louise-brooksThe front cover of my edition of F Scott Fitzgerald’s Bernice Bobs Her Hair says it all. It consists of the iconic black and white photo of silent film star Louise Brooks, taken by Eugene Richee around 1927, in which she stands in profile, raising up a long string of pearls, clad in black, with her black, helmet-like bobbed hair. Nell Darby reports on her litearary style inspiration.

Bernice Bobs Her Hair, a short story, by the author of The Great Gatsby, was first published in 1920, and heralds the start of the flapper decade. It is based on letters that the author sent to his little sister, Annabel, telling her how to be more attractive to men. The plot turns on the relationship between fashionable society girl Marjorie and her awkward cousin Bernice.

Bernice and Marjorie represent, in some ways, the old versus new American society – represented in their attitudes to life, fashion, and men. Marjorie attempts to turn Bernice into a society girl, showing her how to talk to men and flirt with them. Bernice then makes men interested in her by telling them that she intends to get her hair bobbed. The men are intrigued by the possibility of this girl getting such a modern hairstyle, even though Bernice has no intention of cutting her hair off.

Marjorie gets jealous of the attention that Bernice is getting, and tricks her into really getting her hair bobbed. It looks wrong, doesn’t suit Bernice, and she isn’t comfortable with herself. The boys lose interest in her – more for her obvious discomfort than for the hair itself.

The book illustrates the change from stiff, Edwardian and ‘teen society to the liberated Twenties. Bernice and Marjorie are stuck between two worlds; even Marjorie, who is seen as fashionable, has long hair still, a la Mary Pickford. The bobbed haircut was seen as avant garde, worn only by suspiciously liberated women, and thus frightening to the older generation.

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One Response

  1. Emma Louise

    Love this story. I’m a huge Fitzgerald fan and this is one of my favourites.
    I’ve been toying with the idea of bobbing my hair recently but don’t quite have the guts…