The Modernist and the Magazine

Harper's Bazaar Magazine (June 1939). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.
Harper’s Bazaar Magazine (June 1939). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.
Broom Magazine (February 1922). From The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.
Broom Magazine (February 1922). From The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.

Before beginning my semester’s study of modernism and archives I had many preconceptions. When I thought of the modernist movement, and those quirky artists who advanced it, words like avant-garde, outlandish, and innovative came to mind. The iconic names of twentieth century visionaries soon followed—Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, and Gertrude Stein. But what I was is less likely to imagine were these artist’s connections to the magazine. Figures like Gertrude Stein have been understood as standing on one side of a chasm of exclusion, the commercialized world standing on the other ledge, ignored and rejected from the modernist circle—however, my digital exhibition “The Modernist and the Magazine” aims to upset this notion. Above two of my exhibition objects are pictured. The cover of the February 1935 issue of Harper’s Bazaar in which Stein published, “I Came and Here I am” hints to the author’s presence in popular culture and popular publications. While the cover of the January 1922 issue of Broom shows her presence in more experimental magazines. I hope that by exhibiting ephemeral publications that showcased Stein I can show the real relationship between the modernist and the magazine.

Thanks to the new ability to produce cheap paper, magazines saw a boom at the turn of the century. My exhibition puts into focus two kinds of magazines that emerged from this boom— artistic publications known as “Little Magazines” like transition, Camera Work, and Broom and more mainstream titles like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Cosmopolitan. Stein’s work appeared in both types of magazine; her writing as at home next to a photograph of a Henri Matisse sculpture as next to an advertisement for Tiffany’s jewelry. These publications had the power to disseminate Stein’s work to larger audiences. While many have the misconception that modernists wished to be exclusive, I hope to show that they in fact had a desire for their aesthetic work to affect public discourse. The best way to impact the masses was to reach them, and the magazine proved a worthy vehicle. By offering papery exhibition spaces for avant-garde pieces, magazines and modernists entered a symbiotic relationship.

Stein’s writing is notoriously tricky. Her words shook the literary community and were the subject of both praise and criticism. Some argue that she was self-indulgent, incoherent, and boring. But others, including myself, support her “reinvention of rhetoric”. Her pieces take the most simple sentence and morph and repeat it until it takes on new meaning. All of these stylistic risks unfolded on the pages of magazines. They framed her modernist ideas in commercialized publications that carried her odd style to the masses. One could open a Harper’s or Broom and read her unique work. Of course, the magazine was not an all-idyllic setting. Stein faced misprints and revisions that undermined her deliberate writing choices. These changes were the product of both common publishing mistakes as well as calculated attempts to make her work more accessible.

My exhibition has to grapple with a complicated relationship, the modernist at once at odds but also at home within the magazine. It is this complex, tumultuous, and ultimately beneficial connection that compelled me to curate “The Modernist and the Magazine”. Circulating publications fostered, disseminated, and encouraged experimental work. While anxieties regarding editing and public understanding were ever present, the benefits of magazines far outweighed their perceived incongruities with the modernist movement. My job is to detail this relation through primary objects. The task of lending tangible footholds to a difficult idea is as exciting as it is challenging. “The Modernist and the Magazine” works to close that perceived chasm between Stein and the mass market, highlighting her exceptional writing’s place within the unlikely medium of the magazine.

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The World Behind the Postcard

Figure 1. The Zwerdling Postcard Collection: Pictures of Nursing home page, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/picturesofnursing/index.html. Accessed 9 April 2015.
Figure 1. The Zwerdling Postcard Collection: Pictures of Nursing home page, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/picturesofnursing/index.html. Accessed 9 April 2015.

The Zwerdling Postcard Collection: Pictures of Nursing, housed on the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s website, is an exhibition that uses the ephemeral postcard as a path into understanding the culture of nursing (Fig. 1). Each visual aid works to clarify the societal attitudes surrounding the profession. The introduction to the exhibition details this focus, saying: “By documenting the relationship of nursing to significant forces in 20th-century life, such as war and disease, these postcards reveal how nursing was seen during those times.” It is exactly this theme of revelation that reimagines the subject of nursing through an unconventional medium. As one opens and clicks through the images of postcards topics of gender, service, art, and more are elucidated.

Hygea “The First Nurse,” 1933. Via Ring Sanatorium and Hospital Inc., Arlington Heights, MA.
Figure 2. Hygea “The First Nurse,” 1933. Via Ring Sanatorium and Hospital Inc., Arlington Heights, MA.

The first subsection of the exhibition entitled, “Picturing a Woman’s Mission: Service to Humanity” pictorially details the ancient roots of nursing. European postcards of the 19th and 20th century recreate archetypes of maidens, angels, and goddesses—women pouring Grecian urns and red cross workers adorned with wings (Fig. 2). Moving down on the navigation bar the user next explores the dawn of nursing as a career in “Picturing Nursing as a Career”. Postcards show women working behind school desks, standing in front of cars, and hovering over sick soldiers. Here the nurse breaks from her mythological world and enters the modern era as a woman with agency and power. She is no longer stiffly posed in mythological recreation, but very concretely in the real world.

Figure 3. Nurses from the George A. Brewster Nurse Training School pose for a group portrait, Jacksonville, FL, 1908. Via U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Figure 3. Nurses from the George A. Brewster Nurse Training School pose for a group portrait, Jacksonville, FL, 1908. Via U.S. National Library of Medicine.

In an attempt at comprehension the next section of the exhibition, “Picturing the Gender of Nursing” addresses the misconception that only women were and are nurses. Several postcards work to expose the masculine presence in the profession. Flowing with the idea of inequality the next group titled “Nursing and Respectability” discusses the racial hierarchies entrenched in 19th century nursing. Postcards aim to expose a rich history of African American nurses who were often discounted as not being the “ideal” nurse despite their exceptional capabilities (Fig. 3). Once again the postcards act as devices for confronting and understanding the societal conception of who a nurse is thought to be. These small pieces of paper illuminate both cultural injustice as well as cultural appreciation.

Figure 4. "Oh, something about a pretty girl and a wounded soldier with a happy ending", ca. 1918 Created by Rez Maurice. Via The Regent Publishing Co. Ltd., London.
Figure 4. “Oh, something about a pretty girl and a wounded soldier with a happy ending”, ca. 1918
Created by Rez Maurice. Via The Regent Publishing Co. Ltd., London.

Finally, the exhibition ends with a look at 19th and 20th century artistic renderings of nursing culture in “The Art of Nursing”. Vividly colored postcards show calm women tending to children and helping doctors. These postcards harken back to the ancient archetypes established in the exhibition’s first section. However, these idealistic representations begin to delve into an undercurrent of sexuality resulting in nods to the familiar pinup genre of postcards (Fig. 4). The exhibition viewer does not have to end his or her experience at the bottom of the navigation menu, however. With a quick flick of the eyes back to the top of the page one may open the “Education” section for lesson plans pertaining to nursing or surf the “Digital Gallery” for more sumptuous images. These options tantalize the viewer, softly asking them to engage further and go deeper into the world behind the postcard.

Seeing the Autobiography through “The Autobiography”.

It seems inherent to the genre that an autobiography should be personal. We assume it will open windows into the life of the author, cool breezes of introspection blowing in. However, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas has a decidedly large scope. The text drifts amongst the great minds of the twentieth century. In the midst of scenes populated by the likes of Picasso, Matisse, and Hemingway, it becomes easy to forget the work’s autobiographical nature. The air of the chapters may begin to feel stagnant as we search for refreshingly intimate moments between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Upon inspection, we find there are in fact windows of affection through which readers may begin to see the personal in an autobiography that is decidedly and paradoxically distant. These small moments illuminate the autobiography in a lovely light, casting it in such a way that readers may begin to see the autobiography through “The Autobiography”.

Below is a sequence of many of these small intimate moments as they appear in the work. They offer insight into a twenty-five year romance that spanned the profound and the mundane. Gertrude and Alice cried at the first World War, and disagreed on food temperatures. It is these restrained sentences that bring the text domestic warmth. It is these sentences that show Gertrude’s love not only for the elite art scene, but for her partner as well.

  1. Page 102: Alice tears up photographs taken of cathedral towns by the photographer Rönnebeck.

“We thanked him (Rönnebeck) and thought no more about it. Later when during the war I found them, I tore them in a rage.”

  1. Page 112: Alice and Gertrude discuss the differences in the temperature they like their food. One particular evening is discussed in which Alice waits to eat so that she may read the first portrait called Ada in Geography and Plays.

    Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Aix-les-Bains, France, c. 1927, Photographer unknown via the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers  Yale Collection of American Literature Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library New Haven.
    Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Aix-les-Bains, France, c. 1927. Photographer unknown. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers,
    Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Library.

“Here I want to show you something, she said. No I said it has to be eaten hot. No, she said, you have to see this first. Gertrude Stein never likes her food hot and I do like mine hot, we never agree about this.”

  1. Page 118: Alice and Gertrude attend bullfights in Spain, and while Alice is at first repulsed, Gertrude helps her enjoy the spectacle.

“We went to bullfights. At first they upset me and Gertrude Stein used to tell me, now look, now don’t look, until finally I was able to look all the time.”

  1. Page 138: Alice insists that Gertrude use the device “a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

    Wax seal for embossing envelopes reading: "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose" in a circle around a central rose graphic, Leuchars & Son Geffroy Suode Paris via Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers  Yale Collection of American Literature
    Wax seal for embossing envelopes reading: “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” in a circle around a central rose graphic, Leuchars & Son Geffroy Suode Paris. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beineke Library.

“Speaking of the device of rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, it was I who found it in one of Gertrude Stein’s manuscripts and insisted upon putting it as a device on the letter paper, on the table linen and anywhere that she would permit that I would put it. I am very pleased with myself for having done so.”

  1. Page 149: Alice and Gertrude weep together as the Germans approach the Paris.

    German soldiers, World War One, September 1914. German Army, via Wikimedia Commons/ public domain.
    German soldiers, World War One, September 1914. Photograph by German Army, Via Wikimedia Commons/ public domain.

“The germans were getting nearer and nearer Paris and the last day Gertrude Stein could not leave her room, she sat and mourned. She loved Paris, she thought neither of manuscripts nor of pictures, she thought only of Paris and she was desolate. I came up to her room, I called out, it is alright Paris is saved, the germans are in retreat. She turned away and said, don’t tell me these things. But it is true, I said, it is true. And then we wept together.”

  1. Page 162: Alice describes waking Gertrude up in the mornings

    Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Aix-les-Bains, France, c. 1927, Photographer unknown via Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers  Yale Collection of American Literature Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library New Haven.
    Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Aix-les-Bains, France, c. 1927. Photographer unknown. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers,Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Library.

“… and I had often to wake her up very early. She and Cook used to write the most lugubrious letters to each other about the unpleasantness of sunrises met suddenly.”

  1. Page 176: Alice and Gertrude become close to Abel, their Godson in the war. However, they both lose track of him, as if losing a relation.

“Some time later he wrote and said that the family were moving into a different department and he gave me his new address. By some error the address did not rich him and we lost him.”

  1. Page 198: It is revealed the Gertrude’s favorite photograph of her is a snapshot taken by Alice.

“One day she told him (Man Ray) that she liked his photographs of her better than any that had ever been taken except one snap shot I had taken of her recently.”

  1. Page 242: Alice becomes Gertrude’s publisher and works to make sure her pieces are in bookstores.

    Stein’s draft of the press description for the Plain Edition, photographer unknown via the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale Collection of American Literature
    Stein’s draft of the press description for the Plain Edition. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Library.

“I now myself began to think about publishing the work of Gertrude Stein. I asked her to invent a name for my edition and she laughed and said, call it Plain Edition. And Plain Edition it is.”

  1. Page 252: It is explained that Gertrude is the true author of Alice’s autobiography- the ultimate intimate gesture.

    Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in wallpapered room, by Sir Cecil Beaton via the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s London, England
    Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in wallpapered room, by
    Sir Cecil Beaton. Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s,
    London, England.

“About six weeks ago Gertrude Stein said it does not look to me as if you were ever going to write that autobiography. You know what I am going to do. I am going to write it for you. I am going to write it as simply as Defoe did the autobiography of Robinson Crusoe. And she has and this is it.”

Packaging Pulp

Dashiell Hammett, The Continental Op (New York: Lawrence E. Spivack, 1945). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.
Fig 1. Dashiell Hammett, The Continental Op (New York: Lawrence E. Spivack, 1945). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.
Dashiell Hammett, Hammett Homicides, (New York: Lawrence E. Spivack, 19456). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.
Fig. 2. Dashiell Hammett, Hammett Homicides (New York: Lawrence E. Spivack, 1946). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.
Dashiell Hammett, The Adventures of Sam Spade, (New York: Lawrence E. Spivack, 1944). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.
Fig. 3. Dashiell Hammett, The Adventures of Sam Spade (New York: Lawrence E. Spivack, 1944). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.

The name Dashiell Hammett conjures up images of gangsters with flashing guns and seductive women with secrets. This common association is no mistake given Hammett’s literary worlds full of murder and mystery. Throughout the writer’s career he worked to create these vivid worlds via a voice and narrative distinctly his own. This aptitude for crafting a cohesive style generated a Dashiell Hammett detective brand, as recognizable today as it was six decades ago. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Hammett was no stranger to the world of marketing. In 1926 he worked as an advertising copywriter and ad manager at Albert S. Samuels Jewelers where he fine-tuned the skill of selling products. Over the years, as Hammett’s works filled magazines and lined retailer’s racks, his stories became entrenched in the emerging literary mass-market. Like diamonds, his rough and gruff mystery tales had to be sold in the most effective way, sparkling in order to catch a buyer’s eye.

Pulp fiction, of course, had a decidedly different market than fine jewelry. But like the blue of a Tiffany’s box, book covers had to lure a customer to the register. Most commonly one may associate the pulp movement with the now-iconic covers showing scantily clad women and suggestive phrases. But mirroring the cohesive tone of Hammett’s work, the “Bestseller Mystery” collection utilized covers that created clear brand recognition. As seen in figures one through three, the Hammett covers had nearly identical layouts (Fig. 1-3). “The Continental Op” features a blue badge, “Hammett Homicides” a selection of green weapons, and “Adventures of Sam Spade” red and black pistols. These simple designs allude to cop adventures, murder plots, and gun fights within the texts. But despite these small variations in design each novel adheres to the same general cover-topography: a large white square holding the title with a black mask and gun beneath and the phrase “Bestseller Mystery” above.

The strength in this strategy is the construction of a sense of consumer trust. If a reader has enjoyed one Hammett’s stories, he or she can identify the next similarly packaged product and expect a repeated quality. This sense of quality, in the world of Hammett, meant the production of genuine thrills, dramatic showdowns, and knockout reveals. Undoubtedly the author delivers on the paper promise of consistency by offering honest covers that open to high adrenaline Hammett style stories. And although the wrappings for Hammett’s pieces may not be as inherently eye-catching or heart quickening as other contemporary pulp fiction, there is a reason a woman loves a blue box wrapped in a white bow and a reason a subway rider loved a twenty five cent Dashiell Hammett story.

The Mencken Buffet

FIgure 1. A Menken Chrestomathy by H.L. Mencken. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.
FIgure 1. A Menken Chrestomathy by H.L. Mencken. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.

H.L. Mencken, a feisty and ravenous writer, met each of his subjects with a kind of gleeful self-indulgence. An empty page was like an empty plate. And Mencken had a cornucopia of words at his disposal, made up of delicious nouns and spicy adjectives. Over the course of an impressive career, Mencken made sure to always pile on heaps of decadent literary devices and syntax—leaving readers full and happily stupefied. This decadence is specifically American; one that is paralleled in the very way Menken arranges his chrestomathy (Fig 1.).

Merritt Moseley, Department Chair of Literature and Language at the University of North Carolina Asheville, astutely dissects what it is about Menken that reads as being so undoubtedly American. The writer follows a tradition of “copiousness” begun by Whitman and continued by the likes of Faulkner and Wolfe. Unlike the urge followed by writers like Hemingway to strip down writing to its bare shinning bones, Menken layers his words, his pieces building in grandeur, drama, and impact. This effect of linguistic accumulation can be dizzying, if not dazzling.

To concretely understand this idea of accumulative writing, Moseley examines Menken’s unique syntax. He finds that the writer’s hallmark is in how the “…discourse proceeds by addition; and what is added is a further accumulation, not a deepening or further complication” . In plainer terms it is as if a great scoop of ice cream has been dropped on the ground. Slowly, the lump melts, spreading out in a large consuming pool of sticky decadence. Menken’s writing is always expanding, his lists are pushed further into the absurd, his analogies stretched further and further still. It is in the way that Menken takes even the smallest things, and allows them to grow before our eyes in unabashed gluttony.

This idea of accumulation, seen syntactically, can also be seen in the way Menken chooses to arrange the works in his chrestomathy. Broken in to twenty-nine sections the reader sees a steady growth in the general depth of subjects. The first three sections, “Homo Sapiens”, “Types of Men”, and “Women” are relatively singular in their meanings. However by the last three sections “The Lesser Arts”, “Buffooneries”, and “Sententiæ”  the headers are increasingly theoretical in topic. The work progresses from the scientific name for our species to a Latin denotation for moral sayings. In other words, it progresses from the man, to the man’s fundamental truths. The expansion is characteristically Menken, and characteristically American.

Now as a reader you are standing before Menken’s chrestomathy, empty plate in hand. You look at his chapters, not knowing quite what to expect from the seemingly unlawful arrangement of subjects. You turn the plate nervously now, the edges sliding through your hands in sweaty circles. But if you think of Menken’s syntax, his indulgent sense of accumulation, you will find the order parallels the writing style. The chapters will also build, growing on your plate, leaving your arms fatigued under the weight. You can try to eat as you go but undoubtedly the intellectual lingo, witty similes, and biting lists will grow larger than your stomach. But if you take a deep breath, you will see the beauty in the decadency, and your appetite will be renewed.