In the time of stock market woes, prohibition and changing social climates, writers ran amuck, traipsing through the eastern United States and Europe. Living beyond their means was commonplace, and back then, going to your editor for an advance (which would now be considered a hand-out) was normal, even expected.
The majority of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin focuses on prominent and up-and-coming women writers in the Twenties. Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Zelda Fitzgerald occupy much space in the text. It is interesting to see how they lived, went about crafting their works (or more to the point, procrastinated) and suffered the same tortures that many modern day writers fall victim too. But, like the roaring Twenties, these notable writers carried much of their angst to extremes.
Surprisingly, author Marion Meade has given us a glimpse of what most people would call modern morals, put into practice by the women over eighty years ago. Promiscuity, drunkenness, extramarital affairs, mental illness, and even suicide, are displayed by the choices the women made throughout this enlightening book. One of the above-mentioned women tried, and failed to commit suicide several times. Another was institutionalized, and yet a third woman suffered for years from unexplained abdominal complications and fierce headaches.
Fitzgerald, had no choice but to become part of this eclectic ensemble. What was interesting about his role in Zelda’s life is that he belittled her every chance he got, plagiarized excerpts from her journal verbatim (and placed them in his own novels), and routinely added his byline to anything Zelda had published. (Whether this was a marketing ploy for himself, or to further reinforce the fact that Zelda would never be a “real writer” I’m not sure).
Ernest Hemingway makes several appearances in Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin as well, and it would seem that he didn’t make much of an impression on the ladies at the time. Other men grace the pages of this book, as collaborators, producers, editors, lovers and members of the Algonquin Round Table.
It would seem that writers, authors, and poets of the Twenties did, in fact, suffer from common dilemmas – writer’s block, low income (or, as was the case with the Fitzgeralds’, gross mismanagement of their funds), and very slow productivity. Writers in the 1920s often took years to complete one body of work, whereas present day authors are expected to churn out several best sellers per year in order to remain “serious novelists.”
Historically speaking, this book contains a wealth of interesting information told in a gossip-like way – the not-so-impressive beginnings of The New Yorker, who was sleeping with whom, business deals gone bad, books that flopped only to become “classics” decades later.
Anyone interested in seeing the low-down, sometimes dirty lives of now-famous writers, anyone who would like to read the inside story of the making of legendary writers and revel in their struggles, misfortunes and fortunes, should read this book. Even a non-writer will find enough tantilizing details to sustain one’s interest page after page.