Sunday, February 5, 2012

"The Mauve Decade, American Life of the End of the Nineteenth Century" by Thomas Beer-

The Mauve Decade,
American Life of the End of the Nineteenth Century
 by Thomas Beer
Publisher: Garden City Publishing Co., Inc, NY
copyright 1926, by Alfred A Knopf
First Edition?  signed in 1928 by the owner Helene Michell (our home's previous owner's child)  Some sun fading, but type is clear and clean.  $35
please email: if you'd like photos.

In an effort to understand the confusion I experienced reading this book, I looked up Thomas Beer.  He was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, 1889-1940, undergraduate at Yale University, and graduate in law at Columbia.  Though he wrote over 130 short stories for Saturday Evening Post, he was best remembered for his biography of Stephen Crane (1923).  In 1980 it was discovered that he altered chronological events and fabricated letters to make it a better read.

The Mauve Decade has this quote on the title page, ". . .Mr. Whistler said: 'Mauve?  Mauve is just pink trying to be purple . . ."  From what I can decipher and I'm no code-breaker, the entire book is Beer's metaphor for the United States trying to be Britain.

His three-page appendix was easier to understand than the book for three reasons I'm guessing at:  

1)  He was referencing a lot of current news and names of the times, of which I have no knowledge.  His book is dated due to that.  I've read elsewhere that he was name-dropping which might have been effective during the times he and all these people were alive. 

2)He's so impressed with his heightened academic gifts that he writes with a great effort  to seem extemporaneous but instead showed a conceited sort of elitism (snorting).  Basically, he's too big for his britches or is at least attempting to be, by writing half to full page run-on sentences.  So while he's impressing the reader with his great writing skills and all the famous people he knows, he uses bits and pieces of ideas which somehow are connected in his mind.  Maybe they are and I would know this if I lived in his day.  But, try as I might by re-reading, I finally had to just ride the wave and figure it would all make sense in the end.

In the end he does a very poor job keeping the focus on the issues of the day which seem to bother him.  Some of them are very worthwhile and ring true today.  He wrote of how Wall Street  had buggered (my word) the masses, and that was interesting.  Humans just don't/won't learn from history.  Beer is so sarcastic and impressed with himself that HE gets in the way.  For example he uses this quote, "A gentleman in the American description is a man who bathes and hasn't been in jail."  He seems to speak to hypocrisy whether it's in the form of business or wealthy women who exert their need for power through Christianity.  He seems to be bothered most by the trammelling of the First Amendment of free speech in this puritanical, hypocritical empire.

Beer's point of view seems liberal for the times,  but I couldn't tie his seemingly endless and unconnected examples together.  There might have been a melodramatic performance aspect, as if he was imagining himself reciting this on stage like a pump organ or a hell and brimstone preacher using volume for earnestness.  Maybe I'm being too hard on poor Mr. Beer, but why was his Appendix so suddenly pragmatic and understandable?  He was clearly able to write naturally.

INTERESTING FACTOID:  In the July 19, 1886 "Tattle" gossip paper in New York, a controversial quote for the times ran in its pages,  "It's Naughty, but It's Nice."  I found a button in our attic that says that and it's fun to know the back story. 

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