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Women, Celebrity, and Literary Culture between the Wars

By Faye Hammill

Publication Year: 2007

As mass media burgeoned in the years between the first and second world wars, so did another phenomenon—celebrity. Beginning in Hollywood with the studio-orchestrated transformation of uncredited actors into brand-name stars, celebrity also spread to writers, whose personal appearances and private lives came to fascinate readers as much as their work. Women, Celebrity, and Literary Culture between the Wars profiles seven American, Canadian, and British women writers—Dorothy Parker, Anita Loos, Mae West, L. M. Montgomery, Margaret Kennedy, Stella Gibbons, and E. M. Delafield—who achieved literary celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s and whose work remains popular even today. Faye Hammill investigates how the fame and commercial success of these writers—as well as their gender—affected the literary reception of their work. She explores how women writers sought to fashion their own celebrity images through various kinds of public performance and how the media appropriated these writers for particular cultural discourses. She also reassesses the relationship between celebrity culture and literary culture, demonstrating how the commercial success of these writers caused literary elites to denigrate their writing as “middlebrow,” despite the fact that their work often challenged middle-class ideals of marriage, home, and family and complicated class categories and lines of social discrimination. The first comparative study of North American and British literary celebrity, Women, Celebrity, and Literary Culture between the Wars offers a nuanced appreciation of the middlebrow in relation to modernism and popular culture.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: Literary Modernism Series


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

I am grateful in particular to Professor Phyllis Lassner for her detailed, encouraging, and immensely helpful comments on the draft of this book. I am also very grateful to several friends and colleagues: Rob Gossedge, Dr. Mary Grover, Dr. Louise Harrington, Dr. Anouk Lang, Professor Rick Rylance, and Dr. Keir Waddington, for reading...

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pp. 1-26

Literary celebrity, in this account, is part of the "hubbub" of everyday life, yet it also gives access to a "magical world." The celebrity author is magnified, elevated above ordinary mortals. At the same time, she is incorporated into the bewildering modern city, and cannot take refuge from the public, even in her bedroom. Simply by her known presence, she contributes to the chaos, but it is her name and not herself which...

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1. "How to tell the difference between a Matisse painting and a Spanish omelette": Dorothy Parker, Vogue, and Vanity Fair

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pp. 27-54

The Dorothy Parker persona has come down to us not only through her own writing but via biography, scholarship, film, memoir, and popular nostalgia for the 1920s. The creation of Dorothy Parker as celebrity was begun through her own cultivation of an identifiable style, by means of her journalism and her social image, especially her highly publicized association with the Algonquin Round Table. But...

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2. "Brains are really everything": Anita Loos's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

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pp. 55-75

Anita Loos's writing, like Dorothy Parker's, was shaped by the discourses of sophistication and cosmopolitanism, which were me- diated by magazines such as Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Harper's Bazar,1 and The Smart Set. Her best-selling novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925) was initially serialized in Harper's Bazar; when it appeared in volume form, its astonishing sales made Loos a millionaire...

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3. "A plumber's idea of Cleopatra": Mae West as Author

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pp. 76-99

It is something of a surprise to find Anita Loos describing herself as starstruck: after all, from the beginning of her career, she had associated with a whole procession of celebrities, from D. W. Griffith to Marion Davies, Margot Asquith to Scott Fitzgerald. The extent of Mae West's fame in 1936 can certainly be measured by Loos's unwonted excitement. Loos, though, deliberately emphasizes her inflated expectation...

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4. "Astronomers located her in the latitude of Prince Edward Island": L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, and Early Hollywood

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pp. 100-123

Lucy Maud Montgomery is the only author considered in this study who can be compared to Mae West in terms of her impact on popular culture. Her first novel, Anne of Green Gables (1908), became an international best seller and spawned seven sequels, numerous screen adaptations, a series of spin-off products, and an entire tourist industry in Prince Edward Island. In their book on Canadian popular...

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5. "The best product of this century": Margaret Kennedy's The Constant Nymph

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pp. 124-151

Among the novels discussed in this study, Anne of Green Gables and The Constant Nymph (1924) are the most romantic in their vision. Kennedy, like Montgomery, places much emphasis on imagination and creativity, imbues her texts with literary allusiveness (particularly in reference to Shakespeare), and creates a pastoral idyll. But the romantic qualities are not straightforward. Both authors undercut...

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6. "Literature or just sheer flapdoodle?": Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm

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pp. 152-178

The narrative modes of Cold Comfort Farm and The Constant Nymph contrast strikingly, yet the two books have important similarities. Like Margaret Kennedy's Florence, Stella Gibbons's protagonist, Flora, is a confident but somewhat officious young woman, committed to ideals of civilization, good manners, pleasant domestic surroundings, and the moral benefits of culture. Both narratives are structured...

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7. "Wildest hopes exceeded": E. M. Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady

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pp. 179-206

In February 1931, E. M. Delafield published the first installment of a series called "Women in Fiction" in Time and Tide. It identified the types of women likely to feature in "the dialect novel": The malignant grandmother [. . .] dominates the book, and all the people in it, and the destinies of every one of them, and is almost al- ways the victim of a disease, or at least a disability, that keeps her in...

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pp. 207-212

In 2002 and 2004, the BBC series Before the Booker asked which novels would have won the Booker prize if it had existed before 1969. Each program focused on one particular year, ranging from 1818 to 1966, identifying four contenders for each supposed prize. American authors were permitted, although they would not have been eligible for the real Booker prize. The books selected for 1925 were...


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pp. 213-231


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pp. 233-249


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pp. 251-261

E-ISBN-13: 9780292794870
E-ISBN-10: 0292794878
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292716445
Print-ISBN-10: 0292716443

Page Count: 271
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Literary Modernism Series
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OCLC Number: 183881220
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Women, Celebrity, and Literary Culture between the Wars

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Pembroke, Mary Sidney Herbert, ǂcCountess of, ǂd1561-1621 ǂxCriticism and interpretation.
  • Women and literature -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women authors, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Women authors, English -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Fame -- Economic aspects -- History -- 20th century.
  • Authorship -- Economic aspects -- History -- 20th century.
  • Authors and readers -- History -- 20th century.
  • Popular culture -- History -- 20th century.
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