You can always rely on your mum to tell it to you straight can’t you? Well, I can anyway! And apparently last week’s Word for Wednesday post was ‘’interesting, but not really relevant to ‘iridescent’. ‘Irate’ or ‘incensed’ would have been better’’. In my defence, matching a photo to either of those words would have been pretty tricky. I certainly didn’t fancy either getting someone to playact it for me, or intentionally goading someone to get a real reaction! But as is so often the case, mother usually does know best, so perhaps she had a point.
Duly reprimanded and lesson learnt, I am sticking to the script better this week! And as I recently discovered a fellow Christopher Isherwood fan in the lovely Patti Moed over at PilotFish, this week we are in Isherwood territory. Back to the 1930s we go:
‘Am I terribly late, Fritz darling?’
‘Only half of an hour, I suppose.’ Fritz drawled, beaming with proprietary pleasure. ‘May I introduce Mr Isherwood – Miss Bowles? Mr Isherwood is commonly known as Chris.’
‘I’m not,’ I said. ‘Fritz is about the only person who’s ever called me Chris in my life.’
Sally laughed. She was dressed in black silk, with a small cape over her shoulders and a little cap like a page-boy’s stuck jauntily on one side of her head.
(Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin).
- with a buoyant or self-confident air; brisk
- with a crisp and dapper appearance; natty
- in an airy, showy, or affected manner
- in a dapper or stylish manner
- in an ostentatiously self-confident manner
- in fashion; stylish; chic
- lighthearted and merry; sprightly; perky.
Derivation: Old French, gentil, meaning noble and Latin gentlis, meaning ‘belonging to (the same) family’. First known use: 17th Century (in its final form!).
Jauntily (as a derivative of jaunty) is one of those words which has bounced back and forth across languages, changing considerably in use and meaning over the centuries. When it first came into Middle English – as gentil – in the 1200’s, it was used to infer nobility and courteous behaviour. By the 1500’s it had begun to mean soft, or mild and was spelled gentle. Then in the late 1500’s the original French word gentil carried across into English again, this time meaning that a person was well-bred and of the gentry. Over the next century it began to be used increasingly to indicate courtesy and elegance, the spelling – still used today – changing to genteel. By the late 1600’s some people started to spell the word differently, to more phonetically match it with the pronunciation of the word. Hence it became janty, and this new spelling gradually came to have its own, entirely new meaning; easy or relaxed in manner, spritely, and lively. A long, long way from the original associations with nobility and courteousness!
When Christopher Isherwood and Sally Bowles meet for the first time in Goodbye to Berlin, the description of Sally, and the use of the word ‘jauntily’ perfectly present both an insight into her character and the age that she is living in.
Goodbye to Berlin is a semi-autobiographical novel, covering Isherwood’s time in early 1930’s pre-Nazi Germany. The remnants of the roaring twenties (or ‘the crazy years’ as they are appropriately called when translated from the French ‘années folles’) are still very much in evidence in the social scene Isherwood describes.
The main characters collectively represent the most marginalised people and groups in German society – those most at risk from the ascendancy of Nazi politics. Language, culture, and social status are all barriers between them and the wider society around them, although they are at least united in their non-conformity, their bohemian outlook. Each seems to try to project the self they want to be seen, and to live in a state of continual denial and naivety. In reality, for many Germans (as well as their contemporaries around the world) putting on a brave face was a genuine coping mechanism following the collapse of the world as they knew it. Not surprising really, considering the massive social, political, and economic upheaval and decay in the aftermath of the First World War.
Common in literature from the 1920’s and 1930’s, there is a sense of determined, almost frantic, gaiety in Goodbye to Berlin. An outward sign of the refusal to bow to the horrors of the past or the possibility that, lingering on the political horizon, may be something worse still. And Sally Bowles is the absolute epitome of that interwar tenacity in suspending reality and clinging on for dear life to hope. She hides behind the doppelgänger she has created for herself as a confident and coquettish cabaret actress, singer and socialite darling, although Isherwood sees through the façade almost immediately to the fragile, vulnerable young girl she really is.
Sally shows a mix of true naivety and resolute ignorance, and sometimes the line between the two is so blurry as to be almost indistinguishable. Something Isherwood cleverly uses to represent a wider social psychology in Germany at the time. As the novel progresses, the coming darkness of the Nazi regime becomes increasingly obvious. During this decline we see the characters burying their heads ever deeper in the sand, normalising more and more often the increasingly alarming behaviour and incidents they are experiencing, the reality of which they don’t want to be forced to acknowledge. Which is how Sally Bowles, the starlet in the making, comes to find herself penniless and pregnant at the hands of a mentally disturbed teenage boy who had blinded her with false hopes and promises of fame, fortune and marriage.
Christopher Isherwood, in common with many other writers of the age such as Evelyn Waugh and F. Scott Fitzgerald, wrote novels that, superficially at least, spoke of the ‘bright young things’, the dizzying social whirl and fun times. But always, under only the thinnest veneer, those harder realities of life in the interwar years show through. The pretence of gaiety and jauntily carefree days, merely a life-raft to keep people from sinking entirely under the weight of loss, fear and shock at what they had been through, and what might still be to come.
That’s a couple of pretty heavy weeks of Word for Wednesday posts in a row now isn’t it?! I promise that next week I’ll go for something a bit more jolly, jocund and joyful (and any other happy J words…) Although next week of course we’ll be on to K! So soon?! I can’t believe I’m this far through already!