Edna St. Vincent Millay. Dorothy Parker. Zelda Fitzgerald. Edna Ferber. These were just a few of the famed female writers that ran wild in New York during the 1920’s. Each one a major talent, these women were also well known for their wilder and wanton behavior. In Marion Meade’s Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties, these writers are described as who they were and what they stood for. Written in a conversational style, the book interweaves the stories of these four women and their contemporaries.
I came across Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin thanks to the History Chicks podcast on Dorothy Parker. If you don’t listen to them already, now is the time to start. Meade is sympathetic to the four writers, but also does not hold back on their bad behavior. Edna St. Vincent Millay was free with her love. Dorothy Parker attempted suicide multiple times. Zelda Fitzgerald lost herself in ballet. Edna Ferber ran afoul of Oklahoma with one of her books. Whether it was a drinking habit, questionable sexual encounters with married men or the desire to stay in and miss opening night of their own play, these women all experienced fascinating lives and created remarkable works.
This book made me feel so much deeper for Zelda Fitzgerald. While I love Dorothy Parker and was aware of most of her life, as well as that of Edna St. Vincent Millay, I knew very little about Zelda or Edna Ferber. Ferber was best known for her work Show Boat, which went on to become the famous musical. She chose to live a life of solitude. Zelda Fitzgerald was a prisoner of her marriage and more often than not, her and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s relationship was a destructive mix.
I found myself devouring Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin in a few sittings, like an Orange Blossom at a New York Speakeasy. Fans of powerful female writers will love this book.
Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties by Marion Meade is available now from Harcourt Books.