanted to learn about a bunch of battles. We’d say no and that would be that—on to Versailles.

So my vague impression was that the Americans came in in 1917 and gave new energy to the exhausted Allies, who won fairly quickly. A month of reading the 1918 news set me straight. As depicted in the press, the early stage of the American war effort was a colossal screw-up. American soldiers in France, short on weapons and supplies, did little but consume scarce food supplies and—judging from the humor magazines—hit on French women.*

French cartoon in Judge magazine, That Bewildering Trench Lingo, 1918.

Judge magazine, February 9, 1918

The Wilson administration’s handling of the war was universally regarded as inept. The New Republic said in its January 19 issue that “any friend of the administration who fails at the present time to speak frankly about the effect produced by the breakdown of management of the war upon the state of mind of the public is doing to President Wilson a most indifferent service.” The fuel shortage, it said, is creating a sense that the country is “helplessly drifting into a succession of similar crises, which if they are allowed to develop will continue to paralyze American ability to assist our Allies and do harm to Germany, and which will react balefully on the morale of the nation.” And that’s what the administration’s friends were saying! (New Republic founding editor Walter Lippmann was serving as an aide to Secretary of War Newton Baker.)

Photo portrait of Senator George Chamberlain, 1904.

Senator George Chamberlain, 1904

Congress was so fed up that Republican Senator George Chamberlain introduced a bill to reorganize the government’s conduct of the war through the establishment of a War Council with sweeping powers, accountable only to the President. “The military establishment of America has fallen down,” Chamberlain said in a January 20 speech, because of “inefficiency in every bureau and department of the Government of the United States.”  The New Republic denounced this “crude, ill considered, and indefensible measure,” but said that, if Wilson didn’t come up with better structures for the conduct of the war, “the existing mechanism will continue to creak, and groan and exasperate its victims.”

As January ended and February began, though, American soldiers completed their training and moved to the front lines. A Times correspondent reported that, as they did so, “Every man was happy just because he was going to fight at last, and as the regiments marched along the men sang joyously until they reached a point where all further operations were carried out in complete silence.”

On January 30, there was heavy shelling on an American position on the French front. Two soldiers were killed and one was captured. The Associated Press interviewed one of the wounded, a sandy-haired youth from Bismarck, North Dakota, who “said with a smile to the correspondent, ‘Did you ever hear of such bad luck? Now I’ve got a piece bit out of my leg by a shell splinter…believe me, if I ever get back to that line again—well, all I want is another chance.”

Photograph of British ship SS Tuscania, 1914.

SS Tuscania, 1914

Then, on February 5, the SS Tuscania, a British ship transporting American soldiers across the Atlantic, was torpedoed by a German submarine and sunk in the Irish Sea. The British and American governments were slow to produce casualty lists, and relatives waited anxiously for days. Among them were the cartoonist Richard F. Outcault, creator of Buster Brown and the Yellow Kid, and his wife. “I am expecting hourly to hear from Dick,” Mrs. Outcault told the New York Times, “and I expect to get news soon. He is a level-headed boy, and I am sure he knew how to take care of himself in an emergency.” Richard F. Outcault, Jr., was among the survivors. 210 other families were not so lucky.

The strange air of unreality was gone. America was at war.

*UPDATE 4/1/2019: Remember when I promised to make mistakes? This is one of them. First of all, the soldier is French. And he’s not hitting on the women–one of them is his marraine, or (honorary) godmother. Marraines served as substitute mothers to soldiers without families or whose families were out of reach in German-occupied areas.

Wednesday Miscellany: Erté, boys’ fashion, and fast cars

Erté, the artist and designer whose name is synonymous with Art Deco, was only twenty-five in 1918, but he was already making a name for himself. (A fake name: his real one was Romain de Tirtoff. Erté comes from the French pronunciation of his initials.) He got his start designing covers for Harper’s Bazar. I’m not sure what this one means, but an online slideshow of classic covers at the magazine’s website says that it “suggests a dadaist influence.”

Erté Harper's Bazar cover, February 1918, masked woman looking out window at man.

Erté, February 1918

I had the impression that everyone drove around in Model T’s in 1918, but the magazines were full of ads for all different kinds of cars. This one, the Marmon 34, set a new coast-to-coast speed record in 1916: 5 days. 18 hours. 30 minutes.

Marmon 34 ad, 1918, car on black background.

Harper’s Bazar, February 1918

Clothes for the well-dressed boy. The Palm Beach suit costs $7.49–a week’s pay for an office boy at a New York law firm.

Macy's boys' clothing ad, Harper's Bazar, 1918.

Harper’s Bazar, February 1918

Sound familiar? Book chat, 1918-style

If you spend as much time reading about books online as I do (or did, before I went back to 1918), there are certain topics that you come across again and again. I knew that these debates had been around for a while. But I had no idea that they’d been around for a hundred years. Here’s the 1918 take on a couple of book-chat perennials.

Can writing be taught?

Can creative writing be taught? Do writing classes really make students’ writing better? As a recent MFA grad, I’ve grown tired of this seemingly endless debate. (No one ever asks MBAs this type of question, and I don’t recall MFAs ever causing an international financial crisis.) But MFA programs weren’t around in 1918, so I thought I’d get a break.

But no, here’s Edward J. O’Brien, founding editor of The Best American Short Stories, weighing in in the January 1918 issue of The Bookman. “Experience with many short story writers who had completed courses in short-story writing under competent critics had left me frankly sceptical as to the value of endeavouring to teach the technique of a developing and changing literary form,” he says. He’s reviewing a book called A Handbook on Story-Writing by Blanche Colton Williams of Columbia University. After such an education, he goes on, “The last state of the pupil seemed worse than the first.” Oh no.

Postcard of Columbia University library, 1917.

Columbia University library, 1917 (librarypostcards.blogspot.com)

But then one day he’s bad-mouthing writing classes to a short story writer he admires, and the writer reveals that he’s studying writing at Columbia. He invites O’Brien to tag along, and he wins a convert. “What I found in this class was a free play of critical intelligence, taking actual stories as its point of departure…Here was a true academy, in which the teacher learned from the pupil.” This approach, he says, is skillfully presented in Williams’ book. Plot, point of view, character, and dialogue—all are lucidly discussed.

Score one for Team MFA!

Should adults read books written for children?

If there’s any debate in book-talk-land that’s even more heated than the one over MFAs, it’s the question of whether adults should read books written for children. Ruth Graham took up the anti-YA banner in a 2014 Slate article called, succinctly, “Against YA.” “Read whatever you want,” she said. “But you should be embarrassed if what you’re reading was written for children.” A raucous argument ensued, with writers like Meg Wolitzer coming to the defense of adult YA readers.

Seventeen by Booth Tarkington, first edition cover, 1916.

First edition cover, 1916

Again, not a topic I’d expect to have much currency in 1918, when grown-ups were grown-ups and children wore sailor suits. But, writing in The Bookman in February 1918, children’s writer and anthologist Montrose J. Moses notes that books for boys are popular among soldiers. The low level of literacy among enlisted men could be part of the reason, he says. But he thinks it’s more than that. “I believe—and I have followed the trend of juvenile literature for many years,—that this tendency on the part of the soldier to read boys’ books is only another evidence of the fact that juvenile literature, since it has come under the influence of out-door sports and modern inventions, has in it a degree of expertness which appeals to no age and to all interest.”

Cover, Bab A Sub-Deb by Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1917

First edition, 1917

It’s not only soldiers who were reading about children. A surprisingly high percentage of 1918-era books for adults have child protagonists. Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen (1916) and Mary Roberts Rinehart’s Bab: A Sub-Deb (1917) were adult best-sellers by well-established writers. But John Walcott, writing in The Bookman in December 1917, says that children don’t share their parents’ enthusiasm for these books. “Have you chanced to note the rueful grin with which a real Bab or [Seventeen’s] Willie Baxter scans those delightful and too-revealing records?” he asks. “The relief with which they turn to the latest number of St. Nicholas, or the latest ‘corker’ by Mr. Ralph Henry Barbour?” Young people, he says, take themselves with deadly seriousness, “and it behooves those who cater for [their] favour to do likewise.” That’s what Barbour does, with his tales of schoolboy athletics. “Just now,” Walcott says, “he is working his way methodically through the line-up, so that after Left End Edwards, Left Tackle Thayer, and Left Guard Gilbert, we have naturally arrived at Center Rush Rowland, and we have the right side of the line to look forward to in the near future. Heroes all!”

Cover of Center Rush Rowland, 1917.

It’s Barbour and his schoolboy athletes, Moses says, that the soldiers are clamoring for. And I can see why. For young men going off to fight for a cause that even the Allied countries’ leaders were having trouble articulating, it’s easy to understand the appeal of a tale in which the hero competes, as Moses puts it, in “the season’s decisive event upon the modern field of academic glory.”