Yesterday, I taught my first F. Scott Fitzgerald & The Roaring Twenties class at the University of Richmond’s, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Our class, of over fifty students, had a lively discussion on how the drastic cultural changes of the 1920’s could be observed through F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories and classic novel, The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald had accurately predicted that “America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history, and that there was going to be plenty to tell about it.” In this class, we considered the significance of the music, art, literature, and culture in the American ‘Jazz Age.‘ We discussed and looked at visuals of the changing fashions, moral values, musical tastes and popularization of American culture through radio, phonograph records, and newspapers. Many of Fitzgerald’s short stories about this period were portrayed in journals. In my next University of Richmond, Osher class, I will discuss Fitzgerald’s short stories of The Offshore Pirate, Winter Dreams, The Jelly Bean, and Bernice Bobs Her Hair. I believe that these stories and The Great Gatsby best reflect the hopes, struggles, excesses, and disillusionment of the 1920’ “Jazz Age.”s. See the picture of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald on the May 1920, Saturday Evening Post Cover below:
One of the fun activities we did in this class was to discuss how even popular language changed in the 1920’s demonstrating the new vitality of the culture. In my last post, I included some phrases and asked readers to see how many 1920’s slang words they could recognize. I was impressed that many of the 50+ students in my class, whose ages were also 50+, could name many of them. Some of these slang meanings were also surprising to all of us – including me! Here is a story I made up using these words, with a translation key at the end:
“Zelda and the Jelly Bean 1920’s Story” (Adapted from Fitzgerald’s, The Jelly Bean by Murray Ellison)
At small tables in the speakeasy, zozzled flappers imbibed jag and foot juice. He thought it was nertz that the drinks required five clams. But, he was hotsy-totsy since he was ‘protecting’ two secret illegal bottles of hard liquor and wine that were given to him to hold while his friend danced with women in handcuffs and manacles. As he discreetly sipped a bit from each bottle, his friend came by and asked if “everything was jake?” With two mouthfuls of liquid, Jim could hardly answer; so he just nodded affirmatively. Besides being newly discharged from the army, he was out on parole. Because he had changed so much during the war, he didn’t know how to talk to the flappers. Most of them thought he was a wet blanket, and he thought that most of the girls were a gimlet. Rarely did anyone talk to, or even notice him during these types of parties.
But, suddenly, one of the ossified flappers got up from her table and approached him.
She proclaimed, “Jellybean, you are the bee’s knees,” as she stole a furtive glance at the shiny golden bottles of nectar that stuck out of his jacket pockets.
“That’s sheer malarkey proclaimed the Jelly Bean. You only want a sip of my jag juice. Get out of my beeswax.”
“Don’t be so Egg, Jim. You are Really the cat’s pajamas.”
“That’s horsefeathers, Zelda,” Jim curtly responded, “And you know it.”
“No,” Zelda cried out, “I think that You are the one and only True Jelly Bean.“
An exasperated Jim shouted, “Go tell it to Sweeney. If you don’t have enough clams to buy jag juice, go buy some foot juice from him.?”
A tearful Zelda blurted out, “Do I really have to shell out some hard-earned zoot to get a drink from you? Most men will give it to me for free. But, You slay me, Jim. You are the only one at this party who starts drinking every time the dancing starts and doesn’t finish until it ends. I have been watching you.”
But before the Jelly Bean could even say, “applesauce,” he upchucked a whole mixed-gallon of the golden nectars all over Zelda’s shiny new flapper dress and shoes!
“Rhatz,” they both proclaimed at the same time!
In the end, the Jelly Bean always gave up everything that a flapper asked for. But this time, he was also the talk of the party!
Slang Key Below:
Applesauce, malarkey, and horse feathers – ridiculous
Out on parole – divorced
Gimlet – chronic bore
Nertz – I am amazed
Bee’s Knees – the best
Cat’s Pajamas – even better than the best
None of your beeswax – none of your business
Clams – dollars
Egg – funny
Everything is jake – everything is okay
Flappers – chic women
Foot juice – cheap wine
Handcuff – engagement ring
Hotsy-totsy – perfect
Manacle – wedding ring
Jag juice – hard liquor
Jelly Beans – boys or boyfriends to flappers
Rhatz! – How disappointing
Speakeasy – place to drink Prohibition liquor
Tell it to Sweeney – tell to someone who will believe you.
Upchuck – throw-up
Wet Blanket – no fun
You slay me – you are hilarious
Zozzled, Ossified – drunk
Dr. Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education from Temple University (1973), a Master’s Degree of Arts in English Literature from Virginia Commonwealth University (2015), and a Doctorate in Education at Virginia Tech (1988). He is married and has three adult daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. He is the founder and chief editor of this literary blog and is an editor for the International Correctional Education Journal. He is Co-Editor of the 2017 Poetry Book, Mystic Verses by Shambhushivananda. He also serves as a board member, volunteer tour guide, and the Facilities Planning Committee Coordinator at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, VA, and writes a monthly column for the Museum website, thepoeblog.org. He has taught literature classes on Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, and F.Scott Fitzgerald (thus far) at the OSHER Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Richmond. He is the organizer and Coördinator of The First Fridays Classic Book Club, and is the co-organizer, along with Rebecca Elizabeth Jones, of the VCU Working Titles Book Club. Contact Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a Comment at the bottom of any post.