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Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running…

Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties (2004)

by Marion Meade

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Dorothy Parker has always been a personal fascination, one evidenced by the myriad collections of her work, biographies, and even a movie starring Jennifer Jason Leigh that grace my bookshelves. So naturally I picked up Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin by Marion Meade, with its arresting title, and promises to be an account of "writers running wild in the twenties".

Though not strictly speaking a scholarly work - the footnotes and liberal use of quotations notwithstanding, it is often difficult to separate accounts from conjecture - this nonetheless provides a detailed, intimate look at the lives of poetess Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edna Ferber, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, and of course, Dorothy Parker from 1920 to 1930. Those familiar with the Algonquin Round Table will see familiar names pop up, though even I had trouble keeping track of everyone since Meade refers to them mostly by their first names.

This conceit makes sense, as the book reads more like a fiction novel than a biography. Meade is not entirely objective, whether she strove to be or not (it's difficult to tell), and clearly has mixed feelings about some of her subjects while clearly adoring others. The quotes and writing are superb, with just the amount of caustic wit and unbridled charisma that draws readers to read about these extraordinary writers and their extraordinary lives in the first place. While there are successes, this is a highly private look: the tragedies, the setbacks, and the behind-closed-doors and private letters type of information, without ever resorting to scandalous gossip or unverified rumors the type tabloids live on. She treats the ones she likes with dignity, though a few telltale tidbits slip out that point to her feelings toward what could euphemistically be called "bad behavior". That said, I realized about halfway through that something was bothering me - namely, the absolute erasure of any evidence that Edna St. Vincent Millay was queer. There may have been a fleeting mention, but it was quickly swept under the rug. While it may have been an oversight or simply left on the cutting room floor since it didn't fit into Meade's narrative, it felt uncomfortably close to queer erasure.

Despite that, if you're not looking for a source for a textbook, but instead interested in a period of time that can never be repeated but only imagined, this is your book. ( )
  kittyjay | Apr 23, 2015 |
Such an immensely readable book. Really enjoyed it ( )
  simplybookdrunk | Apr 4, 2013 |
I really enjoyed this book. I was, likely, predisposed to since I came to it with a long-time interest in the period (Roaring 20's), in the literature of the times, and it's celebrated authors. I think The Great Gatsby is, perhaps, the finest novel of American Literature and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald's lives are major portion of the book.

Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin:Writers Running Wild in The Twenties focuses on four "superstar' women from the culture of The Twenties: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, Zelda Fitzgerald and Edna Ferber. Well-researched, with extraordinary access to personal diaries and correspondence, plus extensive interviews with descendants, "Bobbed Hair..." puts us inside the daily lives of these four and their fast-living, artistic friends.

Author Marion Meade gives us the real-life story in a novelized fashion that is fun to read. In addition to the four stars, we encounter other major players in business, literature, publishing, the theater and Hollywood. Ernest Hemingway, George Kaufman, Jerome Kern, Sam Harris (George M. Cohan's former partner), Edmund "Bunny" Wilson, Harold Ross, John Dos Passos and on-and-on.

Part social/proto-feminist history, part psychological study of a hard-drinking, non-conformist lifestyle, part literary history of an era, this book touches many genres, and is a respectable addition to all, in my opinion.

A great read! ( )
  thejazzmonger | Mar 1, 2013 |
Marion Meade is also the author of a biography about Dorothy Parker, *What Fresh Hell Is This?*. This was such a fun book. What a shame that I seem to be the only member with this book in her library. I HUGELY recommend this book.

Here's a line taken from random, typical of Meade's writing: "Westport, a peaceable village, characterized by lawn mowers and cocktail shakers."

Meade has written a group biography: she includes Zelda Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, and Edna Ferber. You don't have to know a single fact about these women before picking up the book in order to be hugely entertained. Plus you can trust her information. Meade really knows 1920s Manhattan. ( )
1 vote labwriter | Mar 20, 2010 |
"Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin" is a biographical compilation of the lives of four famous American female writers during the 1920’s: Zelda Fitzgerald (married to F. Scott), Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, and Edna Ferber.

Each one of these women were fascinating, intriguing, and worthy of individual study. They wrote Pulitzer Prize winning novels, poetry, short stories, and essays for magazines. They were all fiercely independent and believed in the revolutionary idea of a woman’s right to have a career.

Reporting chronologically, each year starting with 1920, the narrative jumps brusquely from character to character leading the reader on a muddled labyrinth. Marion Meade seems to have scoured the archives for every tidbit about these four famous authors, and crammed it all into this hodgepodge. The problem is that Marion Meade laid no foundation for the story, no solid detailed description of each woman (background, personality traits, physical appearance) so at times Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay seemed to melt into one person. The fact that two of the women were named Edna further confused the story. Reading was constantly interrupted by thoughts, “is this the Edna who keeps having affairs with married men, or is this the other Edna who’s a workaholic?” It took me quite a while to figure out Edna St. Vincent Millay was always referred to as Vincent.

In addition, the dry matter-of-fact presentation of their various sex scandals, abortions, mental problems, and tendencies towards alcoholism, made it difficult to empathize with these women. These “1920’s legends” just didn’t come alive.

Now I finally understand what the saying “never judge a book by its cover” really means. Doesn’t the title conjure up notions of juicy “roaring twenties” stories and evoke images of flappers, jazz, fashion, festive parties, elegant Manhattan penthouses, and dark exotic speakeasies? Kind of a 1920’s "Sex in the City"? I guess I just expected too much.

The one interesting aspect of this book is that it illustrates how each one of these women lived during the most productive 10 years of their lives. I hoped to glean some insight into what inspired these very talented women, but as they flitted from continent to continent, relationship to relationship, party to party, year after year the source of their motivation remained a mystery. ( )
1 vote LadyLo | Mar 9, 2010 |
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Raver, LornaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156030594, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:35 -0400)

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"Capturing the jazz rhythms and desperate gaiety that defined the era, Meade gives us Parker, Fitzgerald, Millay, and Ferber, traces the intersections of their lives, and describes the men (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edmund Wilson, Harold Ross, and Robert Benchley) who influenced them, loved them, and sometimes betrayed them. Here are the social and literary triumphs (Parker's Round Table witticisms appeared almost daily in the newspapers and Ferber and Millay won Pulitzer Prizes) and inevitably the penances each paid: crumbled love affairs, abortions, depression, lost beauty, nervous breakdowns, and finally, overdoses and even madness." "These literary heroines did what they wanted, 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."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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