Tag Archives: Alan Dale

Are You a Stagnuck? A 1918 Year-End Quiz (With a Prize!)

In 1918, Boni and Liveright, publishers of the Modern Library series, started running ads admonishing people, “Don’t be a Stagnuck.” The way not to be a Stagnuck: read every Modern Library book. Woodrow Wilson! Max Beerbohm! H.G. Wells! The Baron of Dunsany! And sixty-two more! A bargain at 70 cents each.

1919 Modern Library advertisement reading in part Don't be a Stagnuck. Read every book in The Modern Library.

The Liberator, January 1919

But what was a Stagnuck? The world was clamoring to know. Or so claimed Boni and Liveright, which answered the question in another ad:

1918 Boni and Liverright advertisement headlined Are You a Stagnuck?

The Sun (New York), October 20, 1918

Ha ha! A Stagnuck thinks The Way of All Flesh is a sex book! That John Macy is the proprietor of a department store! Imagine!*

In December 1918, The Bookman reported in its “Gossip Shop” department that Boni and Liveright’s request for definitions of “Stagnuck” had yielded six hundred suggestions. Their favorite: “a person who thinks that George Eliot was the father of ex-president Eliot of Harvard.”** The publisher was printing a booklet of the hundred best suggestions, which sadly seems to be lost in the mists of time.

But don’t worry! You can still find out how much of a Stagnuck you are. Just take this year-end quiz on your 1918 knowledge. And there’s a prize!!! I’ll randomly select a winner from the correct responses submitted to the Contact page by 1 a.m. EST on January 4, 2019, and he/she will receive a 1918-era book of his/her choice from the Book List.***

Get out your pencils! (Which, if you’re a veteran of My Year in 1918 quizzes, you already know were not actually made of lead in 1918, or ever.) Good luck, everybody!

Portrait photograph of Noel Pemberton-Billing, 1916.

Noel Pemberton-Billing, 1916

1. Noel Pemberton-Billing was prosecuted for:

a. Demonstrating sympathy for Germany by painting a blue stripe on a red, white, and blue pencil black.
b. Implying that dancer Maud Allan was part of a 47,000-member lesbian-German cabal.
c. Writing a short story about a young man who, about to be sent to the Western Front, sees animals mating and gets into the spirit with a local lass.

Harvey Wiley in his USDA lab.

Harvey Wiley in his USDA lab (FDA)

2. Nutrition and food safety pioneer Harvey Wiley described what food as follows? It has in its composition more protein than has wheat flour, and about twenty times as much fatty material, and a considerable proportion of starch as well. It is, therefore, extremely nourishing and is usually easily digested.”

a. Chocolate.
b. Graham flour.
c. Meaty little pig snouts.

3. Alan Dale not only penned The Madonna of the Future, a scandalous play about a society woman who became a single mother, he also (choose all that apply):

a. Wrote the first gay-themed novel in English.
b. Won an Olympic silver medal for watercolors and drawing.
c. Was a Hearst drama critic, derided by George Jean Nathan for making puns like “‘Way Down Yeast’ ought to get a rise out of everybody.”

Portrait photograph of William Gibbs McAdoo, 1914.

William Gibbs McAdoo, official portrait, 1914

4. In addition to being Woodrow Wilson’s son-in-law, William Gibbs McAdoo was (choose all that apply):

a. Secretary of the Treasury.
b. Director General of Railroads.
c. The Chief Magistrate of New York who said that, if called upon, he would rule that the play The Madonna of the Future was obscene.

Tinted photograph of poet George Sterling in robe and turban, illustration for The Rubaiyat.

Illustration by Adelaide Hanscom Leeson, “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” 1905, with George Sterling as model

5. Poet George Sterling earned the sobriquet “Uncrowned King of Bohemia” for (choose all that apply):

a. Founding the modernist journal The Little Review.
b. Living in a tent on Lake Michigan (with servants).
c. Establishing Carmel-by-the-Sea as an artists’ colony.
d. Having a partner, in work and life, who dressed as a member of the opposite sex.

Photograph of young Dorothy Parker.

Young Dorothy Parker, date unknown

6. Dorothy Parker published hate poems in Vanity Fair about which of the following? (Choose all that apply.)

a. Women.
b. Men.
c. Huns.
d. Relatives.
e. Actresses.
f. Farmerettes.
g. Slackers.

Los Angeles Times headline on WWI armistice, PEACE in huge red letters.

7. Joyous crowds poured out onto the streets of New York to celebrate the end of World War I on:

a. November 7, 1918.
b. November 11, 1918.
c. Both a and b.

Eugenics supporters holding signs, 1915.

Eugenics supporters hold signs criticizing various “genetically inferior” groups. Wall Street, New York, c. 1915.

8. Which of the following were enthusiasts of eugenics? (Choose all that apply.)

a. Daddy-Long-Legs author Jean Webster.
b. Marie Carmichael Stopes, author of the banned marriage manual Married Love.
c. Fired Columbia university professor James McKeen Cattell.
d. The American Journal of Insanity.
e. How to Live co-author Eugene Lyman Fisk.

W.E. Hill cartoon showing man standing in front of modern painting talking pretentiously to woman.

The Bookman, January 1918

9. Which of the following were described as “virile”? (Choose all that apply.)

a. Society portrait painter Cecilia Breaux.
b. Alsace.
c. George Grey Barnard’s statue of Lincoln in Cincinnati.
d. Converting people to Christianity.
e. Readers of the literary magazine The Egoist.
f. William Carlos Williams’ grandmother.
g.  Canada.

The Egoist banner and table of contents, November-December 1918.

10. Match the following people with criticism of their writing in the literary magazine The Egoist, where T.S. Eliot was literary editor:

a. John Drinkwater.
b. H. G. Wells and Arnold Bennet.
c. G.K. Chesterton.
d. Rebecca West.

1. “What interest can we take in instruments which must of nature miss two-thirds of the vibrations in any conceivable situation.”
2. “___________ says, ‘Hist!’.”
3.  “As a tale of human emotion it is altogether quite indecently unjust.”
4. His or her “brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it thinks.”

Update 1/11/2019: And the answers are…

1. Noel Pemberton-Billing was prosecuted for:

a. Demonstrating sympathy for Germany by painting a blue stripe on a red, white, and blue pencil black.
b. Implying that dancer Maud Allan was part of a 47,000-member lesbian-German cabal.
c. Writing a short story about a young man who, about to be sent to the Western Front, sees animals mating and gets into the spirit with a local lass.

Answer: B. It was a man named Otto Bollmann who was arrested for treasonous pencil painting and writer/painter Wyndham Lewis who wrote the story that the Postal Service deemed obscene, leading to the seizure of the issue of The Little Review in which it was published. 

2. Nutrition and food safety pioneer Harvey Wiley described what food as follows? It has in its composition more protein than has wheat flour, and about twenty times as much fatty material, and a considerable proportion of starch as well. It is, therefore, extremely nourishing and is usually easily digested.”

a. Chocolate.
b. Graham flour.
c. Meaty little pig snouts.

Answer: A. Graham flour was an often-used substitute for wheat flour due to the war-related shortage, and meaty little pig snouts were featured in a Ladies’ Home Journal article with the headline “The New Meats that We Shall All Learn to Like When We Learn to Use Them.” 

3. Alan Dale not only penned The Madonna of the Future, a scandalous play about a society woman who became a single mother, he also (choose all that apply):

a. Wrote the first gay-themed novel in English.
b. Won an Olympic silver medal for watercolors and drawing.
c. Was a Hearst drama critic, derided by George Jean Nathan for making puns like “‘Way Down Yeast’ ought to get a rise out of everybody.”

Answer: A and C. It was cartoonist Percy Crosby who medaled in painting. 

4. In addition to being Woodrow Wilson’s son-in-law, William Gibbs McAdoo was (choose all that apply):

a. Secretary of the Treasury.
b. Director General of Railroads.
c. The Chief Magistrate of New York who said that, if called upon, he would rule that the play The Madonna of the Future was obscene.

Answer: A and B. The Chief Magistrate was a different William McAdoo. 

5. Poet George Sterling earned the sobriquet “Uncrowned King of Bohemia” for (choose all that apply):

a. Founding the modernist journal The Little Review.
b. Living in a tent on Lake Michigan (with servants).
c. Establishing Carmel-by-the-Sea as an artists’ colony.
d. Having a partner, in work and life, who dressed as a member of the opposite sex.

Answer: C. All of the other answer are true of The Little Review editor Margaret Anderson

6. Dorothy Parker published hate poems in Vanity Fair about which of the following? (Choose all that apply.)

a. Women.
b. Men.
c. Huns.
d. Relatives.
e. Actresses.
f. Farmerettes.
g. Slackers.

Answer: A, B. D, E, and G. 

7. Joyous crowds poured out onto the streets of New York to celebrate the end of World War I on:

a. November 7, 1918.
b. November 11, 1918.
c. Both a and b.

Answer: C 

8. Which of the following were enthusiasts of eugenics? (Choose all that apply.)

a. Daddy-Long-Legs author Jean Webster.
b. Marie Carmichael Stopes, author of the banned marriage manual Married Love.
c. Fired Columbia university professor James McKeen Cattell.
d. The American Journal of Insanity.
e. How to Live co-author Eugene Lyman Fisk.

Answer: A, B, C, and E. The American Journalist of Insanity was appalled by eugenics. 

9. Which of the following were described as “virile”? (Choose all that apply.)

a. Society portrait painter Cecilia Breaux.
b. Alsace.
c. George Grey Barnard’s statue of Lincoln in Cincinnati.
d. Converting people to Christianity.
e. Readers of the literary magazine The Egoist.
f. William Carlos Williams’ grandmother.
g.  Canada.

Answer: A, B, D, E, and G

10. Match the following people with criticism of their writing in the literary magazine The Egoist, where T.S. Eliot was literary editor:

a. John Drinkwater.
b. H. G. Wells and Arnold Bennet.
c. G.K. Chesterton.
d. Rebecca West.

1. “What interest can we take in instruments which must of nature miss two-thirds of the vibrations in any conceivable situation.”
2. “___________ says, ‘Hist!’.”
3.  “As a tale of human emotion it is altogether quite indecently unjust.”
4. His or her “brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it thinks.”

Answer: A-2, B-1, C-4, D-3

*Feeling quite the Stagnuck, I Googled John Macy and learned that he was a Harvard University instructor, critic, and editor who helped Helen Keller with her books and married Keller’s teacher and interpreter Anne Sullivan. The three of them lived together for a while but Sullivan and Macy eventually separated. Ellen Key, by the way, was a Swedish feminist.

**I would think that even knowing the name of an ex-president of Harvard would move you out of Stagnuck territory. I went to college there, and I don’t even know the name of the president. (In my defense, they just got a new one, and I do know the name of the previous one: Drew Gilpin Faust, who I further know is not the protagonist of a classic German legend. I also know who the president of Harvard was in 1918: Abbott Lawrence Lowell, brother of poet Amy.) But, as I’ve said, the definition of celebrity has changed a lot over the past hundred years. In 1918, being president of Harvard was like being a late-night talk show host today.

***Subject to the availability of a reasonably priced edition of decent quality. (If I read an okay edition, I’ve linked to it.) If you live someplace outside the United States where shipping presents difficulties, I’ll come up with an equivalent prize. Please include your name, your city and state (or country) of residence, and your e-mail address in your submission. Answers are as they appear on the blog. If no one gets all the answers right, I’ll choose randomly from the entries with the most correct answers. But that shouldn’t happen because, like I said, they’re all right there on the blog!

My Sad Search for 1918 Love

After almost a year in 1918, I have yet to find a decent man.

If I were gay, I’d have it made—this was the golden age of (if not for) lesbian women. Amy Lowell! Willa Cather! Little Review editor Margaret Anderson! Dancer Maud Allan! Plus lots of probablys like Jane Addams and Edna Ferber. But no, I’m stuck with men.

Portrait photograph of Walter Lippmann, 1914.

Walter Lippmann (Pirie MacDonald, 1914)

Back in January, I checked out two prospects*, H.L. Mencken and Walter Lippmann. Mencken’s denunciation of American Puritanism and hypocrisy appealed to me, but then he started going on about the Jews and [n-word] republics and I was over him. Lippmann seemed stodgy at first, but he won me over by sneaking a bunch of double-entendres into a sober discussion on prostitution in his 1912 book A Preface to Politics.

But then he disappeared, as seemingly good men often do. Having left the New Republic to head up the War Department’s propaganda office in Paris, he was almost invisible in 1918. The only traces of him I could find (aside from a swipe from Mencken about his “sonorous rhapsodies”) were two New York Times articles from right before the armistice about an operation he was running to drop leaflets over Germany.

New York Times headline beginning Germans Impressed by our Propaganda, November 9, 1918.

New York Times, November 9, 1918

So my search continued. After ruling out men who

I was left with ten men worth a closer look.

T.S. Eliot

Portrait photograph of T.S. Eliot, 1919.

T.S. Eliot (E.O. Hopp, 1919)

T.S. Eliot was my first 1918 love, way back in the eighties, when the internet wasn’t invented so people had to entertain themselves by memorizing The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Or maybe that was just me. You can disturb MY universe any time, T.S., I would say to myself. Even then, though, there were warning signs. Like how in the very next poem he’s hanging out with an older woman and wondering if he would have a right to smile if she died. But what can I say? I was twenty-two.

As I read more Eliot, and learned more about him, disillusionment set in. For a lot of reasons, but the anti-semitism alone would have been enough. It’s evident already in 1918, in the poem “Sweeney Among the Nightingales,” published in the September 1918 issue of The Little Review.***

Good-bye, T.S.!

George Jean Nathan

Portrait photograph of George Jean Nathan.

George Jean Nathan, date unknown

If Mencken wasn’t the guy for me, what about George Jean Nathan, his best pal and Smart Set co-editor, who was also the preeminent drama critic of his time? Smart and funny and urbane, and an excellent source of theater tickets.

Digging around to find out whether he shared Mencken’s anti-semitism, I learned that he was part Jewish himself—and that he went to great lengths to hide this. Which would be a deal-breaker today, but those were different times. Case in point: movie star Lilian Gish, whom Nathan was madly in love with, supposedly broke up with him when she learned of his Jewish roots.

But have you seen All About Eve? If so, do you remember the poisonous middle-aged critic who was squiring around 24-year-old Marilyn Monroe? Turns out he was based on Nathan.

Good-bye, George!

Alan Dale

Photograph of Alan Dale and his daughter on a ship, 1900.

Alan Dale and his daughter Marjorie, 1900 (Library of Congress)

More than anything else I’ve written about this year, the story of Alan Dale’s play The Madonna of the Future has stuck with me. A Broadway play about a society woman who becomes a single mother by choice and acts like it’s no big deal? In 1918? How could this be? (Well, it wasn’t for long—facing obscenity complaints, the play closed after a month or so.) I was intrigued. Who was this Alan Dale person?

The hackiest of Broadway hacks, as it turns out. According to Nathan, the British-born Hearst drama critic (real name Alfred Cohen) perpetrated

the sort of humor…whose stock company has been made up largely of bad puns, the spelling of girl as “gell,” the surrounding of every fourth word with quotation marks, such bits as “legs—er, oh I beg your pahdon—I should say ‘limbs’,” a frequent allusion to prunes and to pinochle, and an employment of such terms as “scrumptious” and “bong-tong.”

I couldn’t be with someone who said “bong-tong.” Plus, might the author of the first gay-themed novel in the English language, which Dale also was, possibly be gay?****

Good-bye, Alan!

W.E.B. Du Bois

Portrait photograph of W.E.B. Du Bois, 1918.

W.E.B. Du Bois, 1918

Du Bois was a brilliant thinker and a wonderful writer and his magazine The Crisis is one of my favorite discoveries of 1918. But, the world being what it was in 1918, this wasn’t going to happen.

Plus, he intimidates the hell out of me.

Good-bye, W.E.B.!

H.G. Wells

Photograph of H.G. Wells, ca. 1918.

H.G. Wells, ca. 1918

Wells was the alpha male of the British literary scene, regarded as one of the greatest writers and thinkers of his day. It would no doubt astonish a 1918 person to learn that he would be known in the future primarily as a science fiction writer.

As a romantic partner, though? Bad news! Married to his cousin, he was always sleeping with other women, including a Soviet spy and birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. Who at least could be relied on not to get pregnant, unlike 26-year-old writer Rebecca West and the daughter of one of his Fabian friends, both of whom bore him children.*****

Good-bye, H.G.!

James Hall

Photograph of James Hall in military uniform smoking a cigarette, 1917.

James Hall, 1917

James Hall lied and said he was Canadian to get into World War I, was caught and got kicked out, joined the American branch of the French air force, and was shot down just after he was finally able to fly under American colors. He was feared dead but turned out to have been captured by the Germans. After the war, he moved to Polynesia and co-wrote, among other books, Mutiny on the Bounty.

A cool guy, but I’m not into the swashbuckling type.

Good-bye, Jimmy!

Christopher Morley

Portrait photograph of Christopher Morley sitting at a table, ca. 1918.

The Bookman, February 1918

A prolific young literary man-about-town, Morley published the popular novel Parnassus on Wheels and a book of poetry called Songs for a Little House in 1917 and an essay collection in 1918. He was also the literary editor of Ladies’ Home Journal. He married young, stayed married, and never got up to any shenanigans that I know of.

On the other hand, this is how he wrote about his wife:

Text of poem The Young Mother, beginning, Of what concern are wars to her, or treaties broken on the seas?

Songs for a Little House

I would die.

Good-bye, Christopher!

Harvey Wiley

Photograph of Harvey Wiley sitting at desk, ca. 1900.

Harvey Wiley, ca. 1900

Harvey Wiley fought against toxic preservatives in foods and was a driving force in the creation of the FDA. He’s one of my 1918 heroes.

Most of the badmouthing I’ve read about Wiley has broken down on examination. It’s been said that he thought women were stupid, but I haven’t found any evidence.****** He’s been called a eugenicist, but the main case for the prosecution is him saying in Good Housekeeping that there’s no better genetic stock than Scots-Irish, which I think was just him being funny because that’s his background. (This is, in any case, pretty mild as eugenics goes.) I’ll have to wait until 2019 rolls around and I can read his new biography to get the lowdown.

In the meantime, though, there’s this: if you’re the kind of guy who, at age 55, is so taken with your 22-year-old secretary that after she leaves you carry her picture around in your watch for ten years until you run into her on a streetcar and marry her, you’re probably not the guy for me.

Good-bye, Harvey!

Louis Untermeyer

Photograph of Louis Untermeyer in silhouette with pince-nez, ca. 1910-15.

Louis Untermeyer, ca. 1910-1915 (Library of Congress)

Untermeyer is one of those 1918 people I remember from when I was growing up, the editor of pretty much every literary anthology I came across. In 1918, he was all over the place, writing criticism for The Dial and The New Republic and poetry for The Smart Set and many other publications. He’s like a non-smarmy Christopher Morley. His wife, Jean Starr Untermeyer, was also a poet. I thought I might have found my man.

Then I looked into his life. He and Jean divorced in 1926, then he married someone else, then he and Jean got married again in 1929 but divorced in 1930. Then he married a judge named Esther Antin, and they lasted for over a decade, but then he got a Mexican divorce. She was presumably the wife who said in a lawsuit that he was, at 63, “still an inveterate anthologist, collecting wives with an eye always open for new editions.” His last marriage was to a much younger Seventeen magazine editor who wrote a book about their cat.

Good-bye, Louis!

William Carlos Williams

Photograph of William Carlos Williams, 1921.

William Carlos Williams, 1921

And now for the one who broke my heart.

William Carlos Williams seemed like the ideal man. A groundbreaking poet AND a successful pediatrician. From New Jersey, like me. Part Puerto Rican, so I could practice my Spanish!

We even had a meet-cute story: In an early post, I trashed his foray into Cubist poetry. Kind of like H.G. Wells and Rebecca West, who met after she panned a book of his, except without the part where she immediately gets pregnant and they don’t admit to their son for quite a while that they’re his parents.

It was the 1917 collection Al Que Quiere! that made me fall in love. In “Danse Russe,” he dances around naked in his study, admiring his butt in the mirror, as his wife and nanny and children are napping. In “January Morning,” a poem I love so much I memorized all 500+ words of it, he takes us around Weehawken, New Jersey and environs, dancing with happiness on a rickety ferry-boat called Arden.

Here’s how the poem ends:

Well, you know how the young girls run giggling
on Park Avenue after dark
when they ought to be home in bed?
Well, that’s the way it is with me somehow.

A cheerful modernist, what a concept!

And there’s more. Judging from “Dedication for a Plot of Ground,” his tribute to his fierce, difficult grandmother, he appreciated strong women. He was attractive in a non-threatening way.******* Politically progressive without being loony. And a great family man! He married his wife Flossie in 1912 and they stayed married, stolen plums and all, until his death in 1963. Aside from the minor issue of how you could be named William Williams and then name your son William, he seemed perfect.

Photograph of William Carlos Williams, wearing fedora, with mother and sons, ca. 1918.

William Carlos Williams with his sons, Paul and William, and his mother, Raquel Helene Rose Hoheb Williams, ca. 1918

The first warning sign came at the end of Al Que Quiere!: a reference to “lewd Jews’ eyes” in the long poem “The Wanderer.” An isolated incident, I hoped. But, when I looked further, it all started to fall apart. The final blow came in a Washington Post review of a 1981 biography of Williams. The biographer acknowledges that he threw around words like “kike” but says that this wasn’t anti-semitism, it was just part of the “popular racial myths of his time.” The reviewer responds, “Exactly. ‘Popular racial myths’ are what racism consists of.”

Exactly.

Good-bye, W.C.!

At this point I threw up my hands and said,

Cover of Dada 3 magazine, December 1918, with text Je ne veux meme pas savoir s'il y a eu des hommes avant moi - Descartes.

Dada 3, December 1918

Which, if you don’t know French (and yes, Ezra Pound, there are such people), means “I don’t even want to know if there were men before me.”

There are lots of ways 1918 was better than 2018. Cars looked cooler

Advertisement for Cole Aero-Eight with picture of car, 1918.

and magazine covers were more attractive

Vogue Magazine cover, woman reclining on bed in front of open window, December 15, 1918

George Wolfe Plank, Vogue, December 15, 1918

and, regardless of whether you’d want to marry them, these men were part of a far greater literary age than our own.

But my search for 1918 love has made me grateful that I’m living in a world of 2018 men.

Especially the one I married 15 years ago today.

Close-up of clasps hands of bride and groom.

Happy anniversary, S.!

Embroidered postcard reading For my dear husband, with flowers.

Silk embroidered postcard, WWI

*I’m not being fussy here about whether people were single in 1918 (Mencken was; Lippmann wasn’t), or whether they were age-appropriate for a 100-years-older me.

**Who I just now found out was the father of Joan Aiken, one of my favorite children’s authors (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, etc.).

***Also, Virginia Woolf called Eliot’s first wife a bag of ferrets around his neck in her journal, and I’d hate it if she said that about me.

****Judging from the photo, he had a daughter, but that didn’t mean much in 1918.

*****He also slept with the daughter of another Fabian friend, and when fellow Fabian Beatrice Webb called this a “sordid intrigue” he lampooned her and her husband Sidney in a novel.

******He did think some women were stupid, but that’s because they were.

Q and A from Dr. Wiley's Question Box, woman asking if Crisco is Ivory soap without the scent, July 1918.

Dr. Wiley’s Question-Box, Good Housekeeping, July 1918

*******If you beg to differ, that’s his passport photo. I got mine taken this week, and even though I made them retake it six times it still looks like the picture of Dorian Gray.

An academic interlude: Harvard’s Widener Library

I live in Cape Town, which has a lot of advantages, like this

and this,

but presents certain challenges My Year in 1918-wise. Online resources like Google Books’ Hathitrust and the Modernist Journals Project are a godsend for online researchers–I get all my magazines there–and most of the books I read are available on Kindle, but there’s no substitute for holding an actual, physical book in your hand.*

So when I went to my Harvard reunion last month, I stayed on and spent a couple of days in Widener Library, which (together with the university’s other, smaller libraries) is home to the world’s third-largest collection of books. My ideal vacation destination!

Widener is a great place to channel 1918. The library, which was dedicated on commencement day in 1915,

Dedication of the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, Harvard University, 24 June 1915 (Harvard Graduates’ Magazine, Vol. 24)

was donated to the university by Eleanor Elkins Widener in memory of her son, Harry Elkins Widener of the class of 1907, who died on the Titanic. Harry was, despite his youth, an accomplished book collector**, and there’s a room in the library dedicated to his memory.***

That room is roped off, but I did get to browse the stacks (which is just as fun and creepy as it was when I was an undergrad), grab a pile of 1918-era books, and peruse them in this less luxurious but still very cool reading room.

Conclusions: E. Nesbit was kind of boring when she wasn’t writing for children. Winnifred Eaton’s Marion: The Story of an Artist’s Model seems like it’s worth reading (good thing, since it’s on my 1918 bedside bookshelf). So does Clive Bell’s Art.

I also did some literary detective work, continuing my pursuit of the script of Alan Dale’s 1918 play The Madonna of the Future, which, as I wrote in April, shocked audiences with its depiction of a wealthy woman who becomes a single mother by choice. There was no trace of it in the National Union Catalogue, although there were lots of other works by Dale, whose real name was Alfred J. Cohen.

With the help of a research librarian, I did find an article in Puck magazine in which Dale, who was a prominent (but, according to Smart Set’s George Jean Nathan, very, very bad) drama critic, interviewed his play’s star, Emily Stevens. Bottom line: Stevens thinks Dale is kind of a moron.

If anyone has advice on where else I might turn to find the elusive script, please let me know. The Library of Congress pointed me in the direction of a copyright records archive, but no luck there either. I’m starting to think it might not exist.

Just when I was winding up my visit to Widener, thinking that it had been fun but a bit lacking in serendipity, I came upon, in this copy of Edna Ferber’s Buttered Side Down,*****

a real-life copy of a Winward Prescott naked microscope bookplate!

Which, in case the excitement of this is eluding you (although a naked microscope bookplate should be exciting enough in its own right), I discovered a while back in an online scan of a Harvard library book and wrote about here.

Two afternoons well spent! Next stop, when I’m back in D.C. in July: The Library of Congress.

*Yes, I know there are some great South African books from that era, and I will get to them.

**An area of accomplishment that is, of course, available only to very rich people.

***There’s a myth at Harvard that, in memory of her drowned son, Eleanor Elkins Widener demanded that the university require that all students pass a swimming test in order to graduate. During the reunion, several classmates reminisced about dutifully going to the athletic center to take the test–which does (or did) in fact exist, but is not a graduation requirement and has nothing to do with Widener. Luckily, some upperclassmen clued me in before I got all wet for nothing.

****Although not as many as I wanted, since, unlike during my student days, much of Harvard’s collection is now stored offsite, including–who would have thought it!–a high percentage of obscure books from 100 years ago.

*****which I subsequently raved about

A 1918 play about a single mother, too far ahead of its time

Reading the March 1918 issue of The Bookman a couple of weeks ago, I came across a brief review of The Madonna of the Future, which had recently opened on Broadway. As critic Clayton Hamilton tells us,

the heroine of this play is a very rich young woman, unencumbered with relatives, who desires to become a mother but does not desire to be saddled with a husband. In consequence of her convictions, she picks out an apparently eugenic mate and becomes, in due time, the mother of a nameless child.

My reaction: What? This is the least 1918 thing I’ve ever heard of!   

“Madonna of the Future” star Emily Stevens, New York Times, January 27, 1918

The Dramatic Mirror thought so too. “The most pitiful creature of the brothel would scorn such an idea,” the magazine huffed. It was not alone, apparently—New York Chief Magistrate William McAdoo* received a number of complaints. He wrote to the theater’s lawyers telling them that, if the issue arose in court, he would have to declare the play obscene. McAdoo said that

the character of the heroine repeatedly and tiresomely states over and over again that the doctrines advanced by her are unconventional and, in the sense usually accepted by ordinary people, immoral. She says that her highest ideal of maternity is that of the cow, which might suggest that the proper place for this play would be a stable instead of the stage, committing the dialogue to learned veterinarians.

I haven’t been able to find a script of the play, but here’s what I’ve managed to piece together. Iris Fotheringham, a wealthy young woman from Tarrington, New York, hates men, but has what the Dramatic Mirror calls “one redeeming virtue—the dream of all good women—the desire of motherhood.” She decides that her secretary, Rex Letherick, would be a suitable father,** and whisks him off to Europe. After the baby is born, she blithely resumes her New York life. Rex is desperately in love with Iris, and, as the Dramatic Mirror puts it, “still willing to be her husband.” Iris gets wind that there’s another woman in the picture, gets jealous, and marries Rex.

Alan Dale and his daughter Marjorie, 1900 (Library of Congress)

What makes this story even more interesting is that the play’s author, Alan Dale, was America’s most famous theater critic. The British-born Dale (real name Alfred Cohen) had been writing acerbic reviews for the Hearst newspapers since the 1880s. He had made a lot of enemies along the way. “The theatrical world is finding considerable amusement in the situation created by the police complaint,” the Dramatic Mirror gloated, speculating that the cause of the play’s troubles was a morality campaign by the city’s Tammany Hall mayor. For good measure, the magazine threw in some cracks about the play’s bad reviews.

New York Times, January 29, 1918

This was unfair, as far as I can tell. The un-bylined New York Times reviewer called the play “a brilliantly written comedy of ideas,” although he complained that the ending was a copout. He noted similarities to George Bernard Shaw, but said that Shaw, “having real ideas of his own, also has the courage of them.”  Astonishingly, the reviewer got away with saying that the de-stigmatization of single motherhood was important to contemplate,

for women in these coming manless times will be much occupied with the thought that life would be less empty if only there were children. And the world will have need of new citizens.

George Jean Nathan, date unknown

George Jean Nathan, who co-edited Smart Set with H.L. Mencken and is now regarded as the greatest theater critic of his time, really, really hated Dale’s reviews. He complained in Smart Set’s April 1918 issue that Dale displayed

the sort of humour…that proceeds from the comparison of something or other with a Limburger cheese or from some such observation as “‘Way Down Yeast’ ought to get a rise out of everybody.” The sort of humor, in short, whose stock company has been made up largely of bad puns, the spelling of girl as “gell,” the surrounding of every fourth word with quotation marks, such bits as “legs—er, oh I beg your pahdon—I should say ‘limbs’,” a frequent allusion to prunes and to pinochle, and an employment of such terms as “scrumptious” and “bong-tong.”

But Nathan goes on to praise The Madonna of the Future, saying that

its theme is viewed through the glasses of a man possessed of a certain pleasant measure of cultural background and expounded in well thought out and effective vein; its net impression is of a piece of writing designed by a civilized gentleman for a civilized audience.

The New York Times ran this list of adjectives that had been used to describe the play, ranging from puerile to shocking to brilliant:

New York Times, March 10, 1918

After the theater received the letter, the script was revised, there was some back and forth with McAdoo, the play closed on Broadway after less than two months, and the censored version, retitled The Woman of the Future, moved to New York’s “subway circuit.”

In spite of its short run, The Madonna of the Future caused quite a stir. Today’s Iris Fotheringhams may, in part, have Alan Dale to thank for getting people used to the idea that having a baby without a husband isn’t all that big a deal.

Alan Dale lives on in another way as well: his 1889 novel A Marriage Below Zero has been described as the first English-language novel to depict a romantic relationship between two men.

All in all, not a bad legacy for someone who said “scrumptious” and “bong-tong.”

G.W. Dillingham, 1889

*This William McAdoo, a former congressman and New York police commissioner, was born in Ireland and was apparently no relation to Secretary of the Treasury/Railroad Administrator/Woodrow Wilson son-in-law William Gibbs McAdoo.

**Well, he has a great porn star name anyway.