Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Middlebrow Musings Redux

It's been a while since I've geekily submerged myself in old magazines from the first half of the 20th century.  Almost every time I do, I come across even more new writers for my Overwhelming List, so it's a perfectly justifiable pastime that can be dignified with the name "research," right?  At least, that's my angle on it...

But one of the most entertaining parts of the process is that I come across all sorts of odds and ends that I find interesting or amusing (though whether you will too remains to be seen).


Who doesn't love to test their book knowledge?  And apparently Saturday Review readers liked to be tested every single week.  But the quiz below either suggests that standard literary knowledge circa 1940 was rather different than it would be today or else it suggests that my literary I.Q. is low indeed.  I got three of the literary works in which the characters appear, but couldn't recall any of the character's names, so I'm afraid I flunked.  Perhaps senility is setting in a bit early. How about you?  (I'll post the answers at the end of the post.)


Last time, I shared some ads and blurbs that seemed irresistible to me, so this time I thought I'd go the other route...

For example, there are numerous things about this ad that make me not want to read the book, from its determination that popularity is a "vital necessity" to its characterization of it as "normal and natural" (the whole concept of normal and natural tends to put me off) to the advice it apparently offers on how to "properly utilize group pressure."  Ugh.  So alas, I suppose I will be perennially unpopular!

This one, from 1924, for a novel by a writer only recently added to my list, actually didn't sound too bad...

...until further research showed that the novel is apparently set in immediate post-World War I Vienna, and follows American and British flappers as they party down amidst the Austrians' poverty and ruin.

And this ad didn't really leave me very curious at all:

I have a pretty good idea what the "CURIOSA and ESOTERICA" might include.  (But perhaps I'm wrong? Perhaps Panurge Book Co. specialized in books on the care and feeding of duck-billed platypi or the history of little-known civilizations in New Guinea?)

But to end this section on a more positive note, wouldn't it be rather nice to travel back to a time (in this case 1931) when one could look forward to the brand new Dorothy Parker?


Last time, I shared some jokes that didn't quite work for me.  But this time I came across a few that still amuse. Here's my favorite:

Okay, it's not a laugh riot, but at least I get it.  And I rather like this one too:

I find it interesting that the man is pontificating to a group of women.  Is this a Women's Institute meeting or something of the like?  And the woman on the right, at least, seems to sense that the pontificator is a bit "full of it."

Finally, this one perhaps shows an increasing sophistication and awareness of new immigrants?

Hysterical?  No.  But they all made me smile.  And made me feel that readers in the 1930s and 1940s weren't a totally different species.


And what would a Musings post be without a perusal of personal ads placed by long-dead readers of Saturday Review?

"Sensible ideas" about what, I wondered?:

I thought this one sounded like an ad I myself might have placed if I had fallen on hard times during the Depression (except alas, I am unable to offer "worldwide facilities," unless Google counts?):

I rather bet a lot of us would have enjoyed attending this event:

But in some cases, I admit I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be reading between the lines or not.  How about this?

And did this one get lost in translation or is there a meaning I'm missing—I'm not even certain what this guy (??) is looking for:

Well, perhaps it's best not to know.


And finally, this painting was reproduced in the Saturday Review in 1940 and jumped out at me.  Rather lovely in a haunting, Wuthering Heights-ish sort of way?  You can read more about the artist here.


Now here are the answers to our quiz.  How did you do?


  1. I got 4 - Friar Laurence, Father Brown, Father Perrault (although I couldn't remember his name) & Friar Tuck. I'm intrigued by The Bishop's Jaegars, it makes me think of pyjamas! I agree with you about the cartoons, they made me smile but not laugh. It's nice to know you're using your research time wisely.

    1. You get a gold star, Lyn! Interesting that Thorne Smith and Anatole France, for example, were apparently widely enough read at this time that they were fair game for a popular quiz.

  2. Worse off - only got two - Friar Lawrence and Dimmensdale. And I was an English major, too! The shame, the shame! Tom

    1. Oh, Tom, you can still get a silver star as a consolation prize! I can't remember now which three I got before I looked at the answers...

  3. One of those cartoons reminded me of the drawings of Joyce Dennys. Is she on your list? I can't recommend Henrietta's War and Henrietta Sees it Through highly enough. They were published in book form in the 1980s but were written as articles during the war. She wrote and illustrated a number of books between the wars.
    I wrote something about her here

    1. Yes, definitely Joyce Dennys on my list. Love love love the Henrietta books. I really need to add her early books to my Hopeless Wish List, too. Would love to get my hands on the Dose books and, even more rare, the novel that Simon at Stuck in a Book reviewed ages ago, Economy Must Be Our Watchword, I think it's called. But they seem to be as rarely spotted as one of those deep-sea monsters they talk about in nature shows. Coincidentally, Dennys is about to be mentioned in a post I've just been preparing!

    2. I'll look forward to your comments on Dennys! I only have one of the early books, they are pretty scarce.

  4. (dang, my computer scrubbed my comment. Trying again.)
    Mine are likely the same as your 3, Scott. Father Brown, Friar Lawrence, and Arthur Dimmesdale. Plus, perhaps a half point for recognising that the first was the guy from Maugham's Rain, until I got to the last, and decided that might be it.

    Ha. "70 is par."

  5. Six right - four through nine....I'm surprised that no one seems to have gotten the Lama from Kim, on of my favorite books growing up.And I didn't remember Dimsdale's actual name, but knew who it was....I enjoy literary trivia...I should have known the answer from Lost Horizons since I've read it a few times. But I didn't. The first three and the last - not a clue. And I've read The Vicar of Wakefield, but it obviously didn't make much of an impression.

  6. Just to clarify, the short story "Miss Thompson" was written by W. Somerset Maugham, and dramatised as "Rain" by, I assume, the people cited in the answers above.


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