- The In Crowd
“’How deep, how perfect, the effect made here by refusal to make any effect whatsoever!’ thought the Duke.” –Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson, in reference to Oxford1
If any field is more in need of sophistication and glamour than academia, I cannot think of it. Even the taxidermists are better dressed. In such a spirit did I approach the two books under review, and I come before you to recommend them each highly. Hammill’s is smart and capacious, and Brown’s is witty and evocative. They can be worn separately or together. When I’m in need of capricious whimsy I turn to Brown, but when I want to fold my six-foot-tall Nordic-Brazilian frame into the original Eames chair in my study of the whatever the German is for pied-à-terre in the section of Berlin I’m not going to name because then you would show up and ruin it for the rest of us; cross my mile-high legs, casually dangling a Valentino sandal from one of those glittery red straps as I unconsciously tuck my hair behind one shell-like ear and bite my lower lip, a habit I’ve been told just gnaws off [End Page 917] some of my heedlessly yet perfectly applied Viktor & Rolf lipstick2 and makes me all the more fetching—that is, when I’m just staying home—I’m going for the Hamill. Vogue would at this point tell you where I procured the books, but I really should try to keep something to myself. Mystery and all that. Besides, they were free for me—gratis is so sad-making a word—and you’ll probably have to pay for them.
Modernism has a particular hold on the topics of sophistication and glamour, if only because each peak in the 1920s or 1930s. The historical point of emergence differs depending where you look: Stephen Gundle tracks glamour as originating in Romanticism and the rise of the bourgeois in the eighteenth century, distinguishing glamour from monarchical and courtly magnificence with its firm grip on privilege,3 while Carol Dyhouse tracks it as taking shape in 1900, with Walter Scott’s use of the term in the 1830s less useful than the prominence glamour took in the 1930s through the 1950s with the rise of the Hollywood star system.4 In the books under consideration, Judith Brown gestures toward the possibility of unearthing glamour in “medieval romance, . . . eighteenth-century drama, . . . Romantic poetry, . . . [and] the fin de siècle,”5 but she too puts her bets on the modern period as its peak; and even as Faye Hammill begins in the eighteenth century, she also takes the early- to mid-twentieth century as sophistication’s zenith.
It may be more useful to think of sophistication and glamour as a constellation of terms, encompassing the civilized, snobbism, chic, irony and satire, camp, and cosmopolitanism, with the sophisticate in possession of its three most important characteristics: worldliness, taste, and distinction; and the glamorous in possession of beauty, something of the sublime, sexuality, and radiance. Sophistication, as Hamill reminds us, springs from “sophos” and its particular brand of wisdom, hence “sophistry” and “philosophers”; the former term, with its slitheriness, would go on to inflect sophistication with what Hammill refers to as a an “anxiety,” one which it is in some sense her book’s central mission to dispel.6 Glamour, as Brown reminds us, “first referred to a state of learning as well as to the inexplicable effects of magic” (G, 10), recalling the fact that (she quotes from New Fowler’s Modern English) “etymologically [it] was an alteration of the word grammar with the sense (‘occult, learning, magic, necromancy’) of the old word gramarye.” (G, 9–10). Thus glamour’s origin is both Scottish (given Scott) and spooky, and both sophistication and glamour derive from a certain kind of knowing...