Johnson, Owen

The Salamander

  • First edition, first printing of this influential novel, the first to feature a flapper as a protagonist and the inspiration for Zelda Fitzgerald's glamorous and destructive life.

    Author Owen McMahon Johnson (1878-1952) was a best-selling novelist during the early years of the twentieth century. Described by Time Magazine in 1924 as "The F. Scott Fitzgerald of his generation", he wrote about "manners and customs with humor, combined with insight and decorum". In the present novel Johnson described a new breed of women, the "salamanders", who rejected domesticity for the intoxication of city life, where they patronized raucous speakeasies and conducted affairs in a fashion unthinkable only a generation before. Like the salamander of myth, they seemed impervious to the social conflagration of which they were the epicenter, and within just a few years they would become known as the "flappers" of the Jazz Age. The novel was a smash, reaching an estimated ten million readers, and the stage and film adaptations, both featuring star Ruth Findlay in the lead role of Doré Baxter, were also wildly successful.

    Zelda Sayre was then in her junior year of high school and an avid reader and movie-goer. Already fiery and ambitious, she immediately identified with The Salamander's protagonist, who declared on screen that, “I am in the world to do something unusual, extraordinary. I’m not like every other little woman… I adore precipices! It’s such fun to go dashing along the edges, leaning up against the wind that tries to throw you over". "Like other women from her generation unwilling to settle for boring lives, Zelda identified with the salamander’s desire to experiment and experience everything". Her romantic intrigues "mirrored Dore’s identically. And she would later draw on those experiences for a series of short stories about twenties’ flappers". The Salamander "permanently affected her attitude toward life" and became "the key to understanding [her] personality and ultimate downfall" (Taylor, Sometimes Madness is Wisdom, pp. 5-9).

    Later, after Zelda's breakdown and the dissolution of her marriage, she reflected regretfully that, "I believed I was a Salamander and it seems that I am nothing but an impediment." In fact, the opposite was true, as it was Zelda who enabled her husband to write the defining literature of the Roaring Twenties, basing Daisy in The Great Gatsby and Eleanor in This Side of Paradise on his wife. A lovely copy of this important and under-appreciated novel.

  • Indianapolis: The Bobs-Merrill Company, 1914. Octavo. Original green cloth, titles to spine and upper board gilt, pictorial design to spine and upper board in blind. Frontispiece and 15 plates. Lightly rubbed at the extremities, two faint spots to upper board, contents faintly toned, but overall a tight and fresh copy in excellent condition.

Collections: Women's History

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