The Fitzgerald Flapper
Which came first, the flapper or the Fitzgerald flapper? This question may prove as difficult as its proverbial counterpart. But it is a question well worth asking in an effort to examine the flapper, a cultural icon of the 1920s. This new woman heralded an end to the traditional Victorian woman, as well as the relatively new Gibson girl. But where did she come from? And what was Fitzgerald's contribution to the creation of such an icon? Fitzgerald's short story Bernice Bobs Her Hair and novel This Side of Paradise will be used to make such an assessment. Finally, one must ask how the flapper, in turn, contributed to Fitzgerald's career, for the good and the bad. Although the flapper may have guaranteed the success of This Side of Paradise and earned Fitzgerald the position of spokesman for a generation, it may have also stifled the progression of his work and confused critics for years to come.
First, it would be helpful to establish a working definition of the flapper, prior to Fitzgerald. Coined in England, the flapper was used to describe a somewhat awkward, fledgling-type girl, in the throws of budding womanhood ("Flappers in the Roaring Twenties"). She is still learning how to move in her body, gangly and thin. Another source puts forth a very different definition of the flapper. This definition, found in "Mrs. Stratton of Oak Knoll" asserts that a flapper is English slang for a society girl who has made her debut and hasn't found a husband ("F. Scott Fitzgerald Centenary"). She is an old maid of sorts, gone to seed. The first of these two definitions seems the more likely origin of the Fitzgerald flapper.
Prior to World War I, most women in the America still behaved and dressed with respect to late Victorian codes. The Gibson girl, the "most immediate historical precursor of the flapper," had been popularized on the cover of Life magazine (Prigozy 145). Created by Charles Dana Gibson to boost sales, the Gibson girl was confident, athletic, and independent. But she was still strictly moral in a Victorian sense. In addition, her hair remained long and flowing. But after the war, the lost generation decided to begin many things anew, including the creation of new value systems. Modernism was born and the new woman wanted a part of this changing generation. The flapper was "an ordinary woman having an extraordinary moment, one that was made possible by the new morality of a postwar youth culture and leisure products"(Kitch 121). These women were "newly moneyed", aware of some amount of psychological science and ready to take roles outside of the home. Tight fitting clothes that allowed movement, short hair, and boyish style in general were the look of the flapper. When she began, the flapper represented a very strong and independent woman, in line with the feminist movement. Later, it seems, she became much more one-dimensional.
Fitzgerald has been accused of using much of his...