Picture the 1920s in America and the first thing that comes to mind might well be Gatsby gazing at a light, or befeathered flappers hanging out in speakeasies. The glitz and glamour version of the 1920s has captivated our imagination for almost a century but, of course, plenty of women living at the time weren’t enjoying a life of cocktail-strewn liberation. While moral standards were changing for many young people on both sides of the Atlantic, Vina Delmar’s 1928 novel Bad Girl suggests from the title onwards that the risks associated with a bad reputation could still be alive and well. A bestseller in its day, the novel explores the realities and risks of the urban ‘whirl’ taking place around the novel’s main protagonist Dot and her life in 1920s Harlem. Delmar debates the question, in increasingly ironic terms, of what constitutes a ‘bad girl’ and in doing so presents a cautionary tale about attitudes to class, premarital sex, pregnancy and childbirth in 1920s New York.
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