This week, I started my latest attempt at organizing my art studio. I create mixed media stuff, which means I have all kinds of paints, brushes, inks, glues, and odds and ends. One thing I have a lot of is paper ephemera - tons of old photos, magazines, and books that I tear up and use in my art. I haunt junk shops and country auctions, and I have way more than I ever will use (now you know why I wrote about the Collyer Brothers - I find them oddly sympathetic).
One of the things I came across in my mission organization is a complete Atlantic Monthly from October 1925. It's an interesting relic, both as an artifact and as a sample of literary taste from the Twenties. For starters, it doesn't look much like the contemporary version of the magazine.
Graphics are limited almost exclusively to the advertisements, mostly to the large, full-pagers in the very front and the very back, hawking life insurance ("will they become more careful as they go through school?"), natural gas ("whose capacity for domestic service is as great as the number of American homes"), Listerine ("you, yourself, rarely know when you have halitosis"), and Zenith radios ("it costs more, but it does more"). The first 60 pages are devoted to book reviews and publishers' ads, and the names therein are a fascinating blend of the now-celebrated and the now-almost-totally-obscure: Virginia Woolf, Sherwood Anderson, Joseph Conrad, Anatole France, and Edith Wharton rubbing elbows with such non-luminaries as Gamaliel Bradford (author of Wives), Beale Davis (The Goat Without Horns) , and Mrs. Edward Harding (creator of "the best book ever written about the peony...a most important addition to our limited peony literature").
Beyond the literary lineup, the ads are a fascinating window into the psyche of the "cultured" reader of 85 years ago. There are a lot of self-improvement schemes. "Are You Afraid to Face the Truth About YOURSELF?" bellows one full-pager, promising that "650,000 people have found themselves through Pelmanism," a program that "awakens the unsuspected powers in you...designed to re-arouse and to train certain mental faculties, which in most of us lie absolutely dormant and atrophied." What exactly Pelmanism is can be revealed by sending away for the free book, with no obligation of course. If you aren't in such dire straits and just want to "Stop Making Embarrassing Mistakes in English," you can write away to the Sherwin Cody School of English and get Cody's miraculous new invention, "a device which will quickly find and correct the mistakes you unconciously make" -- which sounds to me a little like the opening of a Stephen King story, but what do I know?
The Atlantic Monthly being, after all, a literary magazine, there are many ads promising to make the reader a better writer (today, their grandchildren populate the back pages of Poets and Writers and The Writer's Chronicle).
Another business very present in the ads is banking. This was, after all, the Roaring Twenties. There are pages and pages of ads for banks and investment companies, promising things like "43 Years Without Loss to Any Investor" and "Southern Bonds with Substantial Security." Knowing what is coming exactly four years later, I want to yell, "Run!!!"
The actual content of the magazine is pretty substantial but less fun to read. The articles and essays are long and dense, including a piece by I.A. Richards called "Poetry and Science," which I must confess I have not tackled. There are two short stories, a chapter of a novel, Coming of Age, by Helen Dore Boyleston (who?), and an appalling poem sequence by Virginia Moore entitled, "Mississippi Melodies" that begins, "Li'l black blow-ball, res' an' res'/While de win' am wooin' de watah-cress;/You's dim as de watah,/Mah dark li'l daughtah,/Wid a shadder fo' yo' haid an' breas'." It goes on like that for four pages, mercifully, not five.
It was fun to spend some time with the 1925 version of the Atlantic. I doubt I'll pull it apart for an art project now. But I never did finish organizing my studio.