Readers' reactions to this extended critical study of the immortalizer of the flapper will vary according to how seriously...

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JOHN HELD, JR.: Illustrator of the Jazz Age

Readers' reactions to this extended critical study of the immortalizer of the flapper will vary according to how seriously they take the work of cartoonists and illustrators. Armitage (English/West Texas State U.) takes it--at least as represented by the paintings and sketches of John Held, Jr.--very seriously indeed. Some may be convinced by her comparisons of Held's artwork to that of Marcel Duchamp, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and Charles Demuth; Others will find her enthusiasm misplaced. Armitage also attempts to show that, rather than being a mere lighthearted chronicler of the 20's and 30's, Held, in the novels and short stories he undertook when his art career faltered, was a social critic comparable to F. Scott Fitzgerald and H.L. Mencken and with a dark vision in the tradition of Hawthorne and Melville. These are daring theses, but unfortunately ones that Armitage isn't able to validate. Incidental themes include ""Held as representative of the frontier in the sophisticated world of between-the-wars New York""; ""Held as delineator of ""The New Woman'""; ""Held as ironist and quasi-Cubist/Futurist/ Social Realist."" Attempting too much, Armitage fails to achieve even one of her goals. Moreover, in an apparent effort to add weight to her arguments, she falls back on the academic style marked by a tangle of art-history catch-phrases, singularly complex sentence structures, repetitiousness, and a syntax of Stygian obscurity. Of Held's experimentation with design and color, Armitage writes, for example: ""These techniques Held most cleverly utilized to balance the figurative and realistic elements of the cartoon, managing to fix the flapper in a historical context yet extrapolate an overarching symbolic essence or attitude."" What could have been an impressive, if highly controversial, revisionist study becomes, for want of supporting documentation, merely eccentric.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1987

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Syracuse Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987