The Jazz Age in Literature

I could have so easily filled a post about the Jazz Age in literature with books by my beloved F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Instead, I have chosen one Fitzgerald, two other works of fiction, and two pieces of non-fiction which I think sum up the period wonderfully.

Tales from the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald 9781492896227
Tales of the Jazz Age (1922) is a collection of eleven short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Divided into three separate parts, according to subject matter, it includes one of his better-known short stories, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” All of the stories had been published earlier, independently, in either Metropolitan Magazine (New York), Saturday Evening Post, Smart Set, or Collier’s.’


9780099286554Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald
‘One of the great literary curios of the twentieth century Save Me the Waltz is the first and only novel by the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. During the years when Fitzgerald was working on Tender is the Night, which many critics consider to be his masterpiece, Zelda Fitzgerald was preparing her own story, which strangely parallels the narrative of her husband, throwing a fascinating light on Scott Fitzgerald’s life and work. In its own right, it is a vivid and moving story: the confessional of a famous glamour girl of the affluent 1920s and an aspiring ballerina which captures the spirit of an era.’


Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin by Marion Meade 9780156030595
‘In her exuberant new work, Marion Meade presents a portrait of four extraordinary writers- Dorothy Parker, Zelda Fitzgerald, Edna St.Vincent Millay, and Edna Ferber – whose loves, lives, and literary endeavors embodied the spirit of the 1920s. These literary heroines did what they wanted and said what they thought, living wholly in the moment. They kicked open the door for twentieth-century women writers and set a new model for every woman trying to juggle the serious issues of economic independence, political power, and sexual freedom. Here are the social and literary triumphs and inevitably the penances paid: crumbled love affairs, abortions, depression, lost beauty, nervous breakdowns, and finally, overdoses and even madness. A vibrant mixture of literary scholarship, social history, and scandal, Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin is a rich evocation of a period that will forever intrigue and captivate us.’


9781843547785Anything Goes: A Biography of the Roaring Twenties by Lucy Moore
‘Bracketed by the catastrophes of the Great War and the Wall Street Crash, 1920s America was a place of drama, tension and hedonism. It glittered and seduced: jazz, flappers, wild all-night parties, the birth of Hollywood, and a glamorous gangster-led crime scene flourishing under prohibition. But the period was also punctuated by momentous events – the political show trials of Sacco and Vanzetti; the huge Ku Klux Klan march down Washington DC’s Pennsylvania Avenue – and it produced a splendid array of writers, musicians and film stars, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Bessie Smith and Charlie Chaplin.’


The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway 9780743297332
‘The quintessential novel of the Lost Generation, “The Sun Also Rises” is one of Ernest Hemingway s masterpieces and a classic example of his spare but powerful writing style. A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway s most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. ‘



Have you read any of these?  Which are your favourite Jazz Age books?

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‘Nijinsky’ by Lucy Moore ****

‘Nijinsky,’ writes Moore: ‘his name alone conjures up romance, exoticism, scandal and tragedy’.  Acclaimed historian Lucy Moore, who has written the first full-length biography of Nijinsky for decades, believes that he ‘transformed the world of ballet… as the first male star of the modern era, with critics and audiences hailing him the God of the Dance’.  She writes that he ‘had the same dramatic impact on ballet as the work of Picasso had on painting’.

‘Nijinsky’ (Profile Books)

Vaslav Nijinsky, born in 1889, is said by many to be the greatest dancer of the twentieth century, and was the shining star of the famous Ballets Russes.  For the first time in the scope of Nijinsky’s biographers, Moore has been able to take into account his personal diaries to further enforce her information.  She spans the course of his fascinating and incredibly sad life, until his death in 1950, and even touches upon the legacy which Nijinsky the dancer left behind.  She is conscious of his tough climb to the top, and those problems which beset him with every step forward.  When he began to train at the prestigious Tsar-owned ballet school at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, for example, he had trouble fitting in, despite his obvious talents.  As a Polish boy ‘with a strong accent, and notably poorer than the others, he was despised by his peers, ignored in all the school games and made to feel inferior at every turn’.

Nijinsky, who excelled at his craft and found fame in the Ballets Russes at an early age, was born into the ballet; his parents were both ‘gifted professional dancers’, and his younger sister Bronia joined the same company as him.  In his own diary, Nijinsky wrote that his parents ‘considered it as natural to teach me to dance as to walk and talk’.  At the start of the book, Moore sets out the family history of the Nijinskys, which is fascinating in itself.

From the very beginning, Moore’s writing is beautiful.  Her prologue is centered around the premiere of Nijinsky’s ballet ‘Le Sacre du printemps’, which was choreographed with two poets, and was first staged in Paris in 1913.  ‘Le Sacre du printemps’, and other ballets choreographed at around the same time, writes Moore, created ‘a revolutionary, entirely modern form of ballet, stripped of the tinselled artifice of previous generations’.  Amongst other elements – becoming the husband of a rather formidable woman named Romola, and the father to two doting daughters, for example – Moore wonderfully exemplifies the friction between Nijinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who schooled him in homosexual relationships.  Throughout, Moore is conscious of the social constraints which Nijinsky and his family would have struggled against, and uses them as a backdrop to the biography at every turn.  It is clear that she is so in control of her subject and in the information which she presents, and has used each one of her sources with clarity and consideration.

Photographs of Nijinsky and those who were close to him have been printed in glossy sections, and these are a lovely touch.  Moore has also included a comprehensive notes section and far-reaching bibliography, which those who enjoy ballet, or even just non-fiction in general, are sure to find invaluable.  Moore’s account of Nijinsky’s life has been called ‘mesmerising’, ‘captivating’, ‘timely’ and ‘hugely enjoyable’.  It is all of these things, and more.  Moore’s respect and admiration for Nijinsky shines through on each and every page, and one cannot help but think that she was perfect candidate to write such an enlightening biography of him.

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