Friday, September 11, 2009

A Jazz Age Friday fancy

{Photos by rocketlass.}

I know deep in my heart that wishing you were living in another era is a mug's game--and however attractive it might seem at times, it will always come up against my more natural, even borderline pathological, tendency towards contentment--but even so, doesn't reading this opening page of Edmund Wilson's novel I Thought of Daisy (1929) make you want to be, even if just for one night, one party, in the 1920s?
It was a low red-brick house with a white door, a brass knob and brass name-plates, and new green-and-white awnings and green window-boxes: the sort of place which, in those days, downtown, seemed particularly smart. We rang, and, after a moment, the electric clicking began--with its quick and ready profusion, plucking distinctly the string of excitement which could still be set vibrating for me at the prospect of meeting new people in Greenwich Village.

They were Hugo Bamman's friends: I had never met them. Rita Cavanagh, the poet, was to be there--and other persons reputed to possess genius or to whom I vaguely attributed romance. The stairs were soft-carpeted in green. The host, tall and smiling, in a dinner jacket, met us at the door. The rooms were very bright and well-kept: I saw lettuce-green cocktail glasses, a bruised-mulberry batik behind a divan and, on the wall, a set of framed designs for the costumes of some ballet, vividly tinselly golds, blues and purples. And there were girls, like the colored sketches, in the brightest make-ups and clothes, with red silk roses of Cuban shawls and silver turbans and red hair and black arching Russian eyebrows beautifully penciled on.
Ah, yes, it's Friday night and you're young, your escape from the provinces recent enough that glamorous New York's own admiration of its undeniable charms has yet to lose its appeal; you have new friends and they have money, to neither of which you've yet seen the downside; at a bar nearby the Millay sisters are probably pouring; the booze is illicit and surely lousy but oh, how freely it flows; September's settling in, the Village's street trees starting to turn, while the streetlights ensure that it's never quite night.

For one night, for one party . . .


  1. Is I Thought of Daisy worthwhile? I've read so many Fitzgerald biographies that I feel like I'm already familiar with Edmund Wilson's complete works, but I am definitely not.

  2. I can't say yet: that first page is all I've read to this point. For all I know, the party may instantly devolve into raving horrors . . .

    Wilson's criticism, however, I can wholeheartedly vouch for. The two collections from the Library of America contain a lot of really smart, well-written material.