Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell

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Recently there has been unprecedented discussions, and reviews written, on the film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. The 3D adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s acclaimed masterpiece provoked a divide between literary prowesses; you either came away with a continued re­­spect for the director, Baz Luhrmann with a new found desire to re-read the novel, or perhaps you left the big screen unfortunately disappointed with what was promised to be a brilliant allure into the disintegration of 1920’s American dream.

I start this review with that brief contemplation of The Great Gatsby because Mackrell’s recently published book follows six women from the same era in which The Great Gatsby was set, the 1920’s. It was an era that titillated many young women due to the notion of liberty that accompanied the era’s unprecedented prosperity and material excess. Mackrell follows the lives of six women, or more appropriately six flappers, who between them exemplify the daring of the generation’s spirit. She dedicates two chapters to each women, beginning with Diana Cooper and then meticulously works  through the other five women: Nancy Cunard, Tallulah Bankhead, Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Tamara de Lempicka.

For my part, before reading the book, I was only familiar with Zelda and Nancy. So be introduced to a further four eccentric, and liberal minded women, was an exciting prospect. Mackrell effortlessly introduces the women through contextual settings and locates each woman into her geographical, and more interestingly, social place. Yet despite the ease with which Mackrell introduces these women on the page, I felt that as a reader Mackrell does not go beyond the introductory stage of each women. For example, just as I was coming to an understanding of, and a liking toward one woman, our ‘friendship’ would suddenly be ceased by the chapter’s closure and I would be metaphorically forced to meet the next woman. Not that this was a bad thing, because each woman’s life more than enthralled me.

Despite the rapidity with which each woman is introduced, there are numerous themes that wreathe each chapter, and to a certain metaphorical extent, each woman’s bodies together. Only two chapters given to each woman meant that their lives are unfairly condensed, and I felt somewhat that the frivolity of their spirits was unfortunately squashed. Yet, in the same way that the spritely era titillated the women’s mind with sexual freedoms, skirt shortenings, the snorting of drugs and inhalation of nicotine, Flapper’s teased me with wanting to learn more of the era and to an extent, emulate the audacity that these women noticeably exhibited.

To be incited, and excited, by women who do not so much as care and who wish to dare, this is a beautifully bound book, complete with two insets of glossy photos and a dramatic cover that both wants to, and will be noticed, upon your bookshelf. It is biographical, but the lives these women led may as well be mystique fairy-tales.

 

By Camilla Flint