The 1924 Club : Some Final Thoughts


And so we reach the end of the 1924 Club, and what fun it’s been! When Simon first came up with the idea I had no idea how much I’d enjoy reading books from this year, and in fact I could happily have spread my reading over a whole month! In many ways I feel as if I’ve only scratched the surface, and other books I would have liked to get to include “House of the Arrow” by A.E.W. Mason (vintage crime that I read a long time ago), “20 Love Poems and A Song of Despair” by Neruda and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” by Anita Loos (which would have been a re-read – I loved it first time round).

1924 stack

As it is, I feel I did read some wonderful volumes, all of which have made me look at 1924 (and indeed The Roaring Twenties!) in a very different light. Arlen’s book, in particular, was a very striking read and will no doubt be in my top 10 of the year.

It’s been lovely to see so many other wonderful bloggers joining in, and it’s been fascinating reading all of your reviews. If you have any more to share, please leave a comment on the 1924 Club page, where there are lots of links to some excellent pieces on volumes from the year in question. And in the meantime, I may well be continuing into November with some more reading from 1924…..! 🙂


The 1924 Club – The Final Tales of a European Great


Franz Kafka – The Hunger Artist

There’s always the danger that when an author becomes absorbed into the mainstream consciousness, they become a bit of a cliché, and that’s certainly been the tendency with the work of Franz Kafka. We hear the phrase Kafkaesque bandied around all over the place, to describe the latest TV thriller or political chicanery, all of which tends to obscure the works themselves. Kafka died in 1924, but luckily for me a collection of four short works of his was published shortly after his death and so I’m able to squeeze one last read in to the 1924 Club! 🙂

complete kafka

“The Hunger Artist” was the last collection which Kafka himself prepared for publication, and he was actually able to correct the proofs during his final illness, with the book appearing several months after his death. It contains four stories – the title one, plus “First Sorrow”, “A Little Woman” and “Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk”. I confess that I didn’t mess about trying to find a copy of this collection; instead, I splashed out on a volume containing the complete short stories because I figured that I need to start reading Kafka again, and also that the book might come in handy for German Lit Month in November…

But back to Kafka. “First Sorrow” is a wonderfully strange little tale about a trapeze artist who decides he wants to get away from the world in a most unusual way. Is it an allegory about wanting to escape? Or about taking the pursuit of your art too far? Or maybe about a quest for identity? Certainly it contains an awful lot in its few pages. “A Little Woman” is again a strange one; the narrator is convinced that his very existence is an irritation to the woman of the title – and yet they are strangers! Is he unreliable? Is there a story here we’re not aware of? Again, there’s much hidden beneath the surface here.

The title story relates the story of an actual hunger artist (I had to search online to find out if they really existed and they did – people would travel around in shows, fasting for a set period and making a spectacle of themselves). Again, there’s a lot going on in this story. The craft of starvation seems to be going out of fashion and despite joining a circus, the hunger artist is sidelined; people are not interested in watching him go without food and he in his turn is repelled by the animals and the noise of the crowds. As he declines and fades away we are left to ponder just why he tried to earn a living this way. Certainly, he could be meant to represent the misunderstood artist or perhaps a religious figure, as he usually fasts for 40 days.


And finally, “Josephine the Singer”, an ambiguous little work. Josephine is the only one of the mouse folk who is able to sing, and the story tells of her life and her relationship with her audience. Capricious and demanding, while the other mice work, she entertains them – but the narrator is never clear as to whether Josephine really *can* sing or whether they’re all just fooled by the fact that she’s so convinced she can. In fact, it’s possible that she puts her people in danger by attracting attention with her singing, although she always manages to be whisked to safety. Oddly enough, it’s only the title that describes the people in the story as mice – despite references to fur, it isn’t explicitly made clear that these are real mice and they could just be a community of people with mice-like timidity and characteristics.

Quite clearly, there’s a running theme with Kafka, as his stories are laden with ambiguity and open to a variety of interpretations – which is half the fun of reading them! Kafka died young at the age of 40 and very few of his works had actually been published. It was only because of the diligence of his friend, Max Brod, who refused to burn Kafka’s manuscripts after his death, that the great works like “The Trial” and “The Castle” survived. However, “The Hunger Artist” is particularly interesting because it’s a work Kafka intended to see published; it’s an intriguing collection of stories and highly recommended!

The 1924 Club : Beneath the Veneer of the Jazz Age


The Green Hat by Michael Arlen

When I cast my eye over the initial list of possible reads from 1924, the first title that jumped out at me was “The Green Hat” by Michael Arlen. It’s been lurking on Mount TBR for ages and seemed initially the ideal read for the 1924 Club. The twenties were, of course, a period of notorious decadence and indulgence and the blurb for this book read like it was the quintessential read. Michael Arlen was a fascinating character – Armenian by birth, he moved with his family to London in 1901; in 1913 he moved to London and embarked on a writing career. He seemed to fit in very well with the zeitgeist of the age and was often seen dashing around London in a posh car.

green hat

However, oddly enough I nearly stalled with “The Green Hat”. I picked it up after being knocked out by Colette’s short stories and I wasn’t sure I really felt like reading something so frivolous. And the initial pages were somehow very hard to read – I struggled on thinking I would have to give up on the book, until I looked at some online reviews which said how the book *was* hard to read at the beginning, so I persevered – and I’m really, really glad I did.

Our unnamed narrator introduces us to the main character in the book – Iris Storm, the wearer of the green hat and a woman of some fascination. Iris’s twin brother is known to the narrator (they live in the same building in Shepherd’s Market in London, at the time a haunt of writers such as Anthony Powell and Arlen himself); and Iris is on a fleeting visit to see her estranged sibling who’s sunk into alcoholism. The narrator is transfixed by Iris and the introductory chapter covers their first night-time meeting. As the book progresses we learn all about Iris Storm and her (indeed very stormy!) life – there is a significant back story, previous husbands, scandals and shocks. Iris is very much a scarlet woman, someone who’s betrayed her class and is considered something of an outcast. But we are in post-WW1 Europe and all the old certainties are crumbling. As Iris proceeds through a number of crises, her ultimate fate might indeed seem inevitable as she tries to grasp happiness against all the odds.

I sat there in that deep armchair, subdued by the thought of the awful helplessness of men and women to understand one another, and of the terrible thing it would be for some of them if every they did understand one another, and how many opportunities the devil is always being given to making plunder out of decent people.

Describing the plot of “The Green Hat” is in some ways irrelevant as although there is a plot, the narrative unfolds in a less than straightforward way. When I picked up the book, I expected a light, frothy Jazz age romance, which I wasn’t quite sure I was in the mood for; but what I got was something completely different. Much of what happens to Iris happens off-camera, in a series of set pieces, and we learn about it indirectly from the narrator. However, while he’s telling us about Iris’s life, he also manages to paint a devastating picture of a damaged, post-War generation.

Everything that happens in The Green Hat seems to be informed by WW1 and its after-effects. Not only has that conflict destroyed a whole group, it’s also undermined the social structure and way of life of the country. The cracks in the veneer are visible in the older generation, as they observe the younger partying its way to oblivion; and the mores and standards of the castes are being challenged constantly. Iris’s own behaviour is regarded as outrageous, as she’s stepped outside the boundaries of women of her class, and yet she purports not to care. How much she is really damaged by what people think of her is open to interpretation – certainly she regards her ancestral line as cursed and doomed. There are many subtle hints and themes that I think would come out on a second reading: the fact that many events take place at night; the recurring use of green (the hat, an emerald ring Iris always wears); and the book is more complex than might seem at first, demanding a further look. It also touches on quite deep issues: pre-marital sex, venereal disease, homosexuality and divorce.

You talk to me of your England. I despise your England, I despise the us that is us. We are shams with patrician minds and peasant faces… To me, a world which thinks of itself in terms of puny, squalid, bickering little nations and not as one glorious field for the crusade of mankind is a world in which to succeed is the highest indignity that can befall a good man.

Iris herself, though the central character, is an elusive figure and we see her more through the effect she has on others than directly. This oblique approach is convincing, imbuing her with a kind of glamour and mystery, and she almost exists only in relation to other people and not in her own right. It’s clear that Iris is judged by others for a number of reasons: she’s betrayed her class; she’s indiscreet; but most pertinently because she’s a woman and the most ridiculous double standards apply. Alas, not much has changed, has it?

“The Green Hat” builds inexorably to a dramatic climax, and I came out of it stunned and a little bit breathless. Yes, the book and the characters are sometimes a little melodramatic, but oh! the writing! Arlen’s prose is just wonderful – poetic, hypnotic and incredibly evocative, he captures place, mood and ambience perfectly. You feel as if you’ve been in nocturnal Paris or London, swimming in the river on a hot, dark summer’s night or driving madly alongside Iris.

Paris rises in a cloud of chill darkness, the rain falls like whips of ice, the street-lamps loiter on vague, bitter errands, confused strings of light, a stealthy idiot wind glories in being corrupted by corners. the platforms of the omnibuses are packed tight with small men whose overcoats are too short for them, the brims of their felt hats too narrow, their trousers turned up too high, their eyes too dark, their faces too pale. The jargon of the traffic on the rue de Rivoli, as it squabbles for every step between the deserted pavement beneath the railings of the Tuileries and the reeking pavement under the long archway lit by imprudent shop-lights falling on imitation jewellery, is multiplied an hundred-fold by the shrewish air into a noise that hurts like warm water on a chill hand.

by Bassano, half-plate glass negative, 8 December 1930

In some ways, I was a little apprehensive about reading “The Green Hat”; I’d read that Iris was based on Idina Sackville, ‘The Bolter’ (I reviewed a book about her here), and I hadn’t taken to Idina at all. However, this novel helped me relate to the characters of the 1920s much more strongly, and I gained a real sense of how that post-War generation suffered and reacted from what was a devastating and destructive conflict. The madness, the selfishness, the desperation and the search for happiness at all costs become much more understandable in this context. But as well as giving me this new understanding, “The Green Hat” was a wonderful, wonderful read; unusually but poetically written, absorbing and involving, and quite impossible to forget. 1924 really *was* a year that produced some amazing books!

The 1924 Club: A Different Perspective


Simon’s tongue-in-comment on my post about Zamyatin’s “We”, to the effect that he was glad I’d found something Russian to read from 1924, actually led me onto some quite deep thoughts about the state of Russia in the 1920s. The country had been ravaged by years of conflict – the First World War followed by successive revolutions and then a devastating Civil War. The fledgling Soviet state was suffering from famines and shortages, isolated from the rest of the world and trying desperately to keep itself together as an entity. Amazingly enough, in the middle of all this the arts continued to flourish. The visual artists had embraced Constructivism which spread from painting and sculptures into film and theatre. Writers like Mayakovsky used their work for propaganda, slipping into agitprop posters as well as poetry and plays. The initial cultural boom would be crushed by Stalin’s increasing iron grip, but for a while the arts were in the vanguard.

I wondered whether I had any other Russian works on my shelves that would fit into the year we’re following, and hit upon the idea of short stories. I have a number of Russian collections but alas, many don’t give information about the dates of publication. But fortunately one did – “Soviet Short Stories”, edited and introduced by F.D. Reeve. Three of the tales featured in the book appeared in 1924 and so I set about reading them.

1924 soviet

The stories are Isaac Babel’s “A Letter”, Alexander Fadeyev’s “About Love” and Mikhail Sholokov’s “A Family Man”, and they’re all short and dramatic pieces. The first and the last are particularly strong, both telling of the harsh aftermath of the Civil War. Babel’s “A Letter” contains just that – a moving missive home from a soldier, revealing the dark extremes of behaviour. Sholokov’s brutal tale, set amongst the Cossacks, shows just how families were torn apart and turned against each other in an ideological war that really did rip the countryside to pieces. Both of these short pieces show the divides within families and how different generations reacted to the conflict and chose sides regardless of familial loyalties. Fadeyev’s “About Love” is a different kind of story, all about the contrariness of human emotions, and how we love someone more when they don’t love us and vice versa,

The war tales in particular made for stark reading – neither author pulls his punches and the visceral events and human impact is powerful. Fadeyev’s story has a bleakness less physical but still ends up making you wonder about the point of life and love. None of these stories was easy reading, but they did serve as a reminder of how different 1924 was depending upon the country in which you lived. Although all of Europe was recovering from conflict in different ways, it could be argued that the Russian people suffered more than most – a timely illustration of the fact that the 1920s were not all glitter and parties and jazz…

The 1924 Club : An Austrian Classic


So much of the fun of the 1924 Club has been searching out titles to read and discuss; but one of the books on the Wikipedia list (which was where I started looking) was a work I’d read before and been mightily impressed by – Joseph Roth’s “Hotel Savoy”.

Like many of the works from that year, the book reflects the aftermath of the First World War; indeed reading the books I’ve chosen, it’s become crystal clear that the 1920s were the way they were because of that conflict, with each country involved reacting differently and recovering differently.


My review of “Hotel Savoy” is here, and I shan’t add anything to it, except to say it’s an excellent book, powerfully capturing some of the post-war chaos in Europe – highly recommended as a 1924 read!

The 1924 Club: 1924 and not 1984…


Given my love of Russian literature, it’s obvious that I’d be looking for any titles from our year of 1924 from authors from that country. Oddly – or perhaps not oddly – there aren’t really that many. Bearing in mind that the post-revolutionary civil war only ended in 1922, it would perhaps be too much to expect great works of Russian literature to have been published in the 1920s. And yet there were several – notably Bulgakov, whose “The White Guard”, “Heart of a Dog” and “The Fatal Eggs” are all from that era, though none were published in 1924.


However, one seminal work from the Soviet era *was” published in 1924, and that’s Zamyatin’s “We”. A dystopian novel set in a future police state, it’s set in One State, an urban landscape built almost completely in glass. This enables citizens to be constantly spied on by the secret police and spies, enforcing a collective consciousness from which there’s no escape. The characters have numbers not names – our main protagonist is D-503, a spacecraft engineer – and people wear identical clothing in a society that is mechanised not only in a technological way, but also in the way it controls the populace.

D-503 is helping to build a space ship; however, an encounter with a woman called O-90 sends his life off-trajectory, and he discovers that not all people behave in the same way as him; he discovers part of the planet is not like One State; and his comfortable, if restrictive, mindset and life is shattered forever.


I’m not going to say too much more about the plot because a. I’d like you to read the book itself and b. I read the book pre-blog so I don’t have a review to point you to and I’ve not had the time to re-read! However, “We” is known for its influence on later writers, in particular Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (a fact that George himself acknowledged). Elements such as the relationship with a woman and a discovery of a different way of life will be familiar to readers of Orwell’s great novel, although both books have different foci and different strengths. And Orwell himself was of the opinion that “We” influenced “Brave New World”; additionally Nabokov was reading “We” while he wrote “Invitation to a Beheading”. So it’s a book of great import.

“We” was of course subject to censorship, and eventually reached publication in 1924. However, Zamyatin’s position after publication became more and more precarious, and he was eventually allowed to leave the Soviet Union in 1931 when he moved to Paris. He died there in poverty in 1937, having produced an influential piece of work which had an incredible influence on later writers.

1924 We

I have three copies of “We” – predictably enough, as I often seem to have multiple copies of books I like and which are in translation. I originally read the book as a fragile Penguin Modern Classic some years ago, and found it complex and gripping; it’s translated by Bernard Guilbert Guerney, an American translator whose name has turned up a number of times recently on books I’ve been gathering, and the introduction is by Michael Glenny. That copy went walkabout a while back (I have a sneaking suspicion I loaned it to Eldest Child for his degree course and never saw it again). However, I picked up a duplicate copy, plus also a more modern Penguin just because I liked the cover – this one translated by Clarence Brown, who also edited the Portable Twentieth Century Russian Reader. The most recent version is the lovely Hesperus Press volume translated by Hugh Aplin, which I intend to re-read one day. In the meantime, I’d encourage anyone who loves speculative fiction and something inventive and unusual to give “We” a try – it’s very thought-provoking, and a great advert for 1924!

The 1924 Club : A Confusing Challenge!


The Internet is notoriously unreliable, and a little confusion has arisen around one of the books we’ve been considering for the 1924 Club – Vita Sackville-West’s “Challenge”.

The Virago Modern Classics collection tracker has this listed as a 1924 publication; however, a number of readers have commented that this information differs online, with 1923 often cited as the publication date. So I decided to do a little digging…

I possess a copy of “Challenge” – not a nice green Virago, but an old and rather gnarled volume from Avon (whoever they were!) and it looks like this:

challenge front

The crucial point here is the wording about the book being suppressed, as it wasn’t published in the UK  during Vita’s lifetime – only in the USA, and that’s where the 1920s date comes in.

The back cover reveals a little more about the book:

challenge backSo I had a look inside to see if the first publication date was given, but it wasn’t – only some later dates in the 1960s and 1970s. However, the book’s foreword came up trumps!

challenge foreword

As this states quite clearly that “Challenge” was published in New York by George H. Doran Company in 1924, I think if anyone wants to read it for the 1924 club, they’ll be quite free to do so! :))

The 1924 Club : Choosing a Virago!


The Other Woman by Colette

Today sees the start of the 1924 Club, Simon’s clever idea for us to look at, read and enjoy books from that year! When he first mooted the idea, one of the first things that probably sprang into both of our minds was to check which of the Virago titles were published that year, and then to see which ones we had in our collection! Fortunately, the very handy Virago Collection tracker on LibraryThing (cleverly prepared and maintained by members of the group) enables sorting by year and these were the titles which came up:

Precious Bane by Mary Webb
The Unlit Lamp by Radclyffe Hall
The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby
The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy
Old New York by Edith Wharton
The Matriarch by G.B. Stern
The Rector’s Daughter by F.M. Mayor
The Other Woman by Colette
Challenge by Vita Sackville-West

An intriguing and mixed bunch, no? Certainly, the first title on the list, “Precious Bane”, seems to inspire either love or hate in a reader; I’ve never had the courage to approach it after reading the parody of it in the form of “Cold Comfort Farm”. However, I do own several of the titles on the list and here are some of them:

1924 viragos(I know I’ve got at least one copy of “The Constant Nymph” in the house; and I do have “Challenge” too, but in a non-Virago edition).

I also might just have downloaded a copy of Wharton’s “Old New York” just for the fun of it…

It’s a tribute to the strength of the Virago list that these are all titles that are highly regarded and could be picked up and read quite happily (but then VMCs are known for their quality). I had to make a very difficult decision as to which one I’d read and in the end I went for the Colette – it’s ages since I read any of her short stories and they rather appealed to me. The collection consists of 20 short stories ranging in length from a couple of pages, to round forty for the closing piece in the book “My Friend Valentine”. And every single one is a gem – I don’t think Colette could write a bad piece of work if she tried!

In a few pages she can lay bare a relationship, expose a woman’s everyday deceptions or reveal the excruciating loneliness when love comes to an end. Her eye is always objective but compassionate – she never judges, but observes, and you can feel her warmth and sympathy and love of life coming through whatever her subject.

The aforementioned “My Friend Valentine” is one of my favourite of Colette’s shorter works, and one in which she features herself as a character. Collecting together a sequence of pieces, we see Valentine as she chastises Colette for dining at a disreputable bar run by the formidable Semiramis; the two ladies take part in the vine harvest; they discuss how to bring up their daughters; and in a pivotal passage, Colette considers the reasons why cutting her hair short is so liberating for a woman.

1924 colette

A case could be made for asserting that Colette’s greatest creation was herself; certainly many of my favourite of her works are those in which she projected herself as a character. I say as a character because the Colette she chose to show to the world was probably not the real woman behind this image; but it’s delightful to feel that you’re in touch with her and getting a glimpse into her world.

The prose is, of course, gorgeous and I could have pulled out masses of quotes but frankly I’d rather just recommend that you get a copy of this book (or indeed her collected short stories, or any of her novels, or basically anything she wrote) and just read it. In 1924 Colette had published many of the great works we still know and love her for, and was a writer at the height of her powers. “The Other Woman” is a wonderful way to get to know her!

Don’t forget to let us know what books you’re reading from 1924, what exciting titles you’ve uncovered and what you think of them all! 

Not quite 1924….


One of many nice things about focusing on the year of 1924 for the 1924 Club has been the chance to dig about in my books, looking to see what I already own from that year. I must admit that, when first glancing down the Wikipedia list that Simon sent, I glimpsed the name of Bulgakov and gave a bit of a start because I hadn’t been aware that one of his books was published in 1924!

fatal eggs

In fact, it was a mistake – Bulgakov’s book “The Fatal Eggs”, had been listed in the drama section, when in fact it’s a novella and although it was written in 1924 it wasn’t published until 1925. Which is a bit of a shame, because I did fancy rambling on again about how wonderful it is!


However, as we haven’t actually started posting about 1924 yet, I’ll take the opportunity of pointing you at my original review of the book here. I said at the time:

As with Heart of a Dog, Bulgakov the doctor is having a swipe at science and where it can go wrong. The authorities want to control it, the bureaucrats are incompetent and make mistakes which cause catastrophic events to take place, and Bulgakov clearly thinks there is a limit to what human beings should mess with.

“Dog” is a fascinating, funny and thought-provoking read and even though it wasn’t published in 1924, I commend it to you!

Introducing The 1924 Club!


As a reader and book blogger, it’s easy to get a little bogged down in all the lovely books that surround you; and a new project is sometimes just what you need to focus the reading. So when Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book asked if I’d like to be involved in a new idea of his, I was delighted! The project is called “The 1924 Club” (as you can see from the rather snazzy button that Simon’s designed) and basically the idea is to focus on books published in that year.

1924 Club

I think Simon’s chosen a rather wonderful year, as there appears to be a wide range of fascinating books published in 1924. Basically, we’ll be asking other readers/bloggers to read, review, suggest and discuss books from the year in question, and thereby build up an overview of the literature of the day. It would be great if as many of you as possible can join in, and the fun will come from discovering the new and the unusual, books we haven’t heard of or hadn’t realised were written in 1924, and also revisiting some classics!

Michael Arlen's The Green Hat - one possibility

Michael Arlen’s The Green Hat – one possibility

There’s a list on Wikipedia that Simon found here which gives a starting point, and Goodreads also has a useful “Most Popular Books Published in 1924” entry (though do check your actual books, as there are plenty of volumes incorrectly labelled!) These lists give plenty to choose from – Agatha Christie published two of her early classics “Poirot Investigates” and “The Man in the Brown Suit”; Russian writer Zamyatin’s “We” appeared, prefiguring much of Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty Four”; Forster’s “A Passage to India” came out; plus there are *lots* of Viragos from the year. And that’s just scratching the surface!

Two of my battered but beloved old Agatha books

Two of my battered but beloved old Agatha books

Personally, I’m toying with Michael Arlen’s “The Green Hat”, a classic Bright-Young-Things novel; and I’d like to re-read one of the Christies. In fact, when I started looking through the lists, I realised that the first book I ever reviewed on the Ramblings was from 1924 – not the most brilliant of write-ups, but it was my first post!!

So if you want to join in, do put the button on your blog and get reading and researching! We’ll be posting from October 19-31st and we’d love to hear from you! Simon’s introductory post is here for more info – so let’s get reading! 🙂

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