In Hong Kong, my friend gifted me a copy of the Penguin Classics edition of Flappers and Philosophers with a beautiful, ornate cover by C. B-Smith. This hardbound contains more than the eight short stories published under the titled Flappers and Philosophers. Also included are selections from The Jazz Age, All the Sad Young Men, and Taps at Reveille.
Although Fitzgerald’s critical reputation primarily rests upon his novels—in particular The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night—those novels were always interwoven with the short stories he was writing simultaneously. To me, after a few hours with the intriguing Flippers and Philosophers, his intriguing stories amplify the novels, playing out variations on characteristic motifs. The opening story, Bernice Bobs Her Hair is brilliant and funny. It deals with a favorite theme of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s: the desire for popularity in the shallow, appearance-obsessed social climate of the famous Roaring Twenties.
Bernice is a young lady who is educated and from a family of influential position—but she fails to attract attention from young men. After an exasperated Marjorie confronts her with her social ineptness, Bernice meekly agrees to take any advice Marjorie has to give her—that is, to talk flirtatiously. Bernice tries it out and decides on her favorite: “Do you think I should bob [cut short] my hair?” At this time, short hair was seen as a sign of loose morals—no “nice” girl would do it. Soon, the newly confident Bernice is surrounded by fascinated boys. Marjorie realizes that her advice has worked too well. The boy who once adored her, Warren MacIntyre, is now paying attention only to Bernice. Angry and jealous, Marjorie hatches a plan: to challenge Bernice cutting her hair short. Of course it turns out to be a disaster. What happens when a cat fight doesn’t take place between the two cousins? Bitter revenge.
Then Bernice winced as Marjorie tossed her own hair over her shoulders and began to twist it slowly into two long blond braids until in her cream-colored negligée she looked like a delicate painting of some Saxon princess. Fascinated, Bernice watched the braids grow. Heavy and luxurious they were, moving under the supple fingers like restive snakes–and to Bernice remained this relic and the curling-iron and a to-morrow full of eyes. She could see G. Reece Stoddard, who liked her, assuming his Harvard manner and telling his dinner partner that Bernice shouldn’t have been allowed to go to the movies so much; she could see Draycott Deyo exchanging glances with his mother and then being conscientiously charitable to her. But then perhaps by to-morrow Mrs. Deyo would have heard the news; would send round an icy little note requesting that she fail to appear–and behind her back they would all laugh and know that Marjorie had made a fool of her; that her chance at beauty had been sacrificed to the jealous whim of a selfish girl. She sat down suddenly before the mirror, biting the inside of her cheek. (Part VI)
Bernice Bobs Her Hair is reminiscent of a modern high school comedy. Bernice is a socially awkward intellectual and a definite party pooper, so thinks her cousin Majorie. Majorie hatches a plan to take plain Bernice and make her into a socially attractive girl who becomes the center of attention. Majorie comes to represent the revolutionary free thinking, modern girl who pushes her ideas of popularity onto Bernice. As we might expect, Bernice soon becomes the talk of the boys, with Majorie a bit taken back and somewhat envious. When Majorie chides Bernice as a “bluffer” about actually going through with her plan to get her hair bobbed, it plants the seeds to a fantastic finish.