Women of the 1920s led a revolt against the old standards of womanhood that were dominating US culture. Flappers and feminists, they spoke and acted out, inspiring other women to follow. This book analyzes the work of eleven important 1920s female authors who chronicled this revolt: Anzia Yezierska, Anita Loos, Mae West, Josephine Lovett, Nella Larsen, Mourning Dove, Djuna Barnes, Amy Lowell, Gertrude Stein, Bessie Smith, and Dorothy Parker. These trailblazers wrote counter-narratives to the sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia women faced during the Jazz Age. The author brings their novels, poems, plays, film scenarios, and blues lyrics into conversation with each other for the first time to show different approaches female readers could take to become autonomous individuals and full citizens. The works also encouraged readers to maintain supportive relationships with other progressive women. The author argues these works presented female readers with examples of how they could act individually and collectively to attain the political power, social status, economic independence, sexual freedom, and artistic recognition they deserved.
Matthew Niven Teorey is professor of English at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, WA.
Introduction: Counter-Narratives and Reimagined Selfhood
Chapter 1: Economic Independence: Creating a New Self
Chapter 2: Sexual Empowerment: Freeing the Sensual Self
Chapter 3: Racial Hybridity: Healing the Torn Self
Chapter 4: Lesbian Pride: Decoding the Erotic Self
Chapter 5: Political Activism: Asserting the Creative Self
Conclusion: Identity Affirmation
Matt Teorey’s book shines a spotlight on women authors who have defined and defied American cultural norms in the 1920’s. In addition to bringing attention to some of the most important voices in the arts, politics, and social change, Teorey explores not only how these authors shaped their generation but how their activism and voices still resonate today. As we continue to watch the attempt to control reproductive rights, and how women in sports, film, and the arts are still fighting the social constructs and expectations of a patriarchal system, Teorey’s book is that much more important. It reminds us that we cannot be complacent and lose sight of the courage of these women who gave us permission to speak out, embrace our sexuality, and be our true creative, independent selves.
Scholarship in American literature of the 1920’s has almost exclusively focused on men: Hemingway, Eliot, Pound, Fitzgerald, and others. The groundbreaking work of the women of that time has been overlooked or undervalued—even that of Gertrude Stein, who gave these men the name by which they came to be best known: the Lost Generation. But the women of this decade, far from being lost, found themselves in new ways and transformed American society economically, sexually, racially, and politically. These “Literary Trailblazers” include, in addition to Stein, Bessie Smith, Mae West, Nella Larsen, and Dorothy Parker, among others. This scholarly and engaging monograph examines the 1920’s through a New Historical lens, integrating the traditional study of literary fiction, plays, and poetry with a sensitive reading of popular music, movies, and social activism to create a deeply nuanced understanding of how this decade shaped not only American history but in particular the history of American women.