Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: A Critical Edition

Editor's Introduction

[Note: This is an initial, unfinished draft of the introduction for the beta release of the site. It will be revised and expanded for final publication, and feedback on this or other parts of the edition are welcome using the comment feature in the right sidebar (readers will need to create a account to comment).]

Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925) was wildly popular upon its publication, including among a wide range of literary figures such as Edith Wharton and William Faulkner, and its success quickly led to a sequel and adaptation for the stage and silent screen. However, until the current century the novel was rarely noticed in literary studies, and for those who do not study literature it is still the case that the 1954 film musical adaptation featuring Marilyn Monroe is more likely to come to mind if you mention the title than its fictional predecessor. It has, however, remained persistently in print, with the popular edition from Penguin serving as the primary point of reference for students and researchers in recent decades as it has attracted additional critical focus.
     Indeed, scholars have cited the Penguin edition, or the Boni & Liveright edition of 1925 that serves as the basis of the Penguin text, as the source for their work even when talking about the monthly serialized magazine edition in Harper's Bazar and discussing related visual features such as advertisements and layout. In discussing the novel’s many adaptations, scholar Bethany Wood suggests the attitude that seems assumed by scholars in general when she writes in a footnote, “Although Loos made minor edits to the text, the novel closely mirrors the serial.” Scholars have assumed essential continuity between the two texts, and I include in this group myself in published writing now over a decade old. Even beginning this edition, I originally anticipated more than anything else to focus on the difference in visual impact made by the transition between the magazine and book formats for an illustrated novel. This emphasis remains in the section on “Visual Variants.” However, if one thesis of this edition is that the change in format and resulting changes to the layout and appearance of the illustrations matters for the aesthetics of the novel, a second thesis is simply this: scholars have been wrong to assume essential continuity between the texts of the two published editions.
     This critical edition of Blondes seeks to reveal these variants, but additionally it offers the opportunity to provide other kinds of apparatus to understand the historical context of the novel’s production and consumption. Loos fills Blondes with cultural references from film, literature, the publishing industry, fashion, and popular news items. Many of these references remain current—most readers will recognize Joseph Conrad and Sigmund Freud—but other references will remain opaque to current readers. Sometimes Loos provides enough context to get the gist: when Lorelei arrives at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, she is delighted to “sit there and look at the Dolly sisters and Pearl White and Maybelle Gilman Corey, and Mrs. Nash….Because when a girl looks at Mrs. Nash and realizes what Mrs. Nash has got out of gentlemen, it really makes a girl hold her breath.” Readers might not know who these people are, and may or may not intuit that they are real life reference points, but Loos tells us enough to let us know they are other “gold diggers” whom Lorelei sees as aspirational peers. By contrast, when Lorelei and Dorothy later meet someone named Count Salm in Vienna, readers don’t get much to go on besides the fact the Lorelei doesn’t want her suitor’s mother to see her with him. We barely get enough to know he has a bad reputation, but it is hard to tell why. But readers in 1925 would have recognized him easily from coverage in newspapers across the nation as an unmoneyed European aristocrat and tennis star who had eloped with an American heiress, whose father then came and collected her from Europe to take her back home. This bit of information is essential to understanding that Lorelei is talking with yet another of her kind – but also because Count Salm, as the lone male fortune hunter of the novel, has a potential to complicate the gender dynamics of gold digging for which the novel is well known.
     As part of the annotations explaining these references, I have included digital copies of documents contemporary to the novel that provide further context, typically from the increasingly rich depositories of cultural content available through sources such as Chronicling America, HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, and various distinct library and museum digital collections. The ability to include these without reference to the cost of print reproduction is one benefit of the fact that this is also a digital edition: while text annotations can fill you in on the basic facts of the references, seeing examples of how historical references were discussed in the news and portrayed in photographs in the moment of the novel’s distribution gives texture that is important to thinking through the impact of those references on audiences.

Selection of Textual Sources

The text and illustrations of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes presented in this edition draws from two 1925 published versions: the original monthly serial publication in Harper’s Bazar between March and August 1925, and revision of the text that appeared in the Boni & Liveright book edition in November 1925. The Boni & Liveright edition, which serves as the basis of the text and illustrations of current popular reading editions, was reprinted numerous times, including by publisher Grosset & Dunlap, which focused on reprints as well as series titles, often directed towards children. The book was also translated into numerous languages and republished outside the United States. In her memoir A Cast of Thousands, Loos claimed that an edition without Barton’s illustrations was published by Tauchnitz (a German publisher of English-language titles) as well, although as of the publication of the beta version of this digital edition I have not yet verified this (however, the record for the Tauchnitz edition of 1926 listed in WorldCat does not list illustrations as catalog records for other editions do, so it appears to be correct). While these republications will be discussed along with other derivatives such as the theater and film versions of Blondes in a forthcoming section on production and reception of the novel, they are not reproduced here as significant variants. This edition, then, primarily explores the extent to which the move from the magazine context to a book resulted in notable variations scholars might attend to in their analyses.
     To date, scholars have also not explored manuscript versions of Blondes. While they are not the focus of this project, there is one manuscript that may shed light on the book’s production and resolve some questions about textual variations suggested in my discussion. Loos’s account of the book was consistent in describing writing the first chapter on a legal pad on a train ride, and the Morgan Library & Museum appears to have this document (and possibly further chapters) in its collection, in a manuscript described as “Written with extensive revisions, on the rectos and versos of 96 leaves.” The COVID pandemic prevented travel to see this manuscript in person, but I hope to be able to provide some clearer account of this manuscript in the final version of this edition to give readers a sense of what they might find there for further study.

Editing the Textual Elements of Blondes

This edition includes a reading copy of the novel alongside two views of the textual variants between the 1925 magazine and book editions of the novel. The text of the Boni & Liveright edition rather than the magazine has served as the basis of popular editions since that time, and I have followed that tradition in producing the reading copy in this digital edition. I have not attempted to produce a “corrected” text in the reading edition, although readers who examine the variants may begin to see some errors that it is unlikely Loos or her publishers intended. For example, while Loos (or an editor) adjusted some of the misspellings in the novel for the book—adding some, removing others—occasionally a misspelling is introduced that is inconsistent with other instances of the word in the text. For example, the otherwise consistent “Lady Francis Beekman” is spelled “Lady Francis Beeckman” in the April 29 entry of Chapter 4 where her name is used in the book in place of the magazine’s “she.” Lorelei is usually correct in being “surprised”, but in the magazine she is twice “surprized,” with one but not both instances corrected for the book. In the magazine Lorelei inconsistently misspells “instead” as “insted,” but the misspellings are removed in all but one case in the book. A reader could reasonably assume that these were intended to be consistent in the book and that the outlier from a particular pattern is an editorial oversight or an error of typesetting. However, the centrality of misspelling and other errors to the novel’s vernacular style makes correction a slippery task, and it would be too easy for corrections to slide into interpretations with more consequence. As a result, I have sought to reproduce the text exactly as it appeared in the Boni & Liveright edition.
     For the same reason, the two views of textual variants track all changes in capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and spacing (primarily paragraph break changes) between the two editions, rejecting the idea that any could be considered inconsequential. Since language normalization and deviance themselves are at stake in the text, treating any variants as inconsequential for the purposes of a critical apparatus risks suppressing evidence of how Loos and her publisher negotiated the presentation of vernacular humor to the reading public. Some misspellings are removed: “bolshivicks” is normalized to “bolsheviks” (but not corrected in capitalization), and she correctly refers to a “jail cell” instead of a “jail sell.” Others errors were inconsistently fixed or in other cases introduced. These changes suggest Loos and her publishers had an eye to specifying gaps in Lorelei’s linguistic education, but that even they had trouble keeping them straight, and the tracked variants enable more precise investigation of linguistic elements in Blondes.
     The tracked textual variants also invite questions of what edits may have been Loos’s intent versus the intrusion of Boni & Liveright editors. To my knowledge, no marked up intermediary manuscript between the two editions exists that might distinguish who made what interventions. While many changes such as new, deleted, and rearranged passages might be reasonably presumed to have been Loos’s decision, or at least to have been approved by her, smaller edits seem less clear. And other edits might more likely be a consequence of Boni & Liveright interventions. For example, in the magazine when Lorelei quotes someone else’s speech, it flows freely with her own, but the Boni & Liveright text introduces quotation marks and normalizes capitalization and comma usage at the boundaries where that speech meets Lorelei’s. This change, as well as the addition of numerous commas throughout the text, has the consequence of making the Boni & Liveright text further from the stream-of-discourse style that otherwise governs Lorelei’s diary writing, and makes Lorelei more aware of the boundaries between her own thoughts and the expression of others. In the magazine the lack of typical quotation style subsumes everyone else’s voices to Lorelei’s, and the much less frequent use of commas makes her more of a rambler.
     As the above comments suggest, the changes to the text of the novel between its original published editions are more consequential than critics have allowed, to the extent they have considered the question at all. The numerous edits at the word and phrase level and to punctuation have a major cumulative effect on the reading experience. Critics looking to see ties between Loos’s novel and modernist experimentation with stream-of-consciousness might find more connections in the magazine text, an ironic state of affairs given Boni & Liveright’s reputation as the publisher of modernist classics as opposed to Harper’s Bazar’s more aesthetically conservative reputation.
     In addition to these smaller edits, Loos made more substantive revisions to the content, particularly to the first chapter, which she wrote before Henry Sell at Harper’s Bazar suggested she create further installments to take Lorelei on the trip projected at the end of chapter one. A new paragraph leading Lorelei’s second diary entry provides a clearer introduction to Lord Cooksleigh as well as a dispute between Lorelei and Dorothy over how to refer to men in public. Another new passage introduces intellectual beau Gerry’s professed interest in only Lorelei’s soul instead of expensive adornments she might wear. Later in the chapter, Loos removes an offer for Lorelei to return to Hollywood, which she rejects. Loos also adjusts her cultural references. In a novel full of allusions to contemporary people in the news even after revision, Lorelei’s birthday party is updated to include less name dropping and refers more to the cultural functions of the attendees, perhaps reflecting a concern that the particular names would be lost on readers. Two major passages are added to Chapter 5 expanding Loos’s satire of German dining and Christian Scientists (and religious prohibitions in general). And numerous jokes are refined, added, or deleted throughout the novel. The final chapter has relatively few edits, but even there several jokes are deleted.

Editing the Visual Elements of Blondes

Scholarship on Blondes, while not ignoring Barton’s illustrations entirely, has generally emphasized the linguistic elements of Loos’s text and the general significance of its placement in a women’s fashion magazine—“lost among the ads” as Loos’s mentor H.L. Mencken advised. Moreover, when the critics have attended to the illustrations and their relation to the text, the language often implies Loos had significant responsibility for these factors. However, in creating an edition of Loos’s novel, the relation between text and image, and the significant impact of arrangement in the context of magazine pages with all their contents versus a bound book, demand much more attention. While Loos and Barton worked together on the novel, the inclusion of the illustrations was not necessarily her choosing and she had an ambivalent relationship to them. In A Cast of Thousands, Loos breaks from her usual friendly references to Barton to dismiss the significance of the illustrations to the success of the novel, pointing to the success of the unillustrated German edition by Tauchnitz as evidence. Moreover, the actual construction of the pages of Harper’s Bazar and the Boni & Liveright editions were not in either of their control (they were in fact traveling Europe while several of the magazine issues were produced in New York).
     Indeed, one of the most significant changes between the two editions of Blondes is the relationship of Barton’s illustrations to Loos’s text. In Harper’s Bazaar, Barton’s illustrations appear all clustered above and around the title on the two-page opening spread that began each installment. This arrangement allows for a standardized magazine reading format where the beginning of a long feature text—be it fiction or non-fiction—appears in a couple of pages up front where the feature takes up most of the space without the intrusion of advertising, with the rest of the text pushed to the end of the magazine issue, much more “lost among the ads,” to be found by a reader following a cue to turn to a particular page. The only exception is the final magazine illustration, which appears after the end of the reading text of Chapter 6 and is also uniquely uncaptioned. In the Boni & Liveright edition that has become the basis of the popular reading editions that have been available in recent decades, this relation of image to text is upended, with each illustration appearing near the text that it illustrates. Illustrations thus are more evenly spaced through each chapter, and made sequential when they were not previously.
     This decision may seem trivial, but it has a key impact on the reading experience. In the magazine, the illustrations are previews of moments the reader will find in the text, which they might choose to refer back to as they turn the pages of the magazine—or not. We might say they are spoilers—or, keeping with Loos’s prominence in the film industry, trailers—for the text to come. Alongside the text in the format of the book, the illustrations instead punctuate the jokes, more insistently demanding a role in the interpretation of the text and shaping perspective of the reader on the events with a different lens on events than the perspective given by Lorelei.
     This edition also reveals a second different key difference in the illustrations in the magazine and book versions of Blondes: the strikingly inferior reproduction of the images in the book, beginning with the Boni & Liveright edition and continuing through the current most popular reading edition available from Penguin that reproduces the Boni & Liveright approach. While one can easily respect the fact that the sizes of many illustrations had to change for the smaller format of the book, the Boni & Liveright reproductions and those in more recent reading copies significantly changed the shading of the black and white images, darkening them sometimes lightly, and in some cases nearly beyond intelligibility (see for example, Lorelei on the deck of the boat in the moonlight). In almost all cases the images lost details that are clearer in the original Harper’s Bazar publication, whether obscured by the darker shading or lost through some other factor in the reproduction for Boni & Liveright.
     The representation of one image in the Boni & Liveright and subsequent popular editions is inferior in a different way entirely: it does not appear in them at all. This image is the final uncaptioned illustration that appeared in the magazine, entirely after the text and even after “The End.” This illustration has received no attention that I have identified, either in criticism or in accounts of the text’s production. As such, the reasons for its absence are unclear, but there are three plausible scenarios. The first possibility, which I consider more likely and have assumed in producing the reading copy of the current edition, is that the image was simply forgotten and excluded unintentionally. All other images were placed at the start of each chapter, and it seems very likely that when someone created an inventory of them to reproduce for the Boni & Liveright edition, they simply did not look beyond the opening two-page spread of Chapter 6.
     The other two possibilities are more intentional on the part of Loos, her publisher, or both. It may, for example, have been difficult to move the final illustration alongside a particular piece of text to punctuate as happened with the other illustrations. The final illustration has no caption aligning it with particular text, and it portrays a scene that is not really described in any way: a group of men, presumably including Lorelei’s new husband whom she has convinced to get into the film industry, watching a movie with an actress on screen. Nonetheless, moving the image alongside text would have been possible, for example alongside Lorelei’s statement, leading the penultimate paragraph, “So Henry says that I have opened up a whole new world for him and he has never been so happy in his life.” Otherwise, it is possible the final image was intentionally left out in order to center Loos’s text by allowing it to end the novel. While originally Henry Sell acquired Loos’s serial (and encouraged her to continue it beyond the first chapter) as material for Barton to illustrate under his contract with Harper’s Bazar, by the end of the magazine and the publication of the Boni & Liveright edition, Loos and her text had become the focus of the novel’s acclaim. To end by giving the final impression on readers to a Barton illustration might not have sat well with Loos, her publisher, or both. And these two possibilities could have reinforced one another as well.
     Readers taking a cue from discussions of critical editing may find that the most assertive editorial decision I have made in presenting the reading copy of Blondes in this edition is to use digitized copies of the magazine images, including the final image, instead of the Boni & Liveright images despite using the Boni & Liveright version of the text (including the Boni & Liveright captions when the captions varied). For some schools of editorial thought, this results in an “edition that never existed.” Even the different shading and loss of detail, while perhaps lamentable, would in this view be worth keeping with their text because those differences might provoke different responses for audiences. While the idea of effect on audiences may carry some truth, though, it ultimately seems indefensible to me to use the lower quality reproductions of the Boni & Liveright edition in the decision to create a new reading copy. Those scholars interested in the original shading are likely to have equal interest in other visual aesthetic aspects of the Boni & Liveright production and thus will do better to confer with the pdf copy of that edition included in the supplements to this edition in any case. The inclusion of the final image is a harder decision, but ultimately I find the possibility that its exclusion was unintentional to be the most plausible explanation barring any historical evidence that it was at the direction of Loos, Barton, or someone at the publisher.

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