Sunday, October 3, 2010

How to Get Rid of a Woman

This will be my last post as a bachelor! (Sort of...I haven’t really been a bachelor in six years -- but now it will be legal.) To commemorate this momentous occasion, this week’s post features a book from my collection that I will no longer need to read.

The full title of this flapper-era novel is How to Get Rid of a Woman: Being an Intimate Record of the Remarkable Love-Affairs of Wilton Olmstedd, Esq., Man of the World and Student of Life, Together with His Revealing Impressions of Women and His Amazing Discoveries Concerning the Sex. The book was written by New York-born writer and journalist Edward Anthony (1895-1971), who spent much of his later life in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Anthony’s early career was spent as a journalist for several newspapers, including the New York Herald from 1920-23, and as a writer on the staff of some magazines (including the humor magazine Judge); in 1928, Anthony joined Hoover’s campaign for president, serving as his press director for the east coast. He is probably best known, however, as the co-writer of actor and game hunter Frank Buck’s first two books, Wild Cargo (1932) and Bring ’Em Back Alive (1930). Later, Anthony served as publisher for Woman’s Home Companion (1942-52) and Collier’s (1949-54), and he wrote an autobiography that was published in 1960.

How to Get Rid of a Woman was published in only one edition in 1928, by The Bobbs-Merrill Company of Indianapolis. It was machine-printed by the book manufacturing abd binding firm of Braunworth & Company, Inc. in Brooklyn, New York. No subsequent edition was published; the book is not terribly uncommon and is valued at around $25.

After an unpaginated flyleaf, the contents run [1]-[319], followed by a final blank fly at the back. At the start of each of the twenty-two chapters there is a black-and-white drawing by Mexican caricature artist George de Zayas (1898-1967), whose comically elongated figures gained fame as symbols of the sleek style of the Jazz Age and were to be found in the pages of publications such as Collier’s and Harper’s. Occasionally, a black silhouette illustration appears at the end of a chapter as well. The image on the title page shows Olmstedd, in a tux, standing haughtily over an audience of women who stare at him while he pontificates smarmily.

In the Foreword, Anthony provides a fictional account of how his book came to be. On the title page he is credited simply as the “editor” of the “Olmstedd’s” narrative, and in the Foreword he explains this further by inventing a story about meeting the character of Wilton Olmstedd; after an engaging discussion over dinner about “some of his remarkable experience with women”, Anthony proposes collaborating on a book with the lothario (much as Anthony had actually collaborated on Buck’s books around the same time). “Many a man has had a busy love-life,” Anthony tells Olmstedd, “Who besides you, however, has discovered how to dispose of a woman?”

The rather fully-written titles of the book’s chapters provide a complete plot summary of the episodic narrative (see photos below).

In short, our Don Juan of the Roaring ’20s moves rapidly and rather callously through a series of short-lived affairs, through which he develops a pseudo-philosophy on both how to get out of a relationship and the benefits of doing so. He concludes his “memoir” with ebullience at the termination of one particularly long-running liaison:

How wonderful it is to be free! How grateful I am for my lack of fetters! It is a “grand and glorious” feeling. Nothing gives me quite so complete a sense of well being. Nothing is a better guarantee of a calm and peaceful life.

Glancing through the book, and looking at the chapter titles especially, there is a distinct sense of mockery in how Olmstedd is portrayed. On the surface, he is carefree, cheerful, and self-satisfied; but the shadows of the book convey a darker, more satiric view of the character: he is hedonistic, shallow, misogynistic, condescending, perpetually unsatisfied, and oblivious. Indeed, from the very first self-lauding line of the book, one cannot help but loath Wilton Olmstedd, Esq.: “Why am I so popular with the ladies?”

The book is bound in yellow cloth with a Zayas portrait of Olmstedd’s head inside a heart on the cover. My copy has suffered some bad water damage to the cover; though the binding and hinges are intact (though loose), it is quite discolored along the bottom. As is usual with fiction, there is no marginalia, though one page is dog-eared and the rest have the usual wear, water-stains, and wrinkling of use (though no damage obscures the text). On the recto of the front flyleaf there are some pencil inscriptions in an imprecise cursive hand; they seem to be names (“l a gardiner” and “Raymond Maris”?). On the verso of the back flyleaf, there is some more evidence, however, about past use. Beside some pencil squiggles (mostly numbers) and the book’s title in blue pen, there is a library stamp and then a long column of check-out stamps. The library stamp reads:

Rental Library

Meekins, Packard & Wheat Book Shop

Conducted by

Doubleday, Doran Book Shops

Springfield, Mass.

Meekins, Packard, and Wheat was a monumental and highly successful department store located at 43 Hillman Street in the city of Springfield in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. As with most department stores of the time, the firm ran a paid rental library as part of the business; evidently they contracted publisher Doubleday & Doran to run the shop. According to the date stamps, How to Get Rid of a Woman was checked out twenty-two times between August 1 and December 15, 1928 (the registration for the copyright on the book is also dated August 1, 1928, so the copy at the rental library was brand new when it was checked out; Anthony renewed his copyright on September 2, 1955, shortly after his retirement from Collier’s, but not second edition was issued). Interestingly, the duration of time between some stamps is only one day, indicating that whoever was reading the book managed to get through it all overnight in some cases.

What happened after December 15, 1928 is a mystery; perhaps the book was returned and simply sat idle on the shelf, a relic of a happier time that few cared to think on following the chaos of 1929. Perhaps the store management decided that the title had gone stale by mid-December and pulled it from the shelves to make space for the new holiday stock (only one person checked it out in all of November, and only three in December). Or (more likely, I think) perhaps the person who was supposed to return the book on December 15 simply did not, and the book was effectively stolen from the Meekins, Packard, and Wheat rental library.

As with most library books -- whether in private, public, or rental libraries -- the dust-jacket was removed from my copy of How to Get Rid of a Woman before it was put out for circulation. However, two pieces of it were cut out and retained by being pasted inside the front cover and on the recto of the front flyleaf. The piece on the flyleaf is a colored Zayas illustration of Olmstedd looking rather sly as a group of gawking women’s heads poke in from the edges. The piece inside the front cover offers up some unique (and completely fabricated) “testimonials” about the book.

As a final note, Tarquin Tar will be taking a break next weekend as I’ll be off to celebrate my nuptials with a brief vacation in Maine. See you in two weeks and -- as I will be ignoring the advice of Mr. Olmstedd, Esq. -- at that point I’ll be a married man!

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