Friday, 31 May 2013

Flappers by Judith Mackrell

The 1920s was a liberating era for many young women. They instigated daring fashions and short hairstyles, smoked and took drugs, and experimented with their sexuality like never before. Flappers follows the stories of six remarkable women who all dared to push the boundaries of their style, their careers and their personal lives, in a time of consumer expansion, the rise of the celebrity and accessible travel, even in the midst of war. 

Diana Cooper, daughter of a Duchess, was a society girl in London, who volunteered as a nurse for the war effort, much to the horror of her mother. After the war, she then went on to pursue an acting career. 

Nancy Cunard also came from a wealthy English family and had an equally bad relationship with her mother. After leaving her unhappy marriage, she strived to be a published poet, but after travelling, her strong views and writing led her into political activism. 

Tamara de Lempicka was forced to leave Russia due to the war. She relocated to Paris with her sullen husband and young daughter where she reinvented herself as an artist, creating a place for herself in the art world and putting her past struggles behind her. 

L-R: Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard and Tamara de Lempicka

Tallulah Bankhead was an American wild child who left home at an early age to make a name for herself as an actress. She became the outspoken pet of the stage and screen stars and her crazy antics gained her a legion of unruly female fans. 

Baby of her family, Zelda Fitzgerald flirted and partied her way through life, even after her marriage to The Great Gatsby author Scott Fitzgerald, when they became a celebrity couple.  Zelda wrote stories and articles of her own but was often eclipsed by her husband’s career. 

Josephine Baker grew up in a deprived American neighbourhood but always dreamed of being a dancer. She worked very hard to forge a performance career for herself despite being persecuted for being black. After moving to Paris she managed to become quite a celebrity and despite facing some racial abuse on her travels, she became a much loved star. 

L-R: Tallulah Bankhead, Zelda Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker

Across England, America, France and other parts of Europe, all of these women lived trail blazing lives fuelled by societal change and uninhibited ambition. Some became wives and mothers but first and foremost they were pioneering females set on creating their own identities. Some of their stories interlink and the sheer number of recognisable names from history – writers, actors, royalty and artists – that they interacted with is unbelievable. Although their stories didn't always end happily, all of these women are incredible icons of their time. 

I found all of their stories hugely interesting and emotionally moving at times. I thought that all of these women, and others like them during this time were brave and admirable. Flappers is an eye-opening and inspiring read steeped in cultural history, burgeoning feminism and all the glamour of a glittering decade.  

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