Background: "The Jazz Age"

As the name suggests, the Jazz Age was an age of new-found music and irrepressible dancing. American culture had become urban after the First World War and standards were set by the New York socialites rather than the Puritan and Protestant rural authorities. Youth Culture had never dominated so much as in the 1920's. Social transformations and a moral revolt ensued; the younger generation revelled in foreign travel, love, food and drunkenness ("immortal drunkenness!" as T. Woolfe praised it, with utter disregard for the consequences). As Carl Van Vechten has comically noted,

"More cocktails and champagne are consumed in the novels of Scott Fitzgerald than a topper like Paul Verlaine could drink in a lifetime... An epic of inebriation beside which [Emile Zola's] Lassommoir fades into Victorian insipidity" (Carl Van Vechten, "Fitzgerald on the March")

It was a culture dedicated to Youth as the adoration of the silent film star Louise Brooks epitomises. No longer confined to the home and tradition, the 'flapper' was considered fast and brazen. This lifestyle symbolised a revolution in fashion and mores, and embodied the modern spirit of the Jazz Age. Brooks' exuberant social life echoed the flamboyant tenor of the times and her social circle included the notable figures that helped define the era - George Gershwin and the writers F.Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Benchley, H. L. Mencken and Anita Loos:

"They're all desperadoes, those kids, all of them with any life in their veins; the girls as well as the boys; maybe more than the boys" (Warner Fabian, Flaming Youth)

We can see an age, like the music, of sultry enjoyment and escape from tradition. Just as jazz music carries with it the character of improvisation, change, and excitement, so the youth of the 1920's attempted to mirror this in its energy and action for the momentary and the random. In Tender is the Night we can see Rosemary, Abe and Mary finishing a 'wild night' by riding along the top of thousands of carrots in a market wagon.

Fitzgerald said, "America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history and there was going to be plenty to tell about it". The ethic of the country had changed after the war, foresight was neglected in favour of fashion, and investments were abandoned in favour of luxuries. Instead of being exhorted to save money it was all buy, buy, buy. As we can see in Tender is the Night and the lifestyle of the Divers and their elite circle luxury, glamorous beach life and all its accessories, travel and shopping sprees become the order and the manners of the day. The spirit of the age, as Malcolm Cowley points out in "The Romance of Money", was dominated by conspicuous earning and spending instead of conspicuous accumulation. A man measured his success, failure or virtue in economical and pecuniary terms.

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