Bohemian Poseurs: Greenwich Village Interwar Bohemianism as Seen Through the Writings of Floyd Dell and Carl Van Vetchen



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Bohemian Poseurs: Greenwich Village Interwar Bohemianism as Seen Through the Writings of Floyd Dell and Carl Van Vetchen

By Joshua Dedora

Introduction



Greenwich Village and the bohemian elements of New York of 1910-30 was a beacon for people like Floyd Dell and Carl Van Vechten who sought it out as a place outside of their limited upbringings. It was a place to develop and express radical ideas about living and life, but, as the study of Dell and Van Vechten’s literature will demonstrate, these radical ideas are fraught with contradiction and impractical applications. Greenwich Village in the 1910s and 1920s looms large in the history of New York and America at large as it was a place for likeminded individuals to gather and move outside of established cultural norms. One reason that bohemian New York of the 1910s and 1920s remains such a recognizable landmark is that the bohemian lifestyle put particular emphasis on art, which functioned to keep historical records of the period and the people. This art often takes the form of literature, fiction and non-fiction, that recorded the lives, attitudes, and actions of the people who sought out Greenwich Village and also how the bohemian values of this community were transferred to broader New York and then America. Often the history, geography, and places of bohemian New York are emphasized when studying this period, and so they are downplayed, in this study, in favour of understanding how bohemian practices and values were transmitted and controlled by different people and groups. The purpose of this study is to take a closer look at the works of two literary figures, Dell and Van Vechten, who interacted and wrote about bohemian New York of the 1910s and 1920s. These two figures are on the fringe of obscurity in studies on Modernism, but in their contemporary period they were influential and contributed to constructing the image of a socially revolutionary Village of the 1910s and its drunken sibling of the 1920s. However, it is these two cliché representations of the period that are to be examined in order to get at how and why the bohemian New York of the 1910s and 1920s have two different images.
Bohemianism in New York is difficult to define in a few sentences as it makes up the majority of this paper. However, it primarily involves a rejection of middle-class conventionality. This means a rejection of the supposedly soul-stifling, anti-sexual, and pragmatic marriages in favour of a search for identity and true love. The bohemian notion of true love emphasised honesty, but also involved sexual licentiousness, which was often discussed under the guise of free-love. The bohemians, for a basis for these ideas, often turned to the works of Freud and Nietzsche, but a hallmark of bohemianism is a freedom of will that cannot be bound by any type of dogmatism; however, this freedom was fraught with tensions and became a breaking point for the socialist bohemians of the 1910s. Another key feature of New York bohemianism is often traced back to a rejection of Puritan thrift and backbreaking labour where a person is supposed to work on earth for reward in heaven. The bohemians took the exact opposite approach as they lived for the day, and were often, to the point personal harm, financially irresponsible. In essence, bohemianism is a lifestyle, and not a philosophical ideal: it is to be practiced and expressed.

Greenwich Village in the 1910s was the centre of the bohemian movement in New York, but by the 1920s many of the practices and values had spread to greater New York and America. This split between periods is typical of the binary thinking often applied to bohemian New York; the notion – propagated by the bohemians themselves, and, later, historians and critics – is the categorization of us vs. them: the bohemians vs. middle-class institutions. However, the bohemian rebellion of New York falls victim to what I call the tragedy of bohemianism. The tragedy is that the bohemians are concerned about rebelling against social norms, but when mainstream society begins to co-opt these social norms, the function and niche of bohemianism is destroyed. It is a tragedy because bohemia’s downfall involves a tragic flaw built into its ideology. Bohemianism, then, is reliant on strict binary opposition because it keeps clear boundaries around what the bohemian identity actually is. It is an identity built upon opposition as it is a counter-culture movement that requires a dominant culture that is to be alienated by the bohemian cultural revolution. The opposition is formed on two binaries that are found in bohemian New York: the bohemian vs. middle class conventionalism and the authentic Villager vs. the poseur. However, these strict binaries are clearly creations of the bohemians, as this paper will demonstrate, because the oppositions were fluid; they are false constructs of the artists looking back and constructing their bohemian history.

A breakdown of the authentic/poseur label is important at this point because it will inform the rest of the paper. Caroline Ware, in her 1935 study Greenwich Village, 1920-30, identifies two distinct social worlds of the “local people” and the “Villagers.” The local people were essentially the uneducated, or poorly educated, working class who called the Village home because of the low rents. The Villagers were generally those of the artistic class who were generally considered bohemians. According to Ware, the “gulf between the two worlds was caused by difference of education, social background, wealth, and social standards,” and this created a situation where they were “unable to think about each other because of the fundamentally different terms in which each group built its picture of the other” (106). For this reason it is important to separate the values espoused by the Villagers from the local people. However, it is the Villagers who have primarily left the written records and art that chronicles and constructs the Greenwich Village bohemian lifestyle. This is not meant to downplay the lives of the local people, but the distinction between Village types is necessary for the purpose of discussing literature about the Village. The local people do crop in the stories and recounts by the Villagers, but, as Ware argues, the representation of the local people by the Villagers is fraught with inaccuracy and misrepresentations. These are the two main social groups that made up the Village, but the Villagers can be divided further into two main groups: authentic Villagers and the poseur. The poseur is an imitation of what the authentic Villager was; the nature of imitation does not deny the poseur some power in the relationship, but it does attempt to deny them artistic and cultural relevance in interwar Greenwich Village.

These labels, stated or unstated, emerge in the works of Dell and Van Vechten. However, before the binaries are broken down, Dell and Van Vechten also demonstrate the factors that lead people to search out bohemianism. Dell provides a lens into what brought certain people to Greenwich Village, but reading against Dell’s romanticism in his works also demonstrate the failed ideals of the earlier bohemian movement of the 1910s, as the Village moved into the 1920s and became recognized as a different type of space. This then leads to Carl Van Vechten who provides images of the poseur and those who went to the Village because of its mythical persona as a place of rebellion. However, Van Vechten’s main characters are certainly not of the same ilk as Floyd Dell and his characters who sought out the village. Yet, Van Vechten also appeals to the authentic label, and this appeal works to reveal that the tales capitalist Americans tell themselves are forms of lies, but it also strikes deep into the reality of the bohemian life in New York.

This paper then, in the sections “Who are the Bohemians” and “Exposition on Forgotten Works,” traces a route through the histories of authors and their works in an effort to contextualize them historically within the much wrote about period of New York of the 1910-30s. Against this historical background, the artistic representations of the period are examined, in “Revolt from the Village,” by first tracing the routes to New York taken by Van Vechten and Dell, and then understanding how and why they presented the people escaping to bohemian New York as they did. From this point, the nature of bohemian rebellion is examined, in “The Splendid Drunken Rebellion,” and how the two “distinct” bohemian periods of the 1910s and 1920s are constructed. The end result of this is a problematizing of the idolizing of the bohemianism of 1910s and of the intense criticism levelled at the decadent application of bohemian values in the 1920s. Lastly, a particular element of the 1910s/1920s divide is broken down, in “Who Are You Posing As?,” as the labelling of people as authentic and poseurs is examined in relation to the works of Dell and Van Vechten. The end result is the identification of similar conclusions reached by Dell and Van Vechten on New York bohemianism: the tragedy is that bohemian rebellion functions well as a rebellious movement in New York, but it fails to construct a useable system to base a life upon over an extended period of time. The tragic bohemian figure is metaphorically Edna St. Vincent Millay’s candle burning at both ends that will surely not last the night.

Who are the Bohemians?

Floyd Dell

Floyd Dell was just one of the socially and artistically rebellious Midwesterners to head East to New York and Greenwich Village from 1910 to 1930. However, Dell did not simply slip into the preconceived Village atmosphere as he was actively involved in the literary and cultural scene, and so, unlike many Villagers, Dell was one of the people who were actively constructing the image of Greenwich Village and the bohemians who lived there. Dell was born in Barry, Illinois, but moved to Chicago as a young man. Chicago provided a refuge within reaching distance for this rebellious generation, emerging out of small towns, who wanted more than a workingman’s life. The rejection of the worker’s life does have its own ironies as Dell, and many of his Midwestern contemporaries, were socialists, but Dell belonged to the intellectual proletariat. However, Chicago’s primary pull on these rebels was not the socialism, but instead it was because “Chicago had Culture” (May 252). This culture was that of the Little Room, the Art Institute, and the Dial, and these institutes provided much of the knowledge and educational base that the emerging rebels like Dell needed (252). For Dell, the cultural scene in Chicago provided a makeshift education as he never finished his formal high school education; instead, his life was an individual search for education through experience in order for him to find the means to express himself. This search for experience and expression could not, supposedly be done in the Midwestern small towns because of the alienation created by the “restrictions and stultifying conformity of the small town existence,” and also because the small towns did not have the artistic community and institutions to foster the emerging artists (Fishbein 212).

Once in Chicago, Dell took a route common to many aspiring artists and rebels of the period as he started working in the newspaper industry. Working on various Chicago papers, Dell eventually became involved with the Friday Literary Review, and contributed to the founding of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. These five years in Chicago provided the foundation for Dell to become “one of the new formative voices in literary America” (Hart 194). In 1914, Dell left Chicago for New York where he joined the Masses and became the managing editor. In this role Dell was not one of armchair editors who only took a passing interest in the mechanics of making the Masses into workable magazine; Max Eastman was the principle player, but, as Ross Wetzsteon suggests, Dell was actively involved in his own project with the magazine:

… some of them [artists and other editors] began to feel uneasy when Max or Floyd would affix captions to their drawings without consulting them first, and once this issue was raised, they began to wonder why all the drawings needed captions. Didn’t it demean their work to turn it into mere illustration of political polemic, even one with which they wholeheartedly agreed? (71)

This example of Max Eastman and, to a lesser extent, Floyd Dell taking over the collective venture of the Masses can be viewed as a failure of the practicality of some of the ideologies put into practice in Greenwich Village. The Masses was suppose to be a collective project, an open discourse on socialism, and apart of authentic bohemian New York, but, as Wetzsteon states, “Some members of the staff would have agreed with the words of one New York newspaper that ‘its [the Masses] armchair anarchy is parlor entertainment for the uptown aristocrats these days’” (71). This tension between Village bohemian ideals and actuality of the situation is essential to the Village, and it will be examined more fully, but for biographical purposes the active editorial practices of Dell serves to demonstrate his energetic lifestyle in the Village.

There are two primary and contradictory themes in the life and work of Dell: the Romantic or romantic, as both connotations of the word apply, and that of the social realist. In 1926 Stuart P. Sherman did a contemporary evaluation and criticism of Dell in his book called Critical Woodcuts; Sherman makes a telling comment about artists of the time, and in fact strikes to the heart of Dell’s artistry and, possibly, why he did not make the same historical impact as other socialist authors:

But Mr. Dell is a poet, and no real poet, so far as I have heard, was ever a real Socialist. He is not merely a poet! He has been hitherto almost exclusively a poet of the coast of Bohemia – simple, sensuous and passionate. He knows nothing except what he has intimately experienced. His imagination does not penetrate into the reality of the economic, social, and political structure of a state. He is a play-boy like John Synge’s hero, so deeply enveloped in his personal dream of felicity that he scarcely notices his collisions with a sordid reality (53).

The notion of Dell being more of a play-boy than a social agitator appears in his own autobiographical writing, as he states in “Rents Were Low in Greenwich Village,” “I might have had time to finish that novel if there had been no girls” (262). Dell’s own thoughts, looking back, serve to frame the conflict between personal gratification and art. In relation to this, Sherman exhibits some of the key Village features as existing in Dell, and the conflict between the artistic elements of the Village and the political. Of course, much of what Sherman states is up for debate around the claim that there is no real socialist poets, and that Dell was not a real socialist; however, the passage serves to highlight the multiple types of possible identities in the village, and the particular ones that Sherman values himself. It is clear that Sherman puts little value on activist literature, but instead asserts a Romanticesque figure as the true artist. In direct opposition to Sherman, Dell’s Janet March takes a poignant look at the reality of free-love and social irresponsibility in the village; it portrays both a woman who has an abortion, and the emptiness of frivolous sexual escapades. However, Dell also demonstrates that the finding of modern love is a top priority for his characters. This is also seen in the above quotation of Dell’s where he sacrifices his art to be the playboy. Therefore, the issue of social activism and love, or romance, is key issue in understanding the Village, Dell, and the bohemian lifestyle.

It is safe to label Floyd Dell an authentic Villager. Daniel Aaron recognizes Dell as a “archetypal Village bohemian” as he was able to juggle “the part-time careers of playwright, novelist, essayist, sexual theorist, and community commentator while paying his rent with the modest salary he earned as associate editor of The Masses” (230). These are multiple roles for a single person, and they would require multiple skills and personality traits to perform. Of course Aaron’s assertion is not entirely unchallenged, but it is the level of Dell’s involvement in some of the Village ideals that are questioned and not his commitment to his multiple projects. In Twentieth Century Authors, Dell is described as being “one of the best known figures in Greenwich Village, though he was never a playboy or much of a Bohemian, being shy and reserved by nature” (“Dell, Floyd,” 369). This authoritative statement from Twentieth Century Authors is not the only opinion on the matter as John E. Hart claims, Dell’s “activities in the Village and his many love affairs earned him the title of archetypal bohemian” (194). The discussion around sexual promiscuity aside, for the moment, Dell can be regarded as an authentic Villager because of his contributions to the cultural and intellectual scene. The term authentic works to establish a sense of Dell’s commitment to the socially minded bohemian ideals espoused by the Masses, and to how other artists and intellectuals of the 1910-30s were actively constructing ideas of how to live after rejecting their money-orientated and bodily repressive upbringings. Authentic, as a term, is not without its faults and detractors: Alfred Kreymborg – a contemporary of Dells and founder of Others – comments, in the loose autobiography Troubadour, on Dells relation to the Provincetown Players and how he “acted quite as well on the stage as off” (241); Aaron also suggests that there were fractures in the authentic Villager image, stating, “It was a refuge for free spirits from all over the country, restless people who felt plagued by small-town snooping, smugness, and hostility to the arts. At least that’s the legend” (231). It is then beneficial to maintain a critical distance from the self-conscious constructing of the Villagers, as they had a stake in their image and how it is perceived.

Carl Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten, like Floyd Dell, is another example of the expatriate Midwesterner to adopt New York as his new homes. On the surface these two men are quite similar, as they both spent time in Chicago on their way to New York, and once in New York they both spent considerable time in Greenwich Village. The majority of these two men’s novelistic outputs occur in the twenties, and they were both important social figures, and not simply passing fancies, in the New York scene. The difference between these two men’s paths is the difference in their creative works. Floyd Dell has already been looked at, and it is obvious he was involved with the effort to change society to correspond what the bohemians saw as the true nature of humans, instead of a false capitalistic construction. Carl Van Vechten was not actively involved in this Dell’s social revolutionary scene where a person would be required to have an active voice speaking out for social change, but he was still a part of New York bohemian culture.

Before Van Vechten gets to New York, he is representative of the generalized second option for a white male from the Midwest to take in his revolt from the village. These two options, according to May, include the people who simply came from “the village or small town” to the New York, and the other option includes people who moved through the “old, traditional Eastern college, where the ideas of nineteenth-century Europe had made a serious impression” (301). Once these two groups arrived in New York they “encountered another pair of worlds, separate but no altogether unrelated” as one was the “young literary and artistic world,” and the other was the “American radical movement” (301). The difference between these two worlds is their active commitment to social change as the artistic world was more concerned with aesthetics and the radical movement advocated a reworking of society in literature and living. Van Vechten became involved with the literary and artistic world while Dell became involved with the radical movement. In fact many in the radical movement were hostile to the aesthetic artistic world. However, May’s two options have to be broadened a little to capture certain New Yorkers: there were Midwestern colleges that brought young people into the artistic world as Van Vechten attended university in Chicago.

Van Vechten was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and his upbringing can contrasted with Dell who had to start working early on in his life, which is possibly one of the impetuses for Dell’s socialism. The same situation cannot be said for Van Vechten, as he was the third born of his parents, was much indulged, and did not have the hard upbringing of having to provide for siblings (Lueders 106). Van Vechten’s escape from the village was not violent or rebellious in any sense as his parents sent him to the fairly new University of Chicago where he graduated with a Ph. B. degree in 1903. The narrative of personal struggle against life’s oppressive forces does not permeate Van Vechten’s early upbringing like it does Dell, and Van Vechten’s freedom to attain institutional education begins to separate him from Dell who had a very independent education attained through libraries and an assortment people he met growing up. The educational differences aside, Van Vechten, like Dell, also found work in the newspaper industry as he worked for the Chicago American. Of course, the Chicago arts scene also provided Van Vechten with the environment to explore “his musical interests” and especially “the new music frequently being performed by the adventurous Chicago Symphony under Theodore Thomas” (106). This early love for music shows up in The Blind Bow-Boy in which a character is involved in composing the “music of the future” that contains “an extravagant primitive quality” (140). Chicago, then, provided Van Vechten the apprenticeship he needed in order to break into New York in 1906; in the same year he was “hired by the New York Times as assistant to its music critic” (Lueders106). In New York, Van Vechten was more pulled towards the cultural scene rather than the social revolutionary scene, but, like Dell on the Masses, Van Vechten was primarily writing criticism in the 1910s, and not fiction. However, unlike Dell’s work on the Masses, Van Vechten’s work focused primarily on the artistic realms of music and theatrical subjects with an emphasis on the early Modernists. What is clear, is that New York provided opportunities for Dell and Van Vechten in different ways: communities for their different ideological leanings. These two men, who came from similar backgrounds, ended up in two different scenes in New York with Dell being an authentic Villager while Van Vechten appears to be the sophisticated critic and artist; however, they both wrote, in the 1920s, about Greenwich Village and New York bohemianism from their different perspectives, and the results are two different images of the bohemian life, and the purpose of bohemianism.

Van Vechten was certainly not a Villager, as he did not participate in the activities of the Villagers. However, neither can Van Vechten be called a poseur, the likes of which that permeate his works and Dell’s novels. It would be more correct to tie him to the tourists who frequented the Village, but his in-depth cultural knowledge of the Village values and activities can almost exclude him from the “day-trippers” who were armed with “maps and guidebooks, and versed in the lore” so that they could begin to “spill into its maze of crooked streets” (Beard and Ramirez 333). The notion of authenticity is a primary theme within Van Vechten’s works, and the characters are extremely sensitive to bourgeois behaviour even when they are engaging in it themselves. However, excluding Van Vechten from the tourists group because of his self-consciousness and insight into the Village may only be an arbitrary act to save him from the authentic Villagers’ scathing comments against those who infiltrated their bohemian enclave. Of course, Van Vechten’s perspective works to contradict the bohemians’ assertions and those of the critics who side with, and buy into, the 1910s bohemians’ representation of themselves. According to Beard and Ramirez, “The modern discovery of the Village as a tourist destination has generally been fixed around 1915”; 1915 is a difficult year to identify as the intrusion of outsiders because it is in the middle of what May calls “The Innocent Rebellion,” and Watson identifies it as the year the Provincetown Players where formed, which is the main institute of the Villager’s lives (212). This contrast of authentic bohemianism and Village tourism serves to highlight the different elements of the Village, and this partially vindicates people like Van Vechten who were apart of the Village, but not the bohemian element with its overt societal rebellion and politics.

The difference

Van Vechten called the period he wrote his novels in “The Splendid Drunken Twenties” and perhaps this notion colours his novels as they reflect on the Village and bohemianism. Contemporaries of Van Vechten, and critics looking back, mark the years between 1916 and 1919 as all possible points to separate eras in the Village. F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Echoes of the Jazz Age” labels Van Vechten’s Splendid Drunken Twenties as the Jazz Age, and then proceeds to indirectly tie the Jazz Age to the decadence and indulgence found in Van Vechten’s novels and how it emerged around 1919: “It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire” (12). Fitzgerald is not specifically addressing the Village, but what he describes as “A whole race going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure” with particular emphasis on “sex, the dancing, then music” (13) is characteristic of the bohemian image; however, these behaviours are reminiscent of the more “serious” rebellion of the 1910s against middle-class social norms by the Authentic Villagers. The Jazz Age can be read as the embracing of Village values by more mainstream society, but it is a warping away from the Village values and this is captured by Dell who insisted in 1916 “that the Village wasn’t what it used to be” because the “spirit of joyful rebellion had disappeared” (Wetzsteon 4). Furthermore, as noted above, as early as 1915 tourism had “intruded” into the Village. May, writing in 1959 claims, that 1917 was the year that the innocent and earnest rebels that lived in Greenwich from around 1912 felt the loss of their values as war fever was increasing and former radicals like Max Eastman were showing support for the war, as Eastman said “consistently in the Masses that he was in favour of a German defeat” (May 382). World War I also serves as a marking point for Fitzgerald, but he states that it was really the “May Day riots in 1919,” which barely caused a ripple, that mark the division between eras; it was because people were “tired of Great Causes” and so instead of rebellion the people wanted to have their “slices of the national cake” (11).

The reason for all this dialogue around these particular years is that there was supposedly a culture shift in viewing the rebellion of Greenwich Village, as Village values were co-opted by the capitalist system that took sex, alcohol, and loose behaviour away from earnest values and made them into products to consume. Because of this created divide between periods, it is essential to place Van Vechten and Dell in their cultural niches in the 1920s; a disheartened Dell left the Village to write his novels, and Van Vechten took himself and his characters into the heart of New York bohemianism. Alfred Kreymborg – publisher, poet, and contemporary of Dell and Van Vechten – tied the cultural switch to how “the community grew more and more self-conscious,” and because of this “Most of the artists fled elsewhere” (160). However, it is this self-consciousness in the 1920s that gave rise to Kreymborg’s autobiography, that partly discusses the Village, but it also gave rise to Dell and Van Vechten’s creative fiction. The opposite position, in regards to Kreymborg, is that the people who embraced bohemian ideals in the 1920s were not self-conscious in the least as the self-conscious people went off to write their books – people like Dell and Kreymborg. The importance of this discussion of years, self-consciousness, and time is that the authors’ position in relation the Village impacts their representations of what the Village was in the 1910s and what it becomes in the 1920s.

Exposition on Forgotten Works

Floyd Dell

This takes us into Dell’s works, and for the purpose of this study three separate works of Dell’s creative fiction will be examined. The first work is King Arthur’s Socks and Other Village Plays; this particular text is interesting because it contains Dell’s one act plays wrote in the 1910s during what has been called the “New Bohemia of Greenwich Village” by Hutchins Hapgood (qtd. in Watson 122). King Arthur’s Socks represent Dell’s creative writing when he was an active member of the Village, and the plays are an essential part of why he is called the archetypal Villager of the 1910s. The plays tackle key Village concerns such as societal conventions, but are primarily focused on the role and nature of love and sex in the modern world, as Dell knew it. Outside of the literary element of the plays, there is a very active element in the dramatic form because it is a community orientated form of literature as the plays were originally performed in the Village by amateurs from the Village.

When Dell left the Village and settled down with his second wife, after a string of varying sexual partners, Dell chooses the novel as his form of choice. The novel does not have the same community aspect as it can be read independently without people to perform and other audience members to share it with. Of course the novel, as a form, does not dictate that it is an independent and isolationist medium, but when the novel is understood in relation to Dell’s leaving the Village for a more domestic existence, the form begins to inform the reading and the content within. The two novels examined are Moon-Calf and Janet March. Moon-Calf (1920) is generally recognized as Dell’s best novel and, as Hart explains, it “caught the rebellious attitudes and changing manners of the new generation, even though Dell was actually writing about the years of his own growing up between 1887 and 1908” (195). Like Dell, the protagonist of Moon-Calf follows the trail of the rebellious Midwesterner from the small town to Chicago and, as we find out in a later work, eventually to New York; it thus provides a representation of a rebellious youth’s struggle by Dell, who was in the same position. Janet March (1923) tracks the coming of age of a female character, Janet March, and a male character, Roger Leland, who eventually meet as two intellectual rebels in Greenwich Village. Hart labels Janet March as a study in imaginative fiction that is a “psychological study of a modern girl presented against her social-historical background” (196). Janet March is a representation of the failing societal forces that are rebelled against in order to create new ones in the Village where traditional conventions do not hold sway; however, these new values, despite the rebellious undertones, are really a slight modification of the conventional American values rebelled against.

In reading Dell’s novels, the reader has to be aware that Dell has already left the Village when he comes to write them. It is from a position of looking back and analyzing his history and the history of his contemporaries that he gains his perspective into the Village and what led people to the Village. Dell’s image in the Village changed drastically after he left, and Steven Watson asserts, many “Villagers had felt betrayed by the marriage of their spokesman [Dell] for free love,” and many of the “younger generation of Villagers looked on him ‘as one of the pillars of a hated Village orthodoxy’” (329-31). Watson uses Dell’s own autobiography for the quoted material in the above statement, and this statement by Dell demonstrates a self-conscious understanding of his former position in the Village, but also acknowledges successive movements – also, through self-conscious positioning, Dell was involved in creating a dividing line for two different movements. Dell does defend this positioning though, as he asserts that the Village was full of “crass commercialization” and that the rents were on the rise (“Rents” 264), and so Dell points to a changed element in the Village, even if the younger generation wanted to rebel against their predecessor – him. Dell did not follow the movement of the 1910s to a full rebellious fruition, and as Janet March demonstrates, a conservative hesitation works its way into his evaluation of the rebellious values of Greenwich Village in the 1910s as they are applied in the 1920s.

Carl Van Vechten

Van Vechten wrote all of his novels in the 1920s, and the four particular works of this study were chosen for the variance of years that they were written in, and the years represent of New York bohemianism. In basic structure, Van Vechten’s novels vary considerably from Dell’s. Dell’s work contains a social realism with a particular eye to social factors that form characters; Van Vechten’s work contains a style reminiscent of the Decadent Novel, which “involves the transference of the artistic focus from the larger and more general concerns of life, the subject, and starting point of art, to special and rarified ones” (Jones and Long 246). Furthermore, the “Decadent Novel” is a novel in which “a supposed aesthetic activity or quest takes precedence over all the conditions and conventions of the real world” and so it is “amoral in outlook” (249). In addition to the aesthetic efforts in the Decadent Novel, there is an emphasis on “drugged perception, sexual experimentation, and the deliberate inversion of conventional moral, social, and artistic norms” (Abrams 56). Jones and Long emphasize the aesthetic elements over real conditions of the world while Abrams allows for a subversion of social norms in the Decadent Novel. In relation to Van Vechten, Jones and Long assert that he “was too serious and analytical to score a true artistic success in this type [decadent] of writing” (249); however, in relation to Abrams definition, Van Vechten’s novels contain a serious engagement with the emerging sex, drug, and “immoral” bohemian culture in New York. Van Vechten focuses on the unique experience of what Gerald W. McFarland calls “bohemianism for bohemianism’s sake,” which is what apparently happened to Greenwich Village after Dell left as the “political and cultural substance” (191) was triumphed over by a “bohemianism devoted to wine, sex, and song” (205). This view of the 1910s and 1920s New York bohemianism is a contested point as Daniel H. Borus asserts the opposite view that bohemians rebellion is in the lifestyle, and not the political voice:

The impulse to remove the barriers between art and life has manifested itself in the bohemian tendency to turn lives and bodies into art objects. Wary of how bourgeois morality has constrained free expression, bohemians have forged a politics that emphasizes style, energy, and pleasure. (377)

Living the decadent and hedonistic lifestyle can be considered a form of bohemian rebellion, and this emerges in Van Vechten’s literature.

This discussion of the different writings styles provides a loose framework to roughly outline Van Vechten’s novels. The Tattooed Countess (1924) is Van Vechten’s only novel that deals primarily with growing up in the Midwest. Like Moon-Calf, it has autobiographical tendencies, but its representation of the revolt from the village contrasts with Dell’s social realism. The basic plot is that an expatriate villager, the Countess, returns home to her village that is apparently the same, yet the residents attest to great changes. The novel tracks Gareth who is discontented with village life and attaches himself to the Countess who helps him leave. Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works (1922) is an interesting work in that, despite the absence of official years, tracks different years in the Village, as Peter, the protagonist, is a socialist at an earlier point in the Village, but later drops any social pretences for an atheistic inventiveness at a later date. Van Vechten writes himself into Peter Whiffle as Peter’s biographer, and the narrator/character Van Vechten interacts with the always experimental Peter, and this allows a voyeuristic perspective of watching self-destructive experimentation with life without actually engaging with experimentation himself.

The theme of experimentation with life continually emerges through Van Vechten’s work, and occurs as the primary plot device in The Blind Bow-Boy (1923). The protagonist Harold Prewett is thrown into a motley crew of people who expose him to the decadent side of life. According to TIME Magazine, the original book jacket assures the reader that the book “is not romance or realism, life or art, fantasy or satire. The author has sworn before a notary public that his only purpose in creating it was to amuse.” However, this is clearly an example of self-conscious positioning of his work: if his work is not life, art, romance, realism, fantasy, or satire, it can be nothing. But it is a literary work that represents conflict between bourgeois upper/middle-class respectability and the rebellion against these norms. This rebellion occurred in Greenwich Village in the 1910s, but it obviously permeated into more mainstream New York by the 1920s.

From the social rebellion of the 1910s to the decadence of the roaring twenties, Van Vechten’s last novel Parties (1930) marks the endpoint of a period just before the Depression emerges as the dominant theme in America. Parties is a darker portrayal of the splendid drunken twenties as characters continually come face to face with the repercussions of their “parties.” Jones and Long assert that it is “a novel suggestive of nobody” (248), and Lueders insists there is a “persistent undertone that makes” the partiers’ “drunken whirligig a haunting danse macabre” (109). There is thus a flow from “authentic” bohemianism in the 1910s to the bohemianism for bohemianism’s sake in the 1920s, which comes to an end in the 1930s. However, this movement to bohemianism for bohemianism sake, as seen in Parties, contains the rebellion inherent in bohemian actions while ignoring the more overt political voice.
Revolt from the Village

Despite the publishing and production chronology of Dell’s works, his novels are going to be the first works examined because they lay out the path taken by the Midwestern rebel searching out culture and a place where there is like minded individuals desiring a way to live outside their supposedly narrow-minded upbringing. In 1964, G. Thomas Tanselle’s “Sinclair Lewis and Floyd Dell: Two Views of the Midwest” was published, and in it he identifies a seemingly Midwestern trope. By using Carl Van Doren’s phrase, “revolt from the village,” Tanselle identifies the trope as the escape from and “attack upon the narrow conventionality and philistinism of small towns” (175). The irony of Van Doren’s phrase, in light of this essay, is that many of these artistic figures sought out a new Village in New York. Therefore, it cannot be the sense of community that was being rejected by the rebels, but the values that the communities were emphasizing. Felix Fay, the protagonist of Moon-Calf, expresses this exact dilemma: the separations of the values he is searching out and those recognized as standard in Midwestern American villages. After arriving in a smaller city, Port Royal, Felix is an outcast and isolated, and this leads him to wander around the city until he finds an Atheists club:

Felix was delighted. Was it possible that there were enough Atheists in Port Royal to hold public meetings? Yes, there were twenty-nine, he was told. To Felix this seemed like a large number. Unconsciously he imaged twenty-nine people like himself and Stephen and Margaret. It seemed too beautiful to be true.

When was the next meeting?

Wednesday night; would he come?

He would. (MC 150)

This delight does not last for Felix as he begins to attend the meetings where there was something “oddly familiar about the lecturer’s technique” that could be used to prove “that Atheists were fools, and that Christians were fools, in just the same way” (MC 152). What Felix discovers is that this refuge in Port Royal, at the Atheist society, is not what he needs as “every one in the audience knew already all that the lecturer was telling them. Yet they sat and listened to it with apparent pleasure … It was like a church” (MC 152-53). Felix is thus alienated by the best sense of community the small Midwestern community has to offer a rebel like him, outside of Chicago, and although Sinclair Lewis argues that “Felix spends years in a town of 30, 000, with half a dozen philosophers and poets” and that “half a dozen confidants are as good as a half thousand” (qtd. in Tanselle 177), this community is not enough for the intelligent Felix Fay who needs more.

Examining Port Royal is perhaps jumping ahead with the trope, and the notion of “revolt from the village” should be examined on the smaller scale of a village. Dell constructs a scene full of elements foreshadowing the bohemian lifestyle of Greenwich Village, but these features are sinful in regards to the Puritan values of the Midwestern village. Felix encounters a young girl named Rose in the house his family is renting a section of – as their finances are in decline, which is a possible symbol for the decline of the bourgeois family – and it occurs to Felix that he and this girl “were two people who could give to each other the things they valued – and not be laughed at,” and these things were “His stories” and “her play-acting” (MC 75). Felix reads philosophy to Rose, but Rose provides Felix with the theatre as she is “lifted by some mysterious power up from the ground, as lightly as a curl of smoke,” which provides her a bearing like a “goddess or fairy or some princess of his childhood’s Arabian Nights.” There is a power in “play-acting,” and Felix recognizes this in Rose, as a “stranger mischievous, elvish quality” peers out from beneath the actress’s dignity” (MC 74).

The amateur theatre of the Provincetown Players, and lesser known groups, was a mainstay of Dell’s Village life; however, despite hints of the theatre in villages, as found within kindred spirits, it is not able to hold out against the oppressive patriarchal Puritan authority figures. Rose is forced to run away after her Grandfather punishes her for what he considers the loose behaviour of the arts as he tells Felix, “She is a shameless harlot – like her mother” (86). Unlike Felix though, Rose does not eventually escape to Chicago and then New York with her talent and desire for art, but instead marries “a young farmer” (88). Dell is demonstrating that artistic sensibilities do not have adequate room to grow in the vast Midwest. In order to fulfill these artistic urges a person has to escape to where such values are fostered. This also appears in Janet March as Roger Leland, a minor protagonist, ties his oppression to geography, and particularly the apply titled village of Plainsburg, which presents values alien to his own:

Life! – they never, in Plainsburg, considered what it might be … They devoted themselves to making a living; and, meanwhile, they grew up, married, had children, became old; and so, dying without having lived … What did he want? A life as unlike as possible to this in Plainsburg; a life in which people were not afraid to waste their time in thinking of, and talking about, and making, useless and beautiful things. (JM 256)

For Dell’s characters it is not possible for artistic sensibilities to survive in the villages, and thus a revolt is needed.

This said, the idea that the Midwestern small towns were a cultural and artistic wasteland is problematic in light of other representations of the period. In Van Vechten’s The Tattooed Countess, Maple Valley has an opera house where a performance of a grand scale is put on for the Countess. There was an orchestra, a performance of “The Butterfly, by Calixa Lavalle,” (144), a skirt dance, and an operatic rendition by the aspiring Clara Barnes. The criticism of this artistic effort is mainly directed at the lack of professionalism and artistic polish, with the Countesses noting that “Clara was pronouncing French according to English phonetics”; however, there is a distinction made between the critic and normal listener: “A spectator rather than an auditor might have noted that Clara acted the number with spirit and gusto” (146). The criticism of professionalism is actually rather humorous when viewed in the light of the bohemian emphasis on amateur theatre. Van Vechten clearly demonstrates an element of culture and openness to culture within the villages, and while it is impossible to generalize Maple Valley for all villages, the representation of Maple Valley clearly speaks against generalizing in the opposite direction.

To further this point, Kreymborg, in his autobiography, sets up a contradictory dynamic between the image of the Midwestern cultural wasteland and a burning desire for an exposure to art. Kreymborg romanticizes the Midwestern artists as “extraordinary fellows with polyglot names, starting up out of unknown places in the hinterland: What a hellish solitude must have been theirs!” (152). However, this statement is contradicted by his seeing signs of “a groping dissatisfaction with materialism as an end in itself,” and how in the future the malcontents “would seize the leadership of their communities and develop cultural centres” (231). The irony of such a point is that while he saw these possibilities, there was the works by Dell and Sinclair Lewis’s that stated the rebels had to leave the stifling environments instead of seizing the cultural reigns of the villages. For Kreymborg, the villages were crying out for the arts and artistic people, and the chapter, “Touring Main Street,” chronicles the success of his travelling puppet show. The opposite end of the “revolt from the village” perspective is given in how Kreymborg states, in his characteristic third person narration, “he learned to search for their finer and more hopeful aspects, and to drop or tolerate everything else for the sake of these … The ugliness, ignorance, backwardness, puritanism, lack-lustre materialism of many places troubled him only temporarily” because he had found elements of artistic enthusiasm (275).

Van Vechten does not deny that a revolt from the village was a solution for the artistically stifled, but it is in a different context then Dell’s representation of revolt. In The Tattooed Countess the revolt is trivialized and the heroic image of the young Midwesterner striking off into the strange and exciting world, first New York and then Europe, is subjected to parody. The village is Maple Valley, which is considered a parallel to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and this town is not denied a critique of its value system. Van Vechten, as is familiar in his novels, does not go directly at the hardest issues of oppression in the village, but subtly moves around the fringes of the forces that cause people to want to leave. This is seen in the smoking of The Countess Nattatorrini, and how the constant pressure from a community functions to form behaviour. On her way to Maple Valley the Countess smokes ten cigarettes with no thought to the impropriety of a woman doing such a thing. According to Daniel H. Borus, the act of smoking is very real form of social rebellion for the bohemians because “Smoking, that most bohemian of accoutrements, is a sexually polysemic act that emphasizes waiting and languor in contrast to bourgeois activity for activity’s sake” (379). Borus’s assertion deals primarily with the bourgeois notion of money and time, but Van Vechten strikes deeper to the heart of the matter when no reasons are given for attempting to stop woman from smoking. In an exchange between the Countess and her sister Lou, the question of smoking arises and approbation is given without reason:

O, Ella, you aren’t going to smoke! Lou protested.

I always do. You know that. You’ve seen me often enough in Paris. Again the Countess, who by nature was hot-tempered and headstrong, adopted a vaguely propitiatory tone.

But not here. You wouldn’t smoke here! (Countess 39; original emphasis)

Within Lou’s attempt to dissuade the Countess, there is no reason given except, maybe, an appeal to tradition.

In conjunction with smoking, is the use of makeup as Lou says to the Countess, “There isn’t a woman in town who paints” and so the townspeople will just think that the Countess “were fast” (33). Eventually, the Countess changes her behaviour to meet with certain “mysterious taboos” that gave a “visitor a feeling of self-consciousness,” and so “Ella’s [the Countess’s] lips became paler and paler” and she “confined her smoking of cigarettes to her own bedroom” because of the “unspoken (at least before the Countess) disapprobation of the town” (120). Van Vechten’s village is filled with will breaking near silent conventionalism, and this is one reason for revolt; it is part of the reason the Countess leaves the village again.

However, the means of rebellion, the way it is carried out, and whether the factors were as stifling and in need of criticism as other author’s who advocate the revolt from the village state, is questioned by Van Vechten. The village contains elements of the things people sought for outside of the village in the Village. For the Countess, it all comes down to a discussion of beauty:

… It’s just this incapacity to understand the beauty of any kind, physical or moral or unmoral, that shuts America off, prevents people like you and me from really being happy here. Why, as soon as girl marries in Maple Valley, she begins to look dowdy. How can you expect a person who does not appreciate the beauty of this lake, or of your Bohemian village, to appreciate the beauty of sex? (242)

The village has the elements that are required for the type of life lived in the Village, and Europe, but it is a mind frame that is limited. There is no doubting that Van Vechten views Maple Valley as a narrow minded place that is not conducive to an artistically sensitive person, as he constructs Gareth who desires to leave the “dull, sordid village” that imprisons him and keeps he from the “career he wanted to carve out in the world away from this [Maple Valley] narrow, provincial town” (184).

The irony of the situation is that the villages want to be rid of people like Gareth and the Countess who upset the status quo. As the discussion about smoking illustrates, the villages have their ways and the majority of the people constructed are content with the status quo; they become upset when their notions of the world are questioned. Aside from this irony of revolt, there is escape present within the village through the means of the “Bohemian village” and other forms of escape: “There’s the Bohemian colony in the lower end of town. Some of the men visit girls there … Some men who are not travelling men by profession go away and stay for days” (129); there is also the opera house, and a network of artistically minded people such as Clara Barnes and the school teacher, Lennie. These factors paint the village as a complex network of possibilities for people to deal with oppressive notions; it is not a perfect situation by far, but the men and women who left for Greenwich Village, and other places, show a tendencies that will remain in their natures as they flee from problems instead of confronting them. This is seen in Dell’s abandoning of the Village once it supposedly gave way to the poseurs. Van Vechten allows for the possibility for art in the village if it was properly managed, but as the expatriation of Gareth demonstrates, the up and coming youths with artistic tendencies flee on the coattails of easier solutions. Then those that criticize the villages, such as Dell and Sinclair Lewis, level their critiques from their refuges in the Village and other safe havens.

The Splendid Drunken Rebellion

The actual nature of what the revolt from the village meant and required is a different debate. For Wetzsteon, the bohemians of the 1910s believed “that the values of the American middle class were to be confronted and altered,” and not “simply rejected and replaced” (393). Working within the context of Dell’s representation of the revolt from the village, the primary focus of revolt was intellectual, artistic, and sexual. Sexual, in this sense, means a breaking from the oppressive forms of marriage and ties in order to achieve a freedom and honesty in relationships; however, this revolt is closely tied to sexuality and sexual intercourse. The intellectual conflict has already been partially touched on in relation to Felix Fay and his rejection of the narrow-minded atheist organization. In summary the intellectual conflict is the lack of acceptance and openness to new ideas.

In relation to sexual freedom, Moon-Calf and Janet March represents Dell’s emphasis on sexual openness through the sharp criticism of what he saw as the more frivolous elements of the Village’s sexual revolution. This conflict for Villagers, seen primarily in the supposed shift after 1919, is often constructed in forms of free love for social progress versus free love for pleasure. This is obviously Dell’s construction of the shift, and this view is advocated by critics such as Christine Stansell who states, “In it nobler moments, free love aimed to subvert the marriage system, but in its more earthbound aspects it edged into voyeurism” (293). This distinction is, in part, the construction of bohemians from the 1910s, like Dell, who opened the door for revolt, but wanted to maintain an element of moral standards. Dell’s novels demonstrate a replacing of middle-class values with those garnered and manipulated from other sources – primarily Nietzsche, Freud, and Socialism – while the bohemians and rebels from the 1920s rejected Dell’s new morality as another form of oppression. However, as is seen in the works of Van Vechten, this rejection of Dell’s new morality leads to new conflicts in love and sexuality. Through the rejection of repressive nineteenth century notions of relationships, new problems emerge in the system of rejection and the results of this rejection.

In Moon-Calf, Felix Fay directly confronts the possibility of a very bourgeois marriage before finally abandoning the village. Felix places value in his knowledge of the ancient Greeks and their ideals as the narrator states, “he was a citizen in a free commonwealth, and a power in the assembly of his equals” (MC 236). From this position, Felix proposes an equality of the sexes where both people are involved in the freedom to choose a partner; there is too be no dominance by any member. Felix is also a socialist, and in this sense of socialism, there is a definite anti-bourgeoisie strain. Yet, when confronted by love Felix is ready to give it all up and picture “himself and her in a little cottage in the suburbs” where he would be “digging and planting and hoeing the ground” when she came out of the house “to call him to the dinner that she had cooked” (302). There is a conflict for Felix though as the woman he loves, Joyce, does not share his rebellious intellectual ideas. In a conversation with Tom Alden, sometimes recognized as Jig Cook, this conflict is brought to the forefront when they discuss Tom’s interaction with an actress in Chicago:

… I was bored. I couldn’t talk their talk.”

“Naturally,” said Felix.

“So I thought I’d try talking my own. I commenced to tell the girl next to me about Nietzsche.”

Felix laughed. “You would!” he said. “And how did she take it?”

“She answered me with a quotation from ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra.’”

… A part of his [Felix’s] mind was wishing that he had been right in that wild surmise about Joyce and Bernard Shaw: suppose she had quoted “Man and Superman.” . . . He shook his head, banishing the thought. (319)

Felix is in love with bourgeois woman who wants conventional marriage, and he is left wondering if love is more important than his ideals. Joyce confronts Felix on his principles asking him, “If you had to choose between your sweet heart and your principles, which would you choose?” and Felix “burned with a perverse desire to prove to her” that he would choose his ideals (MC 331). Felix attempts to convert Joyce to his ancient Greek principles of equality and freedom, but she is bourgeois to core, and while Felix would have married into her values, she rejects him. This then sets Felix on his path to the Village where other people share his values, but it does represent a possible conservative tendency for members of the Village.

Dell’s new morality of sexuality and marriage comes forward in Janet March. The Village emerges as a beacon for a young Janet as she states, “It’s the place where people do go. There’s everything there—and perhaps I can find what I want” (220; original emphasis). The difference in Janet March, as opposed to Moon-Calf, is that Janet’s parents are represented as educated and understanding middle-class people; there is not the same ostracizing influences that force Felix out of the village and into the Village. Elements of Dell’s romanticism emerge here as Janet’s parents, whom she calls Brad and Pen, state that she is going to find a husband (222). There are elements of sexism here because Janet is not searching out intellectual enlightenment like Felix, but this sexism is tempered by Dell’s own Village persona. He was an advocate of women’s rights, and was involved sexually and professionally with Edna St. Vincent Millay and professionally with Djuna Barnes – both of these women were active members of Village life and were not there to find husbands. The Greenwich Village that Janet seeks out is not that of Dell’s 1910s, and his criticism of the 1920s Village emerges, and his construction of the new morality.

Janet recognizes that many people came to the Village “looking for the realization of some vague ideal of adventure, of beauty, of joy, of freedom,” but she finds people who were married and did things “just like husbands and wives back in Ohio and Oregon” (JM 225). The Village Janet encounters is the one of “crass commercialization” and decline away from the socially revolutionary Village of Dell’s 1910s. Janet is made to realize that the “scandalous” behaviour of the Village has already moved throughout America as she ironically states, “Everybody dances like that where I come from. And this is Greenwich Village!” (227). Dell creates a situation where the radical nature of the Village becomes sad and a joke, and in a way demonstrates his new morality is a part of the larger American culture where the strict boundaries have been let down. The 1920s’ sexual revolution is constructed as a depressing state devoid of the higher ideals of love; Freud is bandied about without insight, but as an excuse for sexual licentiousness. Janet attends “what would be in a realistic novel called an orgy,” and Janet and her fellow criticizer of “silly” sexuality proceed to undercut it:

“I thought an orgy would be something devilish and thrilling,” went on Sasha. “But all those I have seen were childish and disgusting.”

“Yes,” said Janet.

“You have read Freud?” asked Sasha.

“I’m the only one left who hasn’t,” said Janet. “But I’ve had him talked at me so much that I know him by heart. You were going to say something about repressed impulses. (234)

The image of 1920s Greenwich Village sexual revolution is unappealing to Janet, and the only option open to her that contains “depth” and “meaning” is essentially Dell’s new vision of conventionality.

The other character in Dell’s search for a new conventionality is Roger Leland, and Roger’s particular vision of a woman is that she would be “accustomed to the truth … believe in herself … have as the foundation of her life a strong and lovely body … She wouldn’t be a rebel. But, even within her conventions, she would be extraordinarily free and sane” (JM 413). Roger’s description in fact fits Janet quite perfectly. However, Dell is actually redefining rebel because an element of the bohemian rebel is freedom, truth, and a love of the body; these were all features that the Village rebels of the 1910s fought for, but for Dell in the 1920s it is no longer rebellion. Roger’s description is rife with rebellion as it strikes out against traditional notions of the sedate woman that is sheltered from the world and is turned against her own body. He discusses the notion abstractly to himself, and it is filled with rebellious speech: “Did you really believe all the poisonous and absurd morality you were taught? Couldn’t you trust your body ever, must that bundle of stale ideas you called your soul decide everything for you?” (JM 431). Roger’s statement that the “new” woman will not be a rebel contradicts with his description of her; the life lived by Janet is also one of rebellion against conventions whether it is morality or the almost institutionalized sexual licentiousness of the Village. Dell, by attempting to remove the term “rebel” from his description of the new woman, is attempting to separate his new morality from the ideas of rebelliousness because they had become tied to the decadent Village of the 1920s.

Janet and Roger eventually find each other in the Village and have a relationship outside the conventions of marriage and it is filled with understanding. However, Janet encourages Roger to write while she keeps house and reads the proper books he sets aside for her upbringing. Their relationship actually reaches a point of stagnation until Janet finds out she is pregnant, and this saves their relationship and unofficially marries them before the official ceremony. Roger makes a big deal about the unconventional way they got married, “I suppose some people would think it a queer way” (457), but in reading Janet March in light of Dell’s construction of the new morality, it is a reconstruction of the past marriage system with only few slight changes. The patriarchal relationship of the husband as the worker and educator, and the wife as the homemaker is reproduced. This point is supported by Borus who states, “Bohemian practices … rarely matched bohemian ideals of gender equality. Sexual freedom all too often re-furbished patriarchy by creating a new kind of woman for men to desire” (382). The difference, according to Dell’s construction, is a freedom in the choice of a partner, and the presence of pre-marital sex; however, this “freedom” contains many elements Dell rebelled against in the 1910s.

Despite creating Janet as a strong and independent woman, Dell re-inserts her in the traditional marriage framework under the notion of choice. Denying that there was an improvement of woman’s options since the start of Dell’s rebellion in the early 20th century would be false. However, as his biographical information demonstrates, Dell was already a playboy when he was in small town America, he married freely in Chicago, ran a salon with his wife, he was divorced from her, and he remarried. Dell then, in Janet March, is setting out to conventionalize the life that he lived, while giving it hints of rebellion, even while denying rebellion. This is the reason why Dell constructs Greenwich Village as being morally bankrupt, as it further demonstrates the stable structure of Dell’s new morality. The ending of Janet March leads the reader to believe that it is a story with a happy ending, but the conservative freedoms it is based on do not necessarily stand the pressure of the rebellion of the 1920s. Van Vechten’s novels actually function to undermine the need for Dell’s new morality, and also demonstrate the failures of attempting to create new conventions after the door of rebellion is opened.





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