‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ was published in the same year as ‘The Great Gatsby’, and provides an interesting contrast to that dazzling portrait of prohibition era America. ‘Laugh-out loud’ is an over-used expression but I genuinely (and slightly against my better judgment) found myself laughing out loud at this delightfully silly novel, which in diary form tells the story of Lorelei Lee’s uninhibited adventures in 1920’s New York and Europe.
Lorelei, captured memorably in the 1953 film by Marilyn Monroe, is portrayed as being genuinely stupid, but has an inherent cunning when it comes to getting her gentlemen friends to spoil her, and in particular to buy her jewellery. She can juggle several relationships at a time, and while her diary can be very candid, at other times she draws a polite veil over her activities. Lorelei’s friend Dorothy is always on hand to under cut her observations with something more down to earth, such as when in Paris Lorelei asks “Does it not really give you a thrill to realise that this is the historical spot where Mr Coty makes all the perfume?” to which Dorothy replies that “She supposed Mr Coty came to Paris and he smelled Paris and he realised that something had to be done”. (53)
For a novel written in 1925, there is some surprisingly smutty humour, albeit done by suggestion – such as here, at the opening of chapter 5, The Central of Europe:
“May 16th. I really have not written in my diary for quite a long time, because Mr Eisman arrived in Paris and when Mr Eisman is in Paris we really do not seem to do practically anything else but the same thing: (in the original edition, reproduced in the Penguin Classics, the text is at this point interrupted by an illustration, providing a comedic pause)…
I mean we go shopping and we go to a show and we go to Momart.”
Or this extended use of the ambiguity of the German word for art:
“So you really would know that Munchen was full of kunst because in case you would not know it, they have painted the word “kunst” in full size black letters on everything in Munchen, and you cannot even see a boot black’s stand in Munchen that is not full of kunst. “ (84) (Note by the way way that Lorelei may not be able to spell, but she can correctly use a possessive apostrophe!)
At only 120 pages including illustrations, this is one of the few novels which was quicker to read than the review was to write – it is that frothy and light. There are one or two darker moments, such as when Lorelei tells the story of her murder trial – “it seems that I had a revolver in my hand and it seems that the revolver had shot Mr Jennings” (25), but Lorelei’s tactic for dealing with unpleasantness – to not think about it – seems to work well.
I don’t normally quote at great length, but to give a flavour of Loos’ humour and clever style, this story of Dorothy’s date with a German gentleman friend is a delight. Note how every sentence starts with “but” or “so”, giving the monologue a relentless impetus.
“So even Dorothy had quite a hard day in Munchen because her German gentlemen friend, who is called Rudolf, came for her at 11 o’clock to take her to breakfast. But Dorothy told him that she had had her breakfast. But her gentlemen friend said that he had had his first breakfast to, but it was time for his second. So he took Dorothy to the Half Brow house where everybody eats white sausage and pretzels and beer at 11 o’clock. So after they had their white sausages and beer he wanted to take her for a ride, but they could only go a few blocks because by then it was time for luncheon. So they ate quite a lot of luncheon and then he bought her a large size box of chocolates that were full of liquers, and took her to the matinee. So after the first act Rudolf got hungry and they had to go and stand in the lobby and have some sandwitches and beer. But Dorothy did not enjoy the show very much and so after the second act Rudolf said they would leave because it was time for tea anyway. So after quite a heavy tea, Rudolf asked her to dinner and Dorothy was to overcome to say no. So after dinner they went to a beer garden for beer and pretzels. But finally Dorothy began to come to, and she asked him to take her back to her hotel. So Rudolf said he would, but they had better have a bit to eat first. So today Dorothy feels just as discouradged as I seem to feel.” (86)
Lorelei is a sexually liberated young woman and entirely unsentimental about her many relationships. She knows what she wants and goes and gets it. She is a heroine for her age, and I look forward to reading the sequel, ‘But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes’ when I have a spare hour or so.