Review: Flappers- Judith Mackrell

Flappers: Women of a Dangerous Generation (Sept):

This is one of those books that’s been on my TBR pile for ages- I bought it with birthday money from 2014 and finally got round to reading it recently. The 1920s have always fascinated me and the women who made their names at this time especially.

The book looks at the lives of six women who made their names on both sides of the Atlantic during the 20s- a time that saw women gain social, financial and sexual independence (well, in some cases anyway.)

flappers1
L-R: Lady Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Tallulah Bankhead

The book is a series of biographies of notable women: Lady Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Tamara di Lempicka, Zelda Fitzgerald and, probably  the most famous of all, Josephine Baker.

L-R: Tamara di Lempicka, Jospehine Baker, Zelda Fitzgerald
L-R: Tamara di Lempicka, Jospehine Baker, Zelda Fitzgerald

Although this was a good read- and a great introduction to these interesting women- having so many feature a book that’s just over 400 pages means that it’s a bit crowded and finer points can be lost. On the other hand, I totally get why these women were grouped together; they all crossed paths (especially, it seems, in Paris.)

However, they are at risk of becoming 2-D caricatures: Lady Diana’s the aristocratic actress-turned-MP’s wife; Nancy’s the eccentric heiress with Mummy issues; Tamara’s the outrageous American actress who found fame in London; Tamara’s a brilliant artist who’s also a neglectful mother; Zelda’s the fragile writer’s wife; Josephine’s the Parisian dancing sensation.

But, as a reader- and someone’s who read biographies of a couple of these women as a teenager (Tallulah Bankhead and Josephine Baker)- I felt that the surface was barely scratched. In the end, I decided that it was best to read this as a biography of the 20s, rather than of the women. Indeed, the book itself doesn’t really say much about how they lived after the Wall Street Crash. I’d definitely recommend searching out good biographies of the women if you want more in-depth information. But, if you’re interested in the role of women in the arts in the 1920’s, this is a great start.

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