The question has nagged at me since I began writing Benedict Hall nearly four years ago. Since I started work on the novel, America (and the United Kingdom, of course) has been inundated with 20s-themed media–Downton Abbey, the Gatsby remake, the Ralph Lauren 20s-themed clothes collection (he also designed the costumes for the new Gatsby film), the new interest in bobbed hair and red lipstick I see on women everywhere. What is it about the decade of Prohibition, jazz, flappers, and ultimately, the stock market crash, that has so attracted our attention?
Something I’ve learned as I worked on Benedict Hall and its sequel, Hall of Secrets, is that the issues our society faced in the 1920s are not just similar to, but are mirror images of, the cultural and political challenges we’re dealing with in the 21st century. Racism is one, because the Ku Klux Klan was active in Washington State in the twenties. Abortion is another, staunchly opposed by the church, the nascent American Medical Association, and conservative lawmakers, leading to a shocking number of deaths among desperate young women. The costs of health care were a great worry to concerned physicians like Margot Benedict, and the role of women in medicine was under constant pressure that didn’t ease until the 1970s. Indeed, in the wake of the passage of the 19th Amendment, the role of women in society was questioned and challenged on every front, leading the youngest and boldest of American women to cut their hair and raise their hemlines and refuse to be secluded in their homes.
It’s a colorful decade, to be sure. Visually, it’s dramatic and appealing, something that was underscored for me on my recent visit to the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. The very way of life in the Western world was in flux.
Still, we’re not always drawn to period of great change just for the changes themselves. Why do you think the 1920s have such appeal to audiences of 2013?
June 24, 2013 Monday at 1:32 pm