The Flapper Wife: a 1925 novel for brainless young females



41wsoa78cmL._AA160_The Flapper Wife by Beatrice Burton (published 1925) is a marvelous find for me. It provides loads of information about the Roaring Twenties not easily found elsewhere. I picked up period language (“who is the sheik I saw leaving the house”, “What a poor simp Lola was!”, “you have it all over her like a tent”), historical details not found in history books (a punch is one-third fruit juice and two-thirds gin, women wore driving gloves in the car, a telephone is located in the coat closet under the stairs), clothing details (“she put on her kimono and went downstairs,”), information about medicine (milk toast and hot lemonade for a cold), makeup (removing it with a wad of cotton dipped in almond oil), food (a lettuce sandwich–no further explanation, but I assume is lettuce, bread, and some sort of mayonnaise?), and prices (a full-time maid earns $18/week, a very expensive hat is $55).

 I also learned about attitudes in 1925, the year that my Roaring Twenties mysteries take place. Read on . . . 

The miserably illogical and stupid plot centers around a 20-year-old who is just married. She’s grown up in a poor family, and somehow (inexplicably) has never learned to cook a meal or do any housework, not even dusting. She always telephones for her groceries; she’s never even been “to market.” This makes no sense and is never explained. So . . . anyway, she wants to marry a rich man, and she marries a young lawyer whom she doesn’t know well and turns out to be not rich at all. What attracted him to her is never explained; she’s pretty, but brainless. (Well, I guess he isn’t the first man to go for that combination.) They barely know each other. There is no pre-marital sex. She doesn’t even kiss him much. She is a wild “flapper” who wants to party and go to the pictures and have fun, and she is still in love with her previous boyfriend, a rotter (of course) who is a handsome, out-of-work actor (nothing worse than an actor).

Within a few weeks, this petulant, demanding young thing has gone through her new husband’s bank account, and he can’t suggest she stop spending because she’s so pretty. So he’s as big an idiot as she is. Anyway, after pages and pages of drivel and several separations, they manage to get back together. The moral that the author wants to drill into young women: women get their joy and fulfillment from cooking, cleaning, and having babies. (Everyone has been trying to tell her that throughout the book.) Once our young 20-year-old realizes that she’s been pursuing a flapper lifestyle rather than her true vocation, life is miraculously happily ever after. (Eye roll.) She chides her husband at the end, saying if he’d been stricter with her and disciplined her more, she’d have been better behaved. Amusingly, there is no hint of sex and the heroine, if she could be called that, hasn’t a clue, even as a married woman. When her actor-boyfriend kisses her and says he “wants her,” she wonders what on earth he can mean by that? 

So did you think I disliked the book? Au contraire! I thoroughly enjoyed it! It’s like reading a slice of history, and very amusing history at that. My two grandmothers, who would be the same age as the empty-headed young woman in this story, were nothing like that, nor were their sisters or contemporaries that I knew. But the author, a mature woman, is reacting to the widespread concern that all this independence for young women was bad for them and for society. She’s helping to convince readers (other young women) that subservience to the superior male is the definition of a successful marriage.  

Published in: on February 8, 2015 at 4:33 pm  Comments (15)  
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15 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Cute. I like old books.

  2. Thanks for sharing. That wAs interesting.

  3. This is so exciting — I’m able to help!

    So according to my Marion Harland’s Complete Cook Book (published 1905) there are three options for lettuce sandwiches.

    Brunette Sandwiches: Slice Boston brown bread very thin, butter lightly, and spread with neufchatel or with cottage cheese. have ready crisp lettuce leaves, dip each in a bowl of French salad dressing [N.B. – this is just a vinaigrette], then lay on the already spread brown bread. Press another slice of buttered brown bread on this, and the sandwich is ready. These sandwiches must be kept in a moist atmosphere until it is time to serve them.

    Lettuce Sandwiches: lay between two thin slices of buttered bread a crisp lettuce leaf, on which has been spread a thin layer of salad dressing.

    Lettuce and Cream Cheese Sandwiches: Cut white bread into very thing slices and remove the crusts, then butter lightly. Spread with Philadelphia cream cheese. dip a leaf of crisp lettuce in a French salad dressing, and lay it upon a slice of the bread, the press another slice upon it. With a sharp pair of scissors trim off the projecting leaf of lettuce. Pile these sandwiches on a plate, cover and keep in the ice-box until wanted.

    My 1918 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer has a different sandwich.

    Lettuce Sandwiches: Put fresh, crisp lettuce leaves, washed and thoroughly dried, between thin slices of buttered bread prepared as for Bread and Butter Folds*, having a teaspoon of Mayonnaise on each leaf.

    * Bread and Butter Folds: Remove end slice from bread. Spread end of loaf sparingly and evenly with butter which has been creamed. Cut off as thin a slice as possible. Repeat until the number of slices required are prepared. remove crusts, put together in pairs, and cut in squares, oblongs, or triangles. Use white, entire wheat, Graham, or brown bread. Three layer sandwiches are attractive when made of entire wheat bread between white slices.

    These are the only cookbooks with Lettuce sandwiches that I own. 1924 health cookbook (Physical Culture by Bernarr MacFadden, 1936 Boston Cooking-School, and the two 1950s cookbooks I own (Searchlight and Women’s Institute) do not have lettuce sandwiches.

    So I hope this helps! I collect vintage cookbooks and I love hearing about what people actually ate. It’s usually nice and simple, and easy to incorporate into my daily eating habits.

    • Oh wonderful! I will definitely incorporate that detail in Book #4. Something like, “As she spoke, she buttered two thin slices of brown bread and joined them together with lettuce spread with Italian dressing.” Just an action, in other words, to go with the dialogue.
      Thanks for looking this up in a period cookbook. I would not have thought something so simple would be in a cookbook.

      • It was a fascinating time for cookbooks and home-making books in general. New modern conveniences, a lack of maids, and life in the big city where one needs to be Fashionable! meant that a lot of women were lost.

        These type of recipes were often found in “tea” foods, or lunch foods. Marion Harland has a whole chapter about how luncheon is the best meal because one does not need to dress up NOR make complicated dishes while hubby is at work, and it’s just us women and children at home, with our simple to please stomachs. It’s a little adorable.

        Many home ec books from this time are available online, either through project gutenburg or if you are looking for more info. 😛

        — Tegan

  4. I had The Flapper Wife on my wish list for ages. Still don’t know whether I want to buy it. The story sound stupid (though I watched silent movies similar to this), but you say it’s interesting.


    • THe story is embarrassingly stupid, which is what makes it interesting. Lots of good details for someone like me. If you can get a cheap copy, do it.

  5. Mary,

    At West Point in the 30’s we paid our full-time maid (Helen – who lived-in ) up to $25 a MONTH. I think $18 a week might have been too much in the 20’s unless the dollar changed value by early 30’s. By 1944 wages had gone up due to the war and the hiring of women to do manual labor and we no longer retained her…couldn’t afford more than the $25. She was black and married to an enlisted man.


    • But Hollywood was probably a different story. And in this story, the maid is Norwegian.

    • You probably paid less for a live-in maid than for one who had to pay rent. At least, based upon what I’ve seen for modern live-in wages.


      • That’s a good point. In the story, the maid didn’t live in.

  6. What a great resource. I think this one has been on my “maybe” list for a while. Now I look forward to reading it!

  7. Hah! Sounds like the heroine’s mastered all the techniques of “Fascinating Womanhood,” a 1922 woman’s guide to manipulating men—especially the part about where she goes through her husband’s bank account and he shrugs it off because she’s “just so pretty.” Volume 4 in particular might be of interest, as it describes a very similar scenario. It’s pretty interesting; the entire text can be found online here. I also wrote a blog post about the subject here, if anyone is interested. Keep the period book reviews coming! They’re really interesting and useful. 🙂

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