Sharp, resourceful, and with a style all her own, Althea Altemus embodied the spirit of the independent working woman of the Jazz Age. In her memoir, Big Bosses, she vividly recounts her life as a secretary for prominent (but thinly disguised) employers in Chicago, Miami, and New York during the late teens and 1920s. Alongside her we rub elbows with movie stars, artists, and high-profile businessmen, and experience lavish estate parties that routinely defied the laws of Prohibition.
Beginning with her employment as a private secretary to James Deering of International Harvester, whom she describes as “probably the world’s oldest and wealthiest bachelor playboy,” Altemus tells us much about high society during the time, taking us inside Deering’s glamorous Miami estate, Vizcaya, an Italianate mansion worthy of Gatsby himself. Later, we meet her other notable employers, including Samuel Insull, president of Chicago Edison; New York banker S. W. Straus; and real estate developer Fred F. French. We cinch up our trenchcoats and head out sleuthing in Chicago, hired by the wife of a big boss to find out how he spends his evenings (with, it turns out, a mistress hidden in an apartment within his office, no less). Altemus was also a struggling single mother, a fact she had to keep secret from her employers, and she reveals the difficulties of being a working woman at the time through glimpses into women’s apartments, their friendships, and the dangers—sexual and otherwise—that she and others faced. Throughout, Altemus entertains with a tart and self-aware voice that combines the knowledge of an insider with the wit and clarity of someone on the fringe.
Anchored by extensive annotation and an afterword from historian Robin F. Bachin, which contextualizes Altemus’s narrative, Big Bosses provides a one-of-a-kind peek inside the excitement, extravagances, and the challenges of being a working woman roaring through the ’20s.
The triumph of avant-gardes in the 1920s tends to dominate our discussions of the music, art, and literature of the period. But the broader current of modernism encompassed many movements, and one of the most distinct and influential was a turn to classicism.
In Classicism of the Twenties, Theodore Ziolkowski offers a compelling account of that movement. Giving equal attention to music, art, and literature, and focusing in particular on the works of Stravinsky, Picasso, and T. S. Eliot, he shows how the turn to classicism manifested itself. In reaction both to the excesses of neoromanticism and early modernism and to the horrors of World War I—and with respectful detachment—artists, writers, and composers adapted themes and forms from the past and tried to imbue their own works with the values of simplicity and order that epitomized earlier classicisms.
By identifying elements common to all three arts, and carefully situating classicism within the broader sweep of modernist movements, Ziolkowski presents a refreshingly original view of the cultural life of the 1920s.
Often, the decade of the 1920s has been stereotyped with such labels as “The Roaring Twenties,” “The Jazz Age,” or “The Lost Generation.” Historical perspective has forced reevaluation of this decade. Articles in this collection are presented in the most definitive anthology dealing with 1920s America.
The contributors have put aside stereotypes to offer a valuable critique of the American dream during a time of major crises. Dancing Fools and Weary Blues also presents its readers a picture of the continual redemption and revitalization of that dream, and reasserts its basic democratic values.
A noted scholar offers fresh ways of looking at two legendary American authors.
Both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway came into their own in the 1920s and did some of their best writing during that decade. In a series of interrelated essays, Ronald Berman considers an array of novels and short stories by both authors within the context of the decade's popular culture, philosophy, and intellectual history. As Berman shows, the thought of Fitzgerald and Hemingway went considerably past the limits of such labels as the Jazz Age or the Lost Generation.
Both Fitzgerald and Hemingway were avid readers, alive to the intellectual currents of their day, especially the contradictions and clashes of ideas and ideologies. Both writers, for example, were very much concerned with the problem of untenable belief—and also with the need to believe. In this light, Berman offers fresh readings of such works as Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," and "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" and Hemingway's "The Killers," A Farewell to Arms, and The Sun Also Rises. Berman invokes the thinking of a wide range of writers in his considerations of these texts, including William James, Alfred North Whitehead, Walter Lippman, and Edmund Wilson.
Berman's essays are driven and connected by a focused line of inquiry into Fitzgerald's and Hemingway's concerns with dogma both religious and secular, with new and old ideas of selfhood,and, particularly in the case of Hemingway, with the way we understand, explain, and transmit experience.