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Playing Smart

New York Women Writers and Modern Magazine Culture

Catherine Keyser

Publication Year: 2010

Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, Anita Loos, Lois Long, Jessie Fauset, Dawn Powell, Mary McCarthy, and others imagined New York as a place where they could claim professional status, define urban independence, and shrug off confining feminine roles. Their fiction raised questions about what it meant to be a woman in the public eye, how gender roles would change because men and women were working together, and how the growth of the magazine industry would affect women's relationships to their bodies and minds. Playing Smart celebrates their causes and careers and pays homage to their literary genius.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: The American Literatures Initiative


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xiii

Dorothy Parker complained, “Why is it no one ever sent me yet / One perfect limousine, do you suppose?” Thankfully, I have ridden deluxe, so to speak, through every stage of this book’s conception and execution thanks to the people with whom I have had the privilege to work and play. To my mentors, colleagues, family, and friends, I offer these ...

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pp. 1-19

The December 1923 issue of Vanity Fair featured “A Very Modern Love Story” by Nancy Hoyt, sister of the poet Elinor Wylie. In this fable, a “young, fashionable, well bred, and rich” man laments that he has “found no maiden at all up to his standard.”1 He watches a beautiful modern girl...

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1. Thoroughly Modern Millay and Her Middlebrow Masquerades

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pp. 20-50

In his introduction to the November 1921 issue of Vanity Fair, Donald Ogden Stewart celebrated a female humorist whose byline had appeared in the magazine since January. Like her contemporary Mae West who promised that too much of a good thing could be wonderful, Nancy Boyd vowed to her readers...

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2. “This Unfortunate Exterior”: Dorothy Parker, the Female Body, and Strategic Doubling

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pp. 51-78

In magazines of the 1920s, Art Deco representations of the modern woman rivaled New York City’s rising skyscrapers in height and symbolic glory.1 One ad for stockings featured a drawing of a giant woman tiptoeing through the New York grid at Park Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street.2 The October 1926 issue...

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3. “First Aid to Laughter”: Jessie Fauset and the Racial Politics of Smartness

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pp. 79-109

In Alain Locke’s famous 1925 collection, The New Negro, Jessie Fauset, the literary editor of the Crisis magazine, published an essay on black stereo-types and humor on the American stage called “The Gift of Laughter.” Fauset immediately announces the irony of the association...

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4. The Indestructible Glamour Girl: Dawn Powell, Celebrity, and Counterpublics

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pp. 110-140

Dawn Powell is the only writer featured prominently in this book who did not occupy a heralded position in the firmament of interwar literary New York. She remained largely unknown outside literary circles in spite of her impressive productivity as a novelist (publishing fifteen novels, the first in 1925 and the last in 1962), her steady work as a book ...

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5. “Scratch a Socialist and You Find a Snob”: Mary McCarthy, Irony, and Politics

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pp. 141-171

For a female magazine writer raised on Vogue and educated at Vassar to join a Marxist intellectual elite would seem unlikely if not actively quixotic. Perhaps best known as the author of The Group (1963), a novel about a circle of Vassar graduates and their experiences in New York, Mary McCarthy...

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pp. 173-179

In a 2008 New York Times editorial, Susan Faludi regretfully compared our own era to the 1920s: “Again, the news media showcases young women’s ‘feminist-new style’ pseudo-liberation—the flapper is now a girl-gone-wild.”1 Faludi, linking the rise in modern print culture with the redirection of women’s choices...


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pp. 181-207

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 209-216


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pp. 217-225

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About the Author

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p. 226

Catherine Keyser is an assistant professor of English at the University of South Carolina. A feminist scholar of American literature, she has previously published on Hannah Crafts, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Dorothy Parker. Her essay “Girls Who Wear Glasses” about New York...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813551111
E-ISBN-10: 0813551110
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813547862
Print-ISBN-10: 0813547865

Page Count: 242
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: The American Literatures Initiative
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OCLC Number: 774279007
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Playing Smart

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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Journalism and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century
  • American periodicals -- History -- 20th century.
  • Literature and society -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- United States.
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