“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, December, 1922, on the newsstands of America

When Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, 37, was published a few months ago, it was met with mostly positive reactions.

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

H. L. Mencken, 42, literary critic for Smart Set, found the main character to be a symbol of everything wrong with American culture: 

It is not what [Babbitt] feels and aspires that moves him primarily; it is what the folks about him will think of him. His politics is communal politics, mob politics, herd politics; his religion is a public rite wholly without subjective significance.”

In The New Statesman, Rebecca West, just turned 30, declared that Babbitt “has that something extra, over and above, which makes the work of art.”

Fellow novelist H. G. Wells, 56, told Lewis that it is

one of the greatest novels I have read…I wish I could have written Babbitt.”

Somerset Maugham, 48, wrote to say that he felt that

it is a much better book than Main Steet.

Edith Wharton, 60, to whom the novel is dedicated, wrote from one of her villas in France,

I wonder how much of it the American public, to whom irony seems to have become unintelligible as Chinese, will even remotely feel?…Thank you again for associating my name with a book I so warmly admire and applaud.”

But now in December, Edmund Wilson, 27, has his say in Vanity Fair, comparing Lewis unfavorably to Dickens and Twain, and stating that Lewis’ literary gift “is almost entirely for making people nasty.”

*****

Last month The Dial published “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot, 34, and in this month’s issue the publisher, Scofield Thayer, just turned 33, announces that Eliot is the second recipient of the magazine’s annual Dial Prize of $2,000.

In the same issue, Eliot has a piece about the death of English vaudeville star, Marie Lloyd, aged 52, which depressed Eliot terribly. In October, almost 100,000 mourners attended her funeral in London.

Marie Lloyd

This issue of The Dial also contains Edmund Wilson’s praise of “The Waste Land,” an in-depth piece about Eliot’s importance as a poet:  

He feels intensely and with distinction and speaks naturally in beautiful verse…The race of the poets—though grown rare—is not yet quite dead.”

Eliot is pleased with Wilson’s review, but unhappy that Wilson called his fellow ex-pat Ezra Pound, 37, an “imitator of [Eliot]…extremely ill-focused.” Eliot considers Pound to be the greatest living English-language poet.

*****

In The Nation this month, Dial editor Gilbert Seldes, 29, is also enamored of “The Waste Land,” comparing it to Ulysses by James Joyce, 40, published earlier this year: 

That ‘The Waste Land’ is, in a sense, the inversion and the complement of Ulysses is at least tenable. We have in Ulysses the poet defeated, turning outward, savoring the ugliness which is no longer transmutable into beauty, and, in the end, homeless. We have in ‘The Waste Land’ some indication of the inner life of such a poet. The contrast between the forms of these two works is not expressed in the recognition that one is among the longest and one among the shortest of works in its genre; the important thing is that in each the theme, once it is comprehended, is seen to have dictated the form.”

Eliot sends Seldes a nice note thanking him for the review.

*****

Outlook magazine, on the other hand, features “A Flapper’s Appeal to Parents,” asking parents and society as a whole to be more understanding of these dancing females who spend “a large amount of time in automobiles.”

*****

First described by American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, 26, the flapper grows up in his story in this month’s Metropolitan magazine, “Winter Dreams,” about a midwestern boy in love with a selfish rich girl, who marries someone all wrong for her. When writing the story, Fitzgerald cut some descriptions to save them for his third novel, which he is working on now.

Metropolitan, December

*****

The December Smart Set has the first short story by one of America’s most-published and most popular poets, Dorothy Parker, 29, whose “Such a Pretty Little Picture” describes a man living a monotonous life in the suburbs, just cutting his hedge. Similar to her best friend, fellow Algonquin Round Table member Robert Benchley, 33, who lives in Scarsdale with his wife and two sons.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

Early next year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, and about The Literary 1920s in Paris and New York City at the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”:  Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, Summer, 1922, Manhattan, New York City, New York

So far it’s been one helluva summer for free-lance writer Dorothy Parker, soon to turn 29.

She and her husband of five years, Edwin Pond Parker II, 29, spent Memorial Day in Connecticut with his family. Eddie is thinking that they should move there. Dottie tried to get some writing done that weekend, but…no.

Dorothy and Eddie Parker

Then, soon after the Fourth of July, she comes home to find Eddie all packed up and ready to move out. He says he is fed up with his job at Paine Webber and he’s moving back to Hartford with his family. She can have the dog and the furniture. Well, of course she’ll keep the dog.

Dorothy tells her fellow writers who she lunches with regularly at the Algonquin Hotel that the split is amicable. It’s just because Eddie took a new job in Hartford. They don’t believe that for a minute.

A gossip columnist had recently implied that Dorothy and one of her lunch buddies, theatre critic Robert Benchley, 32, were having an affair because they are seen together around town all the time. Dottie and Bob reassured Eddie that it was just because their jobs are so similar. They review the same plays, are invited to the same parties, go to the same speakeasies, and have lunch together almost every day. That’s all.

Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker

Despite the turmoil in her personal life. Parker’s writing is going well. She had a piece in the Saturday Evening Post recently, “Men I’m Not Married To,” as a companion to “Women I’m Not Married To” by her Algonquin friend Franklin Pierce Adams [FPA], 40, in the same issue. There has been some talk of publishing the two together as a book. The Post runs something of hers in almost every issue.

“Men I’m Not Married To,” Saturday Evening Post

Parker has also decided to expand beyond the little nonsense verses she’s known for and try her hand at short stories. FPA is encouraging her; he gave her a book of French poetry and suggested that she can work on her prose style by modeling these poems. Parker has also learned that she can’t write fiction on a typewriter; she has switched to longhand, revising as she goes along.

Her first story is about a man clipping the hedges at his home in Scarsdale, ruminating about how trapped he feels by his wife, his kids, his mortgage, the suburbs. Something like Benchley. A bit depressing compared to her usual work, but The Smart Set has offered her $50 to publish it later in the year.

And just as she feels she is getting her life straightened out, along comes would-be playwright Charles MacArthur, 26. Fresh into Manhattan from Chicago; six feet tall; curly brown hair; with a line many women can die for. And fall for. Including Dottie.

Charles MacArthur

They were introduced by her other lunch buddy, theatre critic Alexander Woollcott, 35, who likes MacArthur so much you’d think he was in love with him.

What a perfect world this would be if it were full of MacArthurs!”

he has said.

Apparently, Charlie has a wife back in Chicago. No mind. Dorothy has a husband in Hartford. MacArthur bitches about the phoniness of New York City all the time, but knows he has to live here if he’s going to have any kind of theatre career. One day he showed up at the ASPCA pound with birthday cakes for all the puppies. They both like scotch and they both like sex. How could Dottie not fall in love with him?!

Her Algonquin friends think it’s cute, but surely Dorothy knows his reputation. He’s been sleeping with so many women around town, magazine illustrator Neysa McMein, 34, has a rubber stamp made for him that says

I love you.”

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volumes I and II covering 1920 and 1921 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and also in print and e-book formats on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

Later in the year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”:  Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, Spring, 1920, offices of Life magazine, New York City, New York

New drama critic Robert Benchley, 30, is rested from his recent family vacation and ready to start his latest job.

For the past year or so, Benchley was managing editor of Vanity Fair magazine. But when his two friends and critics, Dorothy Parker, 26, and Robert Sherwood, just turned 24, were let go earlier this year, he decided that the job wasn’t worth having. Benchley was replaced by nervous Edmund “Bunny” Wilson, 24, whom he considered to be a scab. But he has agreed to train him anyway.

Robert Sherwood

Robert Sherwood

Parker and Benchley had jumped right into free-lancing, and even rented a tiny office together for $30 a month, above the Metropolitan Opera House at Broadway and 39th Street.

One cubic foot less of space and it would have constituted adultery,”

Parker said.

The free-lance offers have come pouring in, for both of them. Benchley is still doing his “Books and Other Things” column three times a week for the New York World, for the same money as his full-time Vanity Fair job paid.

But Benchley has a wife and two sons—aged 5 and 1—up in Scarsdale. So when Sherwood  recently became associate editor of humor magazine Life, circulation 250,000, and offered Benchley a full-time drama critic position, he jumped at it. $100 a week—great!

Life mag May 6 1920

Life, May 6, 1920

And his wife understands that he will have to stay in town with Parker and Sherwood most nights to see plays. He is keeping his formal clothes in the office.

Back in their old office, Dottie has put a sign on the door that says “MEN.”

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the book, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s, to be published by K. Donnelly Communications. For more information, email me at kaydee@gpysyteacher.com.

In 2020 I will be talking about writers’ salons before and after the Great War in Ireland, England, France and America in the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning program.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins and his relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

 

“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago, January 25, 1920, New York City

Dorothy Parker, 26, is clearing out her desk on her last day as Vanity Fair’s drama critic.

She’d loved this job. She’d spent the past four years with Conde Nast publishing, first at Vogue. She was thrilled when she was moved up to Vanity Fair.

Vanity Fair cover Jan 1920

Vanity Fair, January 1920

Two weeks ago, the editor-in-chief, Frank Crowninshield, 47, had invited her for tea and scones at the Plaza Hotel. Dottie thought she was going to get that raise she had asked for.

Ha.

Crownie apologetically explained that the regular drama critic she had replaced, P. G. Wodehouse, 38, was returning, so she’d have to go, of course. He also just mentioned that Mr. Nast, 46, wasn’t happy that so many Broadway producers complained about her negative reviews of their plays. Saying that Billie Burke, 35, the actress-wife of impresario Flo Ziegfeld, 52, had “thick ankles” was hardly theatrical criticism. Ziegfeld was threatening to pull his advertising.

Well, critics are supposed to give bad reviews too. That’s why they are “critics,” she thought. As she ordered the most expensive dessert.

Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker, nee Rothschild

Back at her apartment, her husband, Eddie, 26, still getting over the war, was no help. Parker had called her best friend, Vanity Fair managing editor Robert Benchley, 30, at his home in Scarsdale. He had come right down on the next train.

Adding her firing to that of their colleague, Robert Sherwood, 23, who was replaced by Nast’s children’s piano teacher, showed Parker and Benchley a pattern that they weren’t happy about.

In the office the next morning, Benchley had written his resignation. He had explained to Crownie—who hadn’t expected to lose a good managing editor—that the job wasn’t worth having without his two colleagues.

Robert_C_Benchley young

Robert Benchley

Parker was astounded. Benchley had a wife and two sons in the suburbs. Gertrude, 30, had said she would support her husband’s decision, but she sure wasn’t happy about it.

It was the greatest act of friendship I’d known,”

Parker said later.

So now, on her last day, taking everything she could with her from the office, leaving nothing but the scent of her favorite perfume, Coty’s Chypre, behind, Dottie was conjuring up all the free-lance ways she could keep writing and earning. Crownie had suggested working from home. But she didn’t even know how to change a typewriter ribbon.

Two of their New York newspaper friends, the Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott, just turned 33, and the city’s most-read columnist, FPA, 38, at the Tribune, with whom they lunch almost every day at the nearby Algonquin Hotel, have promised to promote them in their papers. That would get those New York publisher tongues wagging.

Because of his contract, Benchley had to stay on until the end of the month—he plans to go out with a piece, “The Social Life of the Newt.” He is being replaced by Princeton grad Edmund “Bunny” Wilson, 24. All Parker remembers about him is that he had hit on her during his job interview.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the book, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s, to be published by K. Donnelly Communications. For more information, email me at kaydee@gpysyteacher.com.

This spring I will be talking about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins and his relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and others in both the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University’s Osher Lifelong Learning programs.

Manager as Muse, about Perkins and his writers, is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.