1920s

Here are some wonderful novels from the 1920s that are hardly remembered.

Passing by Nella Larsen (1929)   Nella Larsen, both Danish and black, was born and raised in obscurity, showed up at the New York Harlem Renaissance, wrote the two incredible short novels ‘Quicksand’ and ‘Passing’, and then returned to obscurity as a nurse.  This novel is the story of two light-skinned  women and the confusion of being between two worlds.  Here is a quote from Nella Larsen:

    If sex isn’t a joke, what is?

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Read about the valuable, moving, and successful effort by Light-Skinned-ed Girl to provide a suitable gravestone for Nella Larsen.

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The Desert of Love by Francois Mauriac (1925)  -  This is one of Mauriac’s unregenerate novels before his conversion to Christianity.  It is about a love triangle between a woman, her doctor, and the doctor’s son.  This is a wicked good book, a sexy French novel.  I’ve read most of Mauriac’s unregenerate novels.  Here is a quote from Mauriac:

    I believe that only poetry counts, and that only through the poetical elements enclosed in a work of art of any genre does that work last.  A great novelist is first of all a great poet.

I agree, because it is easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a  needle than for a writer who writes clumsy sentences to become a great novelist.

Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann (1927) – There are several novels mentioned in ‘When Things of the Spirit Come First’ by Simone de Beauvoir, but only one novel is mentioned twice.  That novel is ‘Dusty Answer’, Rosamond Lehmann’s first novel which was both a critical and popular success.  Rosamond Lehmann was a beautiful woman who kept making the wrong choices in men over and over and over.  Before I knew hardly anything about Rosamond Lehmann, I read all her work, so I can attest that her novels ‘Dusty Answer’, ‘Invitation to the Waltz’, and ‘The Ballad and the Source’ are superb.  I think England should put up a monument which says, “England is the home of Rosamond Lehmann, world-class novelist – we have lots of writers who claim to be world-class novelists, but Rosamond Lehmann is the real thing.”

Riceyman Steps by Arnold Bennett (1923)  Arnold Bennett was a professional writer who now doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.  ‘Riceyman Steps’ takes place in a second-hand bookstore.  I will leave it to Margaret Drabble who says of Arnold Bennett :

    Bennett’s books I think are very fine indeed, on the highest level, deeply moving, original and dealing with material that I had never before encountered in fiction, but only in life: I feel they have been underrated, and my response to them is so constant, even after years of work on them and constant re-readings, that I want to communicate enthusiasm.’

I agree, I’ve read several of Bennett’s novels including ‘The Card’, ‘Anna of the Five Towns’, and ‘The Old Wives Tale’, and haven’t been disappointed yet.   Riceyman Steps is one of his best.

‘Grand Hotel’ by Vicki Baum (1929) – This is the great hotel novel about the people staying in a nice hotel in Austria.  This is a simple idea for a novel, but a fine idea.  Somebody should try it now.  Of course, the movie of this novel with Greta Garbo is wonderful, but I read the novel first which is exceptionally fine.  Vicki Baum wrote over 50 novels and left us some great quotes:

    Marriage always demands the greatest understanding of the art of insincerity possible between two human beings.
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    Fame always brings loneliness. Success is as ice cold and lonely as the North Pole.
    There are shortcuts to happiness and dancing is one of them.

 

2 responses to this post.

  1. I just read Passing by Nella Larsen; it’s a wonderful novel. It’s a very quick read but filled with thought-provoking characters, events, and language. A deep exploration of how we come to be who we are–is our identity an “essential” thing, or is it tied to how others perceive us? This, and so much more, is found in this little gem of a novel.

    Reply

    • Hi Liz,
      I.m quite sure you will like Quicksand also if you liked Passing. I can’t help but wonder what novels she would have written if she hadn’t given up on writing in the 1920s, one of the great question marks in United States literature. She had a unique perspective partly due to her mixed heritage, partly due to her sheer talent.

      Reply

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