Book Review: Flappers by Judith Mackrell (#JazzAgeJan)

Posted January 29, 2015 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 7 Comments

Flappers by Judith Mackrell
Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell
Published by Sarah Crichton Press on Jan. 14, 2014
Pages: 512
Genres: Feminist, History
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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The 1920s were a decade of massive social change. Prosperity and excess abounded in the wake of WWI, jazz swung into popularity, and new attitudes about art and sex were on the rise. Amid this atmosphere of adventure, the flapper was born. She wore provocative clothing, attended wild parties, challenged social norms, and was sexually liberated. Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell shines a light on the lives of six women who defined the Roaring Twenties: Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Tamara de Lempicka, Tallulah Bankhead, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Josephine Baker. Mackrell follows these women through London, Paris, and New York as they blaze their unforgettable trails.

Aristocratic Diana Cooper was active in London’s intellectual Coterie, a sort of precursor to the Jazz Age, in the 1910s. The darling of London, she was a celebrity even before she became a star on stage and screen.

Nancy Cunard, a fellow member of the British upper class, was a wild party-girl-turned-poet who became involved in the Paris literary scene, and later, political activism.

After escaping from Russia in 1917, Tamara de Lempicka found her way to Paris, where she became renowned for her Art Deco paintings and sparked scandal with her sexual relationships with both men and women.

Raised in Alabama, Tallulah Bankhead embarked on her pursuit of celebrity at age 15, when she won a movie magazine beauty contest and moved to New York to become an actress. Known for her hard partying, she made splash in London, where she earned a devoted following on the stage.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda is perhaps the most famous flapper; she hosted parties from her bathtub, dove off cliffs, and lived a wild, turbulent lifestyle in New York and Paris before her life was taken over by mental illness.

Born in a Missouri ghetto, Josephine Baker rose to fame in Paris, where her erotic dancing became a sensation. As Europe went crazy for all things African, the dark-skinned Josephine made waves with her nearly-nude performances.

Flappers is a fascinating book about six infinitely interesting women who were ahead of their time. However, as with Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, I had some trouble with the format. Each woman’s story is told in halves (1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, 5A, 6A | 1B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B), and by the time I got to the second half of one lady’s story (200 pages after the first half), I had only hazy recollections of the the first section. I understood the purpose of weaving their stories together this way, but it made absorbing each story more difficult for me.

Despite my trouble with the format, I thought this book was wonderful. It is impeccably researched, and Mackrell brings each woman to life while highlighting their significance both during the 1920s and the decades that followed. A must-read for anyone who loves the Jazz Age or is interested in the roles of women through history.

Disclosure: If you make a purchase through the link above, I will make a tiny commission.

  • I saw you reading this on GR. Glad to see it was a good read! I might have to get it and save it up for next January Jazz Age!

  • Ciska van der Lans

    Totally love the cover for this one. All the ladies mentioned in this book surely have some interesting stories so it makes sense to put them together. The format does sound like something that could disturb me too. I love to finish up a story about a person when I am still remembering things. Might give it a go anyway as you say it is a must-read 😉

  • I think I would like this for the same reasons as I think I would like Almost Famous Women. I like reading about women’s lives in times gone by.

    • I definitely thought a lot about Almost Famous Women while reading this. They go together really well.

  • Elena

    I loved it as well, and ever since I read it I’m in love with Tamara de Lempicka. I totally get what you say about the format, because when I finished reading about one woman, I had to read the first half of another one’s life when I actually wanted to read more about woman1. But it was an interesting way of reading, and none that I had encountered before.

    • You might be interested in The Last Nude by Ellis Avery, a historical novel written from the point of view of the woman who inspired De Lempicka’s painting La Belle Rafaella. I read it when it came out a few years ago (the author did a reading in my city!) and really enjoyed it.

  • This sounds like my type of book! I really enjoyed Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy and would love to read more books about women in history.