The Roaring Twenties was a vibrantly colorful period not only in the nation’s history, but specifically, in that of the Crescent City. The early part of this decade was captured in a “little magazine” called The Double Dealer. Filled with the early prose of creative geniuses like Hemingway, Faulkner, and countless others, Dealer characterized New Orleans mid-roar.
The Double Dealer was rooted in response to a controversial 1917 essay by H.L. Mencken called “The Sahara of the Bozart” in which Mencken criticized the South for its lack of fine culture. In a defiant rebuttal, cultural critic Julius Weiss Friend vowed to publish a magazine in his native New Orleans that embodied the essence of intellectual and artistic culture.
Originally published in January 1921, The Double Dealer excelled in recognizing and showcasing good writing since its first issue. Founders Julius Weiss Friend (soon-to-be-editor), Basil Thompson (a poet), Albert Goldstein (a writer), and John McClure (a poet) picked the title in honor of a William Congreve play of the same name; Thompson and Friend, especially, admired the play for its “acute dissection of human nature.” Just as the play dealt with raw human nature, The Double Dealer’s founders intended to do the same with their new publication.
Several popular contributions included an undiscovered William Faulkner’s “Swinburne,” struggling beginner Ernest Hemingway’s “A Divine Gesture,” new hotshot Thornton Wilder’s “Sentences,” and various others (INDEX). Realism was the trending style of prose, and each of these up-and-coming writers exemplified it.
It would run monthly from January 1921 through May 1923, with irregular publications between November 1923 and May 1926. With a circulation of approximately 1500, each 27-centimeter issue was comprised of about 40 pages filled with poetry, short stories, reviews, and short plays. There were no pictures (INDEX).
The Double Dealer provided “a gathering place and rallying point for the literary component of the Renaissance” (NolaVie). Serving a niche audience of literary conosseiurs and aspiring writers alike, Dealer catapulted many unknown storytellers to celebrity status.
Because of the influence Dealer’s founding fathers had, “…Faulkner could write for the first time with the assurance not only that his work would be published but that it would reach a wide and sophisticated audience.” Dealer was unique in that it published uncharacteristically high numbers of African-American and female writers for the time period, as well.
Basil Thompson’s unexpected death from pneumonia in 1924 halted production for a while (Norman). Irregular issues were coming out, and people were soon starting to forget the literary magazine.
The Double Dealer passed away in May 1926 “when its editors decided they could no longer dedicate the sufficient amount of time to it” (Chielens).
Cause of Death
Though the French Quarter Renaissance attracted artists of various flavors, it also inspired business interests. The tourism industry exploded as a result of the sudden rebirth of culture (NolaVie). Bordered by Esplanade Avenue, Canal Street, North Rampart and the Mississippi River, the Quarter would encompass a 78-square-block area filled with commercial enterprises loathed by the bohemians. The newly discovered commercialization of the unique neighborhood condensed bohemia to little more than a mainstream fad.
The Quarter became a fashionable hangout for the upper echelons of New Orleans society, an idea opposed by the very innovators of the area’s recent artistic appeal. Uptown residents even began purchasing homes there, causing a rift in the community. These optimistic homeowners were often called “fauxhemians,” or hip young couples that threw lavish “impromptu studio parties.”
Rent skyrocketed and real estate became a goldmine. The enterprise went from Lyle Saxon renting a sixteen-room apartment for sixteen dollars a month to tripled and quadrupled investments. Natalie Scott, for example, tripled her investment for her St. Peter Street apartment in 1925 (NolaVie). Because of this increase in lifestyle, fewer writers and artists could afford housing.
As the 1930s approached, virtually all Renaissance contributors had fled the city. In other words, The Double Dealer’s niche audience had disappeared. With no faithful readers, how could it possibly sustain itself?
Additionally, with no advertisements, it was lacking sufficient funding for sustenance. What Dealer had originally prided itself in—a sophisticated following without any distractions—had become its ultimate downfall.
Dealer catered to a largely bohemian audience with a progressive turn-of-the-century mindset. Writers, artists, musicians, architects, actors, and socialites reveled in the unearthed treasures present in the little magazine. William Spratling especially influenced the cult following that Dealer would soon garner by publishing his book of caricatures, Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles. The real-life figures emulated in the book—including Spratling, his roommate William Faulkner, “Pops” Whitesell, Louis Andrews Fischer, Hamilton Basso, Caroline Wogan Durieux, N.C. Curtis, Geneveive Pitot, Ellsworth Woodward, Marian Draper, Elizebeth Werlein, Moise Goldstein, and obviously Sherwood Anderson—became avid readers of “The Double Dealer” themselves (Reed).
Local celebrities also relished in the magazine’s success. These included Anita Loos, Carl Carmer, John Dos Passos, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edmund Wilson. These colorful characters who read and contributed to the magazine represented a city in the midst of a great revival.
Other than serving as the catalyst for the French Quarter Renaissance, The Double Dealer bridged the gap between national and regional writing. While it achieved national acclaim and prestige, it kept the very homespun Southern charm that brought it to such glory. Dealer was the site of the “outpouring of literature by southern writers” sandwiched in between World Wars I and II.
This little magazine largely influenced successors The New Orleanian (1930), the Iconograph (1940), the Southern Review (1935), and its namesake publication Double Dealer Redux. Redux is still published today by the Faulkner Society, which is headquartered in Faulkner’s New Orleans residence. Libraries with original issues of Dealer include: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; University of Virginia; Library of Virginia; University of Alabama; Tulane University; University of Mississippi; Columbia University; and University of New Orleans.
The Double Dealer distinguished itself from its contemporaries by its ability to locate and distribute talent in their circulation far earlier than the others. It was the periodical that gave unknown writers a name and sanctuary for publishing. Moreover, it put New Orleans back on the map as a hotspot of unique culture.
So, was it successful?
Based off the aforementioned points, The Double Dealer was successful for its time. Reputable and revered, it was, in a sense, the Bible of the French Quarter Renaissance. While it was short-lived, it led an accomplished life.
Basil Thompson is a relative of mine through my grandfather’s side of the family. As an aspiring writer myself, I was amazed when I discovered one of my own ancestors was one of the first magazine editors who discovered William Faulkner. Through this familial connection, I was inspired to delve more into his publication, The Double Dealer. I would also like to dedicate this assignment in his honor.
^^This is a link to my PowerPoint of famous contributors.
Also, in case some of the links don’t work, I have attached a works cited page for your convenience.