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Response to Review of Modern Women on Trial: Sexual Transgression in the Age of the Flapper

Modern Women on Trial: Sexual Transgression in the Age of the Flapper narrates sensational stories of women accused of sexual and violent crime – obscenity, perversity, drug dealing, murder and adultery – in the aftermath of the Great War. Popular journalism competed with the legal profession to turn domestic tragedies into thrilling melodrama. While the women in the dock were on trial, so too were the women of the audience (from those with 'ropes of pearl hung round their necks' through to rows of 'shop-girls') for daring to come and listen. All modern women’s pleasurable pursuits were also in effect under the spotlight, be they dancing, romantic fiction, drug taking, night clubs or living independently of men. I suggest that the obsessive press attention to the behaviour of modern women-cum-flappers reflected other wider fears about a fast-changing post-war world.

I am delighted that the reviewer has given a long and lucid exposition of my book, drawing out many of its central tenets. She is right to suggest that the book would have benefitted from greater analysis of press imagery, especially photography. Her observation that the book ‘does not offer a new framework for understanding histories of sexuality’ is also correct, but it implies that this is one of the book’s objectives. It is not; I make no claim to offer a new framework. The review also suggests that the text serves ‘to nuance’ previous scholarship such as that of Alison Light, rather than ‘dramatically revise’. I am not sure that there is a verb ‘to nuance’, but I take this as a positive comment: it implies subtle re-viewing and reframing. I see my scholarship as complementing and adding to the existing rich and growing body of work on 1920s’ British women, while also telling a number of intermeshing stories that are, I hope, a rattling good read.