TCS: Reaching Out Into the World – Floyd Dell, Socialist

Good Morning!

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

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Feminism is going to make it possible for the first time
for men to be free. At present the ordinary man has the
choice between being a slave and a scoundrel. That’s

about the way it stands.

– Floyd Dell, Feminism for Men (1914)

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June 28, 1887Floyd Dell born, American novelist, playwright, poet, journalist, essayist, critic, radical liberal, and feminist; editor of The Masses (1914-1917); author of Women as World Builders; Intellectual Vagabonage; Upton Sinclair: A Study in Social Protest; Love in the Machine Age; and Homecoming: An Autobiography.

 Floyd covered a multitude of subjects during his prolific writing career, in novels like Moon-Calf and Love in Greenwich Village; in government reports, printed by the Government Printing Office, on federal aid during the Depression to service workers, and the WPA (Works Progress Administration) program; and in plays like King Arthur’s Socks and Love without Money.

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Apologia

by Floyd Dell

I think I have no soul,
Having instead two hands, sensitive and curious,
And ten subtle and inquisitive fingers
Which reach out continually into the world,
Touching and handling all things.
The fascination of objects!-
The marvellous shapes!
Contours of faces and of dispositions,
Hearts that are tender or rough to the touch,
The smooth soft fabrics in which lives go clothed –
Hope and pity and passion:
All these as I touch them delight and enchant me,
And I think I could go on touching them forever.
But the impulse comes into the nerves of my fingers,
Into the muscles of my hands,
To give back this beauty in some shape
Confessional of joy.
And so I make these toys.


“Apologia” appeared in Poetry magazine’s May 1915 issue

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The papers of Floyd Dell are held at the Newberry Library in Chicago. According to his granddaughter, Jerri Dell, there are thirty boxes with 871 folders of his writings, which occupy 11 linear feet of shelf space.

There are also an additional five boxes of letters between Floyd Dell and Miriam Gurko about Edna St. Vincent Millay. Floyd Dell and Edna St. Vincent Millay had a passionate affair in 1917 when she was an as-yet-unknown newcomer to Greenwich Village, and they remained friends long after the passion had waned.

Gurko began the correspondence with Dell while doing research for her book, Restless Spirit: the Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, but they continued to exchange letters even after Gurko’s book was published.

Jerri Dell knows these facts because she went through all 35 boxes, researching a book about her family, and in particular her grandparents, Dell and his wife, feminist B. Marie Dell, who were married for 50 years (1919-1969). She hasn’t written the book she originally planned yet – she got distracted by those five boxes of letters, and instead published Blood Too Bright: Floyd Dell Remembers Edna St. Vincent Millay.


Floyd Dell on Edna St. Vincent Millay in a letter to Miriam Gurko, April 19, 1960:

“Yes, the blood was too bright that flowed in her poetry, too bright and impulsive for a time that was sinking into the choleric pallor of T.S. Eliot. The brow that held her rebellious thoughts was accurst by all our standards of responsibility, yet she triumphed for a time as a symbol of beauty and rebellion, and she will come to triumph again.”

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Weeds

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

White with daisies and red with sorrel
And empty, empty under the sky!—
Life is a quest and love a quarrel—
Here is a place for me to lie.

Daisies spring from damnèd seeds,
And this red fire that here I see
Is a worthless crop of crimson weeds,
Cursed by farmers thriftily.

But here, unhated for an hour,
The sorrel runs in ragged flame,
The daisy stands, a bastard flower,
Like flowers that bear an honest name.

And here a while, where no wind brings
The baying of a pack athirst,
May sleep the sleep of blessèd things,
The blood too bright, the brow accurst.


“Weeds” from Second April, © 1921 by Edna St. Vincent Millay – Harper & Brothers

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Dell was a staunch supporter and ally of Feminism, which he believed would not only liberate women, but would also free men from their confining traditional role as the providers and protectors of all the women in their family.

“The feminist movement can be dealt with in two ways: it can be treated as a sociological abstraction and discussed at length in heavy monographs; or it can be taken as the sum of action of a lot of women, and taken account of in the lives in individual women . The latter way . . . is a method which preserves the individual flavor, the personal tone and color, which, after all, are the life of any movement.”

 – Floyd Dell, from the opening of Women as World Builders – published in 1913, republished in 2012 by Ulan Press

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When Floyd Dell arrived in New York City in 1913, he became the managing editor of Max Eastman’s radical magazine The Masses. The Espionage Act of 1917 was passed in June. In July, 1917, the Post Office notified the magazine, which was outspoken in its opposition to U.S. involvement in WWI, that it would be banned from the mails. The Masses challenged the ban and won, but lost on appeal, after the government officially labeled the magazine “treasonable material” in August of that year and issued charges against its staff for “unlawfully and willfully… obstruct[ing] the recruiting and enlistment of the United States” military. The “conspirators” faced fines up to 10,000 dollars and twenty years imprisonment. After deliberating for three days, the jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision. The jurors seeking to convict the defendants blamed one juror for being unable to conform to the majority opinion, as he was also a socialist. Not only did the other eleven jurors demand that the prosecutor levy charges against the lone juror, they attempted to drag the socialist supporter out into the street and lynch him. The Judge, given the uproar, declared a mistrial. A second trial also resulted in a deadlocked jury.

“While we waited, I began to ponder for myself the question which the jury had retired to decide. Were we innocent or guilty? We certainly hadn’t conspired to do anything. But what had we tried to do? Defiantly tell the truth. For what purpose? To keep some truth alive in a world full of lies. And what was the good of that? I don’t know. But I was glad I had taken part in that act of defiant truth-telling.”

– Floyd Dell, 1917

The magazine folded.

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Dell had written a play, King Arthur’s Socks, in 1916, which led to his involvement with the Provincetown Players after The Masses ceased publication. His first novel, Moon- Calf, was published in 1920, and sold 38,500 copies in its first year.
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He addressed his grievances with American public education:

“Were you ever a child?

I ask out of no indecent curiosity as to your past. But I wish to address only those who would naturally be interested in the subject of Education. Those who haven’t been children themselves are in many respects fortunate beings; but they lack the background of bitter experience which makes this, to the rest of us, an acutely interesting theme – and they might just as well stop reading right here. I pause to allow them to put the book aside . . .

With my remaining audience, fit though few, I fell that I can get down at once to the brass tacks of the situation. We have all been educated – and just look at us!”

– Floyd Dell, from Were Your Ever a Child?– 1919 essay, published in book form in 1921 by Harper & Brothers

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He and B. Marie had two sons – one of them, Christopher, became a writer, who is the father of Jerri Dell.

During the Depression, Floyd Dell joined the WPA, and worked for the U.S Information Service from 1935 through WWII. He continued writing fiction and non-fiction for the rest of his life.

Floyd Dell died on July 23, 1969, just five days before what would have been his 83rd birthday.

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Floyd Dell – photo by Majorie Jones

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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