Treasure Hunting in the Public Domain: Scribner’s Magazine on “The Day of the Motor”

The February 1913 issue of Scribner’s Magazine had a special theme: The Day of the Motor. Along with articles on driving the Pyrenees Route and the mission of the automobile, it includes two very different gems of magazine writing.

The first is a compelling account of “Discovering America by Motor” written by Ralph D. Paine. The author and a companion tour New Hampshire (which he deems “not as backwards as is supposed”) in a car with only 3 of its 4 cylinders working. They encounter various other motor tourists on the way, and Paine contemplates the new freedoms that motor travel has opened up:

The man behind the steering-wheel has become the lord of distances. His horizon has immeasurably widened, the highway is made panoramic and belongs to him, and the satisfaction of living has sensibly increased.

The article is accompanied by grainy photos of automobile tourists all over the country, like the one above. Mostly, though, I was struck by how consistently readable the piece was, like a Longreads article from days of yore.

The second notable piece is “Steam-Coach Days” by Theodore M. R. von Kéler, a weird and wonderful speculation piece that seems straight out of a steampunk novel of this decade. He argues that the idea of a steam-powered engine in a coach-like vehicle has been around since the ancient Egyptians (!):

It is difficult—in fact, almost impossible—now to fix upon the exact year in which the idea of a coach propelled by steam first took shape in the human brain. The most recent discoveries during archaeological investigations and excavations in Egypt and other sections of northern Africa have tended to show that a steampropelled carriage of ingenious construction was, if not actually used, at least built in model form by one of the old Egyptians.

But even better than this wild tidbit are the whimsical drawings depicting steam coaches of all manner and style (all of which apparently actually existed):

Twelve years of Scribner’s Magazine has been made available online for free through the Modernist Journals Project. Further issues are available through Google Books. (I’m kind of obsessed.)

Research round-up no. 3: Wharton in the Jazz Age

Edith Wharton with Bernard Berenson.

 I wrote a chapter!  It’s off with my advisor right now, but I did get some good feedback from my thesis reading group last night.  As such, I haven’t actually spent a lot of time this week researching.  Still, I do have a few things to share.

One song

Charles Ives composed this piece in 1906, and it has since been called “the first radical musical work of the twentieth century.”

The piece evokes an evening comparing sounds from nearby nightclubs in Manhattan (playing the popular music of the day, ragtime, quoting “Hello! Ma Baby” and even Sousa’s “Washington Post March“) with the mysterious dark and misty qualities of the Central Park woods (played by the strings). The string harmony uses shifting chord structures that are not solely based on thirds but a combination of thirds, fourths, and fifths. Near the end of the piece the remainder of the orchestra builds up to a grand chaos ending on a dissonant chord, leaving the string section to end the piece save for a brief violin duo superimposed over the unusual chord structures. (via Wikipedia)

I wish I had though to listen to this while I was writing!  I’ve yet to see any evidence that Wharton listened to Ives’s music, but much of his work is directly inspired by locales where Wharton also spent time.

Two links

Brown University and the University of Tulsa have partnered to digitize a huge catalog of modernist journals and magazines dating from 1890 to 1922.  The list includes wonderful things like The Little Review (which initially serialized Joyce’s Ulysses), PoetryBlast, and many, many more.  The preservation scans have also been made into PDFs and are available to download for free.  You can load up your e-reader or harddrive with free early 20th century poetry and fiction goodness, in its original context.  I got really excited because the project includes Scribner’s Magazine, where Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country was serialized in 1913.  (I used the materials to make a case about the narrative gaps and elisions in the novel, most of which do not fall between the serial breaks.)

As it’s relevant to both Wharton’s novel The Mother’s Recompense (which I’m still finishing) and my next chapter subject, Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, I was fascinated to see this Burton Holmes film about mid-town Manhattan in the 1920s.

Three lines

Anne had left her, and Mrs. Clephane, alone in her window, looked down on the new Fifth Avenue.  As it surged past, a huge lava-flow of interlaced traffic, her tired bewildered eyes seemed to see the buildings move with the vehicles, as a stationary train appears to move to travellers on another line.  She fancied that presently even little Washington Square Arch would trot by, heading the tide of sky-scrapers from the lower reaches of the city…

— Edith Wharton, The Mother’s Recompense (1925)

Further adventures

For a random assortment of photos, quotes, video, and other items tangentially related to my thesis, check out nonmodernist on tumblr.

And as always, you can follow all my grad school adventures in real-time via the “grad school is forever” tag on tumblr.