Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Advertisement for Dawn Powell

I am reading Dawn Powell's comic novel from 1942 entitled A Time to Be Born. Her prose is breezy and clever, with asides and digressions that throw light on the feminine world in New York of the 1940s. It is no great fault that these sparkling digressions frequently stop the plot in its tracks for a dozen pages. Here is an example in which the character Vicky coped with the loss of her boyfriend to the lady she shared a business with. (I am hoping that Dawn Powell's estate will take this as an advertisement for her prose rather than an abuse of fair use).

But if she was so smart, and if an education was any good at all, why didn't it teach a jilted lady how to recover her poise, how to win back the will to live, to dance, to love? ... All Vicky could do was to read the women's magazines and discover how other heroines had solved the problem. The favorite solution, according to these experts was to take your little savings out of the bank, buy a bathing-suit, some smart luggage, put on a little lipstick, throw away your ugly glasses and go to Palm Beach or Miami for two weeks. There you lay on the beach doggedly in rain or shine, your glasses hidden in a secret compartment of the hotel cellar, and a not-at-all-dangerous hair tint bringing out the highlights in your new permanent and the smart but inexpensive bathing-suit bringing out other highlights in your figure. On the fourteenth day, if not before, a tall bronzed Texas oil man would appear and be bowled over by your unaffected passion for peppermint sticks, unlike the snobbish society women he knew, and if you turned to page 114 you would find yourself, as heroine, bumbling down the church aisles without your glasses led by the Texas oil king and possibly a Seeing Eye dog.

Vicky was not convinced by this remedy, nor even certain she wanted to live in Texas, or that the sight of her rather thin figure in a smart but inexpensive bathing-suit would knock a millionaire off his feet. In fact she was pretty sure that the bathing-suit would have to be pretty expensive and very carefully cut indeed to "do things for her." Furthermore, the stories of How to Get Over a Broken Heart by Getting Another Man were invariably followed by other stories on what to do after you lost him again, after, say, ten years' marriage. The expert story-tellers appeared to be as certain you would lose him on your tenth wedding anniversary to some girl in a bathing-suit lying on a Miami beach with a lipstick and no glasses. The way you gained him back was to take your savings, put them into a new hair-dye do and permanent, take a Figure-Reducing Course and erase that middle-aged spread which is the only thing that's holding you back, call up an old beau who is always waiting or you at the nearest hotel and who sends you orchids at this faint beckon from you, and by getting a little flushed with champagne (instead of disagreeable over gin) and learning the newer dance steps, your husband is re-fascinated and comes whizzing back for a second honeymoon. Vicky deduced that it was just as well for you to start saving again, however, since there was no permanent way of keeping your man outside of nailing him to the floor. The lesson of all the stories boiled down to saving your money, since all the secret solutions devolved on dipping into this ever-present savings account.

Your appetite for clever writing should now be whetted.

No comments:

Post a Comment