Book Reviews -- Heretics & Hellraisers: Women Contributors to the Masses, 1911-1917 by Margaret C. Jones

Article excerpt

Jones, Margaret C. Heretics & Hellraisers: Women Contributors to The Masses, 1911-1917. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993, 224 pp. $12.95.

When University of London humanities professor Margaret C. Jones first encountered The Masses, that irreverent, witty left-wing magazine of the early twentieth century, she was, she writes, "completely ignorant of how the magazine had been represented in subsequent histories." That naivete allowed her to experience the magazine directly, appreciating the contents for herself without knowledge of what others thought was worth appreciating.

She enjoyed the art of the unheralded Cornelia Barnes equally with that of the much-heralded Art Young, the fiction of the obscure Adriana Spadoni alongside the essays of the famous John Reed, without a sense that she was paying disproportionate attention to, as she writes, "merely minor -- which is to say, female -- contributors." Later, when she read the histories and anthologies of The Masses, she was shocked to see how few of the women's contributions were noted or included.

Heretics & Hellraisers is her largely successful attempt to remedy the all-too-common historical exclusion or devaluation of women's contributions. In it, she pays homage not just to the few women that historians have recently recognized, such as Mabel Dodge Luhan, Dorothy Day, and Louise Bryant, but more than two dozen other contributors to The Masses whose artwork, fiction, and essays enlivened the pages of this radical publication. The book examines both the work of those female contributors who spent their entire journalistic careers at The Masses, as well as the lives and work of a number of women who enjoyed productive careers for many years afterward.

Page by page, the book reads somewhat dryly, like an "up from the footnote" recitation of forgotten females. The pioneering, liberated lives of these forceful, talented women are documented in the stolid tones of a scholar, which robs the book of some of the excitement it should rightly have. …