The original American Flapper

(from, I couldn’t post a link)

In a 1923 interview Zelda
Fitzgerald told a reporter that
she loved her husband’s
“books and heroines,”
especially the heroines who
were like her. She explained
that she liked girls like
Rosalind Connage, a character in F. Scott
Fitzgerald’s 1920 novel This Side of Paradise,
because she admired “their courage, their
recklessness and spendthriftiness.” She
continues: “Rosalind was the original American

Zelda Fitzgerald dates “the original American
flapper” to three or four years before. Back then,
she states, “[G]irls of their type were pioneers.
They did what they wanted, were unconventional,
perhaps, just because they wanted to for self-expression.” However, as of 1923, girls were
flappers because, according to Zelda, it was “the
thing everyone does.” In this interview, Zelda
charts flappers from pioneering to predictable in
just four years.

When did flapper come to mean the strong,
independent, and sometimes reckless female
heroine both idealized and embodied by Zelda
Fitzgerald, an exhibitionist in her early 20s at the
time of the interview? Flapper entered English in
the 16th century meaning a flat item used for
striking. During the 18th century, flapper first
described a person who flaps something, and also
a young bird learning to fly. It was not until the late
19th century that flapper was used in reference to
a woman.

Though the etymology is unknown, it is thought
that perhaps this is a metaphorical extension of
the “young bird” sense. It also might have come
from a Northern English dialect in which the terms
flap or flappy (now obsolete) were used in
reference to “an immoral woman” or “a prostitute.”
The sense of “a boldly unconventional young
woman” first emerged in English in the late 1800s.
At the time, a flapper was a girl in her late teens,
especially one who puts adventure and excitement
above manners. The term flapper continued to
grown in meaning in the 1920s. By the end of the
decade, it could be used in a similar political
context as the term suffragette. In fact in 1929,
the first UK election in which women were allowed
to vote in was referred to as “the flapper vote” or
“the flapper election.”

Zelda Fitzgerald was a fiery girl in her late teens
when she first met her famous future husband,
though by this time the term flapper had extended
to all young women, even those beyond their
teenage years. In a 1918 note to his soon-to-be
bride, F. Scott Fitzgerald said that the character of
Rosalind Connage in This Side of Paradise
resembled Zelda “in more ways than four.” The
woman who she referred to as “the original
American flapper” was, in fact, based on Zelda
Fitzgerald herself.


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