Thursday, February 05, 2009

Flappers: Naughtier than you Think!

A few days ago Emily Hahn arrived in my inbox via The Writer's Almanac. History gives Hippies way too much credit for breaking down barriers. Personally, I think flappers went much further given the vicious Victorian constraints they shrugged off. Plus, they managed to infuse their rebellion with an aura of decadent and glamorous hedonism that the sixties couldn't hold a candle too. Compare champagne towers, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, revealing bias cut silk gowns, opium dens and a pet monkey dressed in black tie with wallowing in the mud at Woodstock, smoking pot and reeking of patchouli. I know which team I'd sign up for.

She went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and she was the first woman in the university's history to graduate with a degree in Mining Engineering. After college, she and another adventurous young woman disguised themselves as men and set out on a cross-country road trip, driving more than 2,400 miles. She taught geology at Hunter College in New York, and then she took off for Europe.

She traveled around Europe, then joined a Red Cross mission to the Belgian Congo... living with a pygmy tribe and traveling around central Africa on foot. She worked for a while in England at the British Museum Reading Room, and then moved to China, where she wrote for The New Yorker. She moved into an apartment in the red-light district of Shanghai, and she had a pet gibbon, which she brought to dinner parties. In Shanghai, she became romantically involved with prominent men in the city, including the poet and publisher Sinmay Zau. He taught her to smoke opium, and she became an addict.

She moved to Hong Kong, and became lovers with a British spy, Major Boxer. They had a daughter together a few weeks before Hong Kong was invaded by the Japanese. She and Boxer got married and moved to his estate in England, where they had another child. Hahn lived a domestic life in rural England for several years, but then escaped to New York, where she bought an apartment and wrote memoirs, articles, fiction, and nonfiction. She continued to go into her office at The New Yorker until a few months before she died at the age of 92.

Emily Hahn said, "Nobody said not to go."

1 comment:

Panoptica said...

oh, how I love flappers!!

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