They were smart. Sassy. Daring. Exotic. Eclectic. Sexy. And influential. One could call them the first divas--and they ran absolutely wild. They were poets, actresses, singers, artists, journalists, publishers, baronesses, and benefactresses. They were thinkers and they were drinkers. They eschewed the social conventions expected of them--to be wives and mothers--and decided to live on their own terms. In the process, they became the voices of a new, fierce feminine spirit.
There's Mina Loy, a modernist poet and much-photographed beauty who traveled in pivotal international art circles; blues divas Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters; Edna St. Vincent Millay, the lyric poet who, with her earthy charm and passion, embodied the '20s ideal of sexual daring; the avant-garde publishers Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap; and the wealthy hostesses of the salons, A'Lelia Walker and Mabel Dodge. Among the supporting cast are Emma Goldman, Isadora Duncan, Ma Rainey, Margaret Sanger, and Gertrude Stein.
Andrea Barnet's fascinating accounts of the emotional and artistic lives of these women--together with rare black-and-white photographs, taken by photographers such as Berenice Abbott and Man Ray--capture the women in all their glory.
This is a history of the early feminists who didn't set out to be feminists, a celebration of the rebellious women who paved the way for future generations.
With a neatly composed set of intersecting biographies, journalist Barnet engagingly illustrates the extraordinary period of cultural freedom for American women that came after whalebone corsets of the Victorian era were loosed and before the privations of the Depression sucked the gumption out of the nation. Barnet uses New York as the red-hot locus where these women met, mingled, made love and made art. At the book's heart are eight creators. In Greenwich Village, modernist poet and artist Mina Loy wrote her manifesto "Aphorisms on Futurism." Nearby, the winsome Edna St. Vincent Millay burned her candle at both ends in a cold-water flat, breaking cultural rules and several suitors' hearts. Editors and lovers Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap constructed the influential arts magazine Little Review, which climaxed with the serial publication of Joyce's Ulysses. Uptown, in Harlem, blues divas like the wild Bessie Smith and coy Ethel Waters crooned to audiences of blacks and whites alike. A'Lelia Walker, the richest black woman in America, hosted a salon where, "besides the usual throng of artists, dancers, jazz musicians, poets, journalists, critics, and novelists, one might see English Rothschilds, French princesses, Russian grand dukes, mobsters, prizefighters, men of the stock exchange and Manhattan's social elite, elegant homosexuals, Village bohemians, white movie celebrities, and smartly dressed employees of the U.S. Post Office." Barnet's treatment of this scintillating era is as lively and appealing as the women she's writing about. B&w photos.