Williams, Jesse Lynch (1871-1929) by Latham, Sean

Jesse Lynch Williams Among the authors writing for in the years before the First World War, stands out as a vocal critic of marriage and zealous proponent of women’s rights. A skilled satirist, his brightly written stories mix tales of romance and disappointment with a keen sense of humor running counter to the magazine’s often socially conservative editorial content. Yet, the fascination in his writing with romance, increasing sense sexual freedom, and the slow decay of the nineteenth century’s stultifying conventions are perfectly at home among the magazine’s often striking advertisements for phonograph records and cigarettes. These vivid images often capture moments of public romance, depicting couples dancing and flirting in pastoral and even urban settings, all clearly removed from a domestic space that sometimes distantly appears in a vanishing background. The stories Williams pens for , in fact, often seem to provide narratives for these advertisements, activating their comic potential while attempting to sort out new kinds of social and erotic possibility. Scribner’s Magazine Jesse Lynch Williams Scribner’s Williams was born in Stirling, Illinois in 1871 and attended Princeton University, taking a BA in 1892 and an AM three years later. During his college years he began his career as a writer, publishing an immensely popular collection with Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1895 entitled . These comic (if now somewhat dated) tales of college life eschew the already tired figure of the sports hero to focus instead on the more regular lives of undergraduates. He continued to write in this same vein, publishing collections like and . He founded and edited the and worked as a journalist in New York for papers like , , and . Drawing on these experiences, he published a wildly popular book called . , himself one of Scribner’s most popular writers, called the collection . Williams contributed several stories to the magazine and published widely in other periodicals including , , and the among others. Princeton Stories The Adventures of a Freshman The Girl and the Game and Other College Stories Princeton Alumni Review The Sun The Globe The Commercial Advertiser The Stolen Story and Other Tales of Newspaper Life Richard Harding Davis the best individual tale of American newspaper life yet written Harper’s Outdoor Magazine Bachelor of Arts Magazine Among the most striking of his works in is the novella entitled , which appeared serially in the first three issues of 1916. It develops the somewhat remarkable story of a frustrated yet well-intentioned couple who, at the wife’s urging, get divorced in order to switch spouses with their friends. In the course of this tale, Williams takes aim at everything from aestheticism to advertising, and from sexual prudery to the rapacity of Wall Street. Even more compelling, however, is his portrait of marriage as a decaying institution based on a set of degrading assumptions about the competence of men and the passivity of women. In this story, Williams settles on the themes that will drive the rest of his writing career, in which he turns satire to the service of suffragism. As he argues in a 1920 pamphlet, . His most remarkable success came with his play, , staged by at the Astor Theater in New York in 1917. This was the same year in which the first attempt to pass a suffrage amendment failed in the U.S. Senate and Williams himself clearly touched a nerve, prompting the to call it . The play became the first dramatic work to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize and was regularly revived throughout the next two decades. Williams continued to write and work as an advocate for women’s rights, publishing three additional plays and a half-dozen novels. He died in New York in 1929. Scribner’s Remating Time There can be no real marriage worthy of the name and a help to civilization save on a basis of political, social, and economic equality Why Marry? New York Times perhaps the most intelligent and searching satire on the social institutions ever written by an American —Sean Latham Sources . New York: Macmillan, 1925. Dickinson, Thomas H. Playwrights of the New American Theater . NY: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1917. Maurice, Arthur Bartlett The New York of the Novelists. . , 1982: 183-196. Stephens,Judith L. Why Marry? The New Woman of 1918 Theater Journal Selected Works by Jesse Lynch Williams . NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899. The Adventures of a Freshman NY: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1920. A Common Sense View of Woman Suffrage. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908. The Girl and the Game and Other College Stories. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895. Princeton Stories. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1914. First staged in 1917 as And So They Were Married: A Comedy of the New Woman. Why Marry? NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899. The Stolen Story and Other Newspaper Stories. . (Jan-March), 1916. Later adapted by Williams as a play, , staged successfully by The Equity Players in 1922. Remating Time Scribner’s Magazine Why Not

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