Living Up to the Ads

Gender Fictions of the 1920s

Living Up to the Ads

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 14 b&w photographs Published: March 2000

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

In Living Up to the Ads Simone Weil Davis examines commodity culture’s impact on popular notions of gender and identity during the 1920s. Arguing that the newly ascendant advertising industry introduced three new metaphors for personhood—the ad man, the female consumer, and the often female advertising model or spokesperson—Davis traces the emergence of the pervasive gendering of American consumerism.
Materials from advertising firms—including memos, manuals, meeting minutes, and newsletters—are considered alongside the fiction of Sinclair Lewis, Nella Larsen, Bruce Barton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Zelda Fitzgerald. Davis engages such books as Babbitt, Quicksand, and Save Me the Waltz in original and imaginative ways, asking each to participate in her discussion of commodity culture, gender, and identity. To illuminate the subjective, day-to-day experiences of 1920s consumerism in the United States, Davis juxtaposes print ads and industry manuals with works of fiction. Capturing the maverick voices of some of the decade’s most influential advertisers and writers, Davis reveals the lines that were drawn between truths and lies, seduction and selling, white and black, and men and women.
Davis’s methodology challenges disciplinary borders by employing historical, sociological, and literary practices to discuss the enduring links between commodity culture, gender, and identity construction. Living Up to the Ads will appeal to students and scholars of advertising, American studies, women’s studies, cultural studies, and early-twentieth-century American history.


Living up to the Ads is an informative analysis . . . . [T]he book displays an entirely realistic approach t. . . . [C]onvincing insights into gender roles toward a stronger engagement with the ad-world’s actual media, visual or otherwise.” — Janet Ward , Modernism/Modernity

“Davis’s essays are arranged like a well-wrought ‘string of pearls,’ each chapter a complex study of literary, cultural, and advertising signifiers—and their interplay. Writing with erudition and imagination, Davis pens memorable tropes. . . .” — Marsha Cassidy , symploke

"[C]hallenging and ambitious. . . .[Davis's] work exemplifies today's cultural studies at its best. . . . In what is surely the most sophisticated,thorough, and sympathetic reading of Save Me the Waltz to date,Davis insists that Fitzgerald self-consciously brought the tenets of surrealism to bear on the plight of the all-American girl condemned to live the dream-like life of a vehicle while yearning to produce something transcendental." — Michael Nowlin , Studies in the Novel

"[T]he chapter in which Davis reads . . . agency archives, as well as the manuals and memoirs of Dorothy Dignam, Helen Woodward, Ruth Waldo, and Christine Frederick, co-founder of the League of Advertising Women . . . is rich and illuminating. . . . These figures simultaneously speak as women and analysts of women, as females and professionals, as feminine and masculine. That is, they walk the same tightrope negotiated by women in journalism, publishing, public relations, and filmmaking."
— Linda Steiner , Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly

"The Jazz Age coincided with the dawn of the Age of Advertising and Simone Weil Davis's study of the intersection between commerce and culture provides a provocative look at the results of that phenomenon." — Gretchen A. Adams , Journal of Women's History

“A strikingly thoughtful study of a crucible period in American cultural and literary history. Bristling with intelligence, highly engaged, and critically informed, Living Up to the Ads investigates the shifting nature of selfhood as commodity capitalism and public relations converge on the subject.” — Jennifer Wicke, author of Advertising Fictions: Literature, Advertisement, and Social Reading

“A very stimulating book. Davis explores the complexity of the relations between advertising and personal identity, and between advertising and literature, with a lively, sharp, idiosyncratic style.” — Rachel Bowlby, author of Shopping with Freud

“Davis offers a new and provocative perspective on a cultural shift that, even in the 1920s, was marked as much by its subtle presence in fiction as it was by its heavy-handed presence in print media. This book will contribute a great deal to interdisciplinary studies of commodity culture.” — Jennifer Scanlon, author of Inarticulate Longings: “The Ladies’ Home Journal,” Gender, and the Promises of Consumer Culture


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Simone Weil Davis is Assistant Professor of English at Long Island University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Doubled Truth: Uplift and the Bottom Line 22

Chapter 2 The Pep Pardigm: Masculinity, Influence, and SHame in Babbitt and The Man Nobody Knows 46

Chapter 3 "Complex Little Femmes": Adwomen and the Female Consumer 80

Chapter 4 "Lending an Air of Importance": Vehicles at Work 105

Chapter 5 In the Tutu or out the Window: Zelda Fitzgerald aand the Possibility of Escape 142

Epilogue 186

Notes 191

Bibliography 227

Index 243
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2446-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2411-9
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