Here are a few excellent novels from the 1930s that are in danger of being forgotten.
“Young Man with a Horn” by Dorothy Baker (1938) – This novel is a fictional biography of Rick Martin whose life is similar to the short life of the real-life jazz music sensation Bix Biederbecke who died of alcoholism in 1931 at age 28. This story is about the high price of public adulation for music heroes. Dorothy Baker was certainly not a one-hit wonder – she also had another excellent novel in 1962 called “Cassandra at the Wedding”. I’ve read both, and both are well worth reading. “Young Man with a Horn” was made into an excellent movie starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, and Doris Day in 1950.
“I, Claudius” by Robert Graves (1934) – This story of the early Roman emperors shows just how incompetent and flat out crazy even leaders of the most powerful country in the world can be. I see the story of Caligula, Nero, Tiberius, and Livia as a cautionary tale. “I, Claudius” was a wonderful read, but I still haven’t been able to read the sequel “Claudius the God” although I’ve tried. Supposedly they are planning to make a new movie of “I’ Claudius” possibly starring Leonardo DeCaprio.
- “If I were a girl, I’d despair. The supply of good women far exceeds that of the men who deserve them.” – Robert Graves
“Voyage in the Dark” by Jean Rhys (1934) – I suppose there is little chance of Jean Rhys being forgotten now, since there are many of us who consider her one of the supreme novelists of the Twentieth century. This is a novel that contrasts the Caribbean with England, and thus is a good place to start with Jean Rhys. It is based on Rhys’ own experiences as a chorus girl.
- “Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.” – Jean Rhys
“Obscure Destinies” by Willa Cather (1930) This book is probably my favorite of all of Cather’s many delightful books. It’s not really a novel, since it is three long stories all which take place in Nebraska; it is definitely one of her finest works. Cather herself insisted that these three stories are thematically related,
- “The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.” – Willa Cather
“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov (1936) Although this novel was written in the Thirties, because it was critical of Stalin it did not get officially published until 1966. The novel begins with Satan visiting Moscow in the 1930s, joining a conversation between a critic and a poet debating the existence of Jesus and the Devil. This is a humorous classic which has lasted and will continue to last long after Stalin is long gone.