I loved this book completely. I do already have a serious interest in the 1920’s when it comes to literature, art, and music but McParland’s writing style and tone really pulled me in. I found myself reading full chapters in one sitting frequently because of this. McParland who is an associate professor of English at Felician College successfully contextualizes the effects of key writers from the 1920’s on American Culture which is still evident today.
My obsession with this particular time period and specifically Modernist literature is rooted in my observation that people today are going through similar changes in culture, technology, and social relations. I am always looking to this period for insight into how culture, America, and the world rapidly changes within only a few decades. This is something that I find very intriguing and I would really love to explore in my own writing someday.
This book is divided up into seven chapters, beginning appropriately with T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland and the world after the first World War. The second chapter is devoted to the two most well-known writers of the 1920’s, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Then, where I was delightfully surprised, McParland took an expansive look at the entirety of America in the 1920’s rather than (what I have come across frequently in similar books) focus solely on Fitzgerald and Hemingway. In chapter three, Faulkner is discussed in detail with emphasis on his style and ability to give a unique voice to the South. Chapter four is about Modernism, Pound, and James Joyce. Again, another favorite for me, I am a devout Joyce fan and I have a serious reverence for Pound.
Chapter five discusses the midwestern writers of the U.S. which I had previously little to no real knowledge of. Focusing on Sinclair Lewis, Will Cather, and Sherwood Anderson, this chapter really begins to put the entire picture of the U.S. together at this specific time in terms of literature. Chapter six is all about city writing with Dreiser, Dos Passos, Yezierska, and of course Langston Hughes. This is a pivotal point in the book where McParland talks about the Harlem Renaissance which is in fact what I plan on studying next. In chapter seven, McParland explores the writers that were both historians and influential writers in terms of setting up America’s history with mythic elements. This last chapter talked about William Carlos Williams, one of my most beloved Poets, Stephen Vincent Benet, and John Steinbeck.
McParland’s approach to 1920’s literary influence on American Culture is specific. I believe he picked a particular approach to this discussion. This was a success in my opinion because at the same time McParland really provides a full picture of the entire U.S. during this time. Not only does McParland discuss literature but music, this was The Jazz Age, and he mentions art movements and the various writers that ultimately affected American writers during this time such as Gertrude Stein.
I would recommend this book to anyone curious about literature and culture of the 1920’s. McParland is clear when he addresses how fiction helped establish a general American Mythos of what it is to be American in the 20th century. Much like popular TV Shows, fashion, media, and movies today which all contribute in one way or another to an Americans identity today. Really fascinating book and I highly recommend it!