16 December 2014

'Tis The Season To Be Hard-Boiled

Fa la la la la, la la la la!

A plane crashes into your boudoir? Quel domage! These things happen. A girl has to finish her makeup before she greets the day. 
A school girl's riddle from my mother's adolescence.  Why do males disappear before Thanksgiving and reappear after New Year's?  If you've heard this and know the answer, then you are hard-boiled.
To be hard-boiled is an attitude, first incubated in Manhattan, a product of  the bouillabaisse that made the first truly sophisticated  American city.  Before The New Yorker  there was Vanity Fair, the home of the diamond cut on the hardness scale. 
In 1915, the Canadian Stephen Leacock wondered in its pages,  "Are The Rich Happy?"  To begin with, he had trouble finding them.  "Very often I have thought that I had found them.  but it turned out that it was not so.  They were not rich at all.  They were quite poor.  They were hard-up.  They were pushed for money.  They didn't know where to turn for ten thousand dollars."
During the next two years a young writer, Dorothy Rothschild Parker (as she was then known) appeared in the magazine's pages with a series of "Hate Songs," satirical verses on various subjects:  office life, actresses, relatives and, of course, men.  Although she was only twenty-three, Parker was already a walking anthology  of sharp edges.  Husbands, she opined, were "The White Woman's Burden" and concluded, "I wish to Heaven somebody would alienate their affections."

An unlikely novelist of the hard-boiled was Frances Newman (1883-1928) from Atlanta. I discovered Newman's two published novels when I was at college and have never forgotten them. It was the titles that seduced me: The Hard-Boiled Virgin (1926) and Dead Lovers Are Faithful Lovers (1928)  Newman was a literary modernist who layer cake structuring of time and space reminded me of Virginia Woolf. Newman also preferred to use interior monologue rather than dialogue to move her novels forward. If Newman didn't read Dorothy Richardson' multi-volume epic Pilgrimage (1915-1935) , then great minds do think alike
The daughter of a prominent judge, Newman was sent to finishing schools, in anticipation of a genteel adulthood to be spent as a librarian.  But Paris and the Sorbonne changed her mind.  Newman had finished her first novel at twenty-three but was never able to get it published.  Undeterred, she kept on writing and when The Head-Boiled Virgin appeared it was immediately hailed by the eminent James Branch Cabell as "brilliant."  In it, Katherine Farraday chooses independence over marriage. 
Two years later the publication of  Dead Lovers Are Faithful Lovers caused a sensation of a different sort.   Newman's hometown of Atlanta was outraged and the book was banned in Boston. Modernism was acceptable among a select group of readers but personifying the misogyny and racism of southern life through the characters of an angelic wife and a seductive 'other' woman was not to be tolerated.  Newman died too young and the guardians of literature were happy to forget her.  Thanks to Barbara Ann Wade, we now have a reconsideration of Newman's works.
For further reading:
1. Frances Newman - The Hard-Boiled Virgin, New York, Arno Reprints: 1977
2. Frances Newman - Dead Lovers Are Faithful Lovers, New York, Arno Reprints: 1977.
3. Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers & Swells: The Best of Early Vanity Fair, edited by Grayfon Carter, New York, Penguin Press: 2014.

Image: Tim Walker - for Vogue UK, London.


Hels said...

"Newman's hometown of Atlanta was outraged and the book was banned in Boston". Ha! That was certainly the key sign of literary impact.

And a certain sign of Newman's toughness was that she couldn't have cared less what the silly cultural judges of Atlanta etc thought.

Jane said...

Hels, even though Newman's hometown of Atlanta didn't ban her books, they weren't pleased. A decade later they weren't entirely pleased with Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With The Wind" either.

Hels said...


the strange thing about banning a book is that every curious person in the nation will go out and read that book. I remember when The Group was published in 1963 and promptly banned across Australia, Mary McCarthy became a bit of a folk hero. My female friends and I passed around a battered, overused copy to everyone who was interested.

Jane said...

Hels, it's almost like putting parentheses around something; it just draws more attention to whatever is enclosed. Reading about the poet Muriel Rukeyser recently, she was at Vassar with Mary McCarthy who based one of the characters in "The Group" on Rukeyser. I must read this novel - and soon. Thanks.