Annus mirabilis seems a most feeble phrase to describe this year of Joyce and Eliot, Chaplin and Keaton, Hemingway and Lawrence, Stravinsky and Hindemith and so many more.
Jackson (The Book of Hours, 2007, etc.) takes us day by day through 1922, noting the two towering bookends: the publications of Ulysses (February 2, a palindromic day—2/2/22) and The Waste Land (in book form, December 15). Along the way, he continually updates us on these two authors, describing the very mixed critical reception of Joyce’s novel and the efforts of Eliot to shape his poem. Jackson also makes clear the significant presence of Ezra Pound, but he follows a host of other stories closely, as well—the early career of Hemingway, the declining health and death of Proust, the emerging talents of Robert Graves, Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Vladimir Nabokov, Dashiell Hammett, Virginia Woolf and many others. The author also inserts some quirky cultural landmarks—e.g., the patenting of Eskimo Pie, the emergence of the word “flapper,” the opening of the Hollywood Bowl, the creation of Qantas Airways—and follows numerous political events: the declining health of Lenin, the rise of Hitler, the power of Mussolini, the end of the Ottoman Empire, the endless troubles in Ireland. Events of great cultural consequence are here: the discovery of the entrance to the tomb of King Tut, the premiere of Nanook of the North (the first feature-length documentary film), the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. Jackson’s focus is on the Western world, and his tone is both convivial and scholarly (detailed footnotes adorn most pages). In a long section called “Aftermath,” the author tells us what happened to his principals.
Astounding events and personalities, all contending for notice on the bright stage of 1922.