Toward the end of Isabella’s life, her niece, Grace Livingston Hill, encouraged her to write “just one more book.” Grace suggested that it be about Ester Ried’s grand-daughter or great-grand-daughter, in order to bring the great message of the original Ester Ried novel to a whole new generation of readers.
Isabella’s fertile imagination still had plenty of stories waiting to be told. She recognized that there were some loose ends from the Ester Ried series that needed to be tied up, as Grace suggested.
She also knew, based on the letters she received, that fans of her books wanted to know more about some of the other characters she had created.
But Isabella chose not to write those sequels. In 1927 she told Grace:
I am not capable of writing a story suited to the tastes of present day young people. They would smoke a cigarette over the first chapter, and toss it aside as a back number. I haven’t faith in them, nor in my ability to help them.
It’s unfortunate that Isabella was so disillusioned with the “present day young people” of the 1920s. She didn’t understand the new generation of young people, and she strongly believed she had nothing in common with them.
While Isabella still dressed modestly in long gowns with high collars and full sleeves, young women of the 1920s wore short, sleeveless dresses.
They rouged their knees and polished their shoulders.
They plucked their eyebrows, painted their lips, and lacquered their fingernails.
Hollywood star Clara Bow set the trends. She was nicknamed the “It Girl” for playing the role of a plucky shop girl who made good. She was the first Hollywood sex symbol, and Americans couldn’t get enough of her.
Teenaged girls and grown women copied her make-up and clothes. If Clara Bow smoked cigarettes in a movie, they smoked, too.
Like Clara, they challenged social mores by drinking alcohol and driving fast cars, just like men did.
And like many of the characters Clara Bow played on screen, they were headstrong and modern and fond of nightlife.
Isabella couldn’t understand it. She wrote:
I saw the trend away from Christ long ago. I recognized the downward trend not only in girls and boys, but in their mothers and teachers and pastors. I came by degrees to understand that the class of young people to whom I had dedicated my life had made a distinct descent, and that for me to do the same in my writing would be to dishonor Jesus Christ.
So Isabella watched with sadness as a new generation of readers turned to the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Warner Fabian, and Virginia Woolf, while her own novels gradually fell out of favor.
Grace and others urged her not to give up her life work, but Isabella was adamant: she would not write except to try to win souls for Christ.
I think we all realize in these days that even Jesus Christ is not popular. Therefore we who want to follow Him closely must not try to be.
In 1929 Isabella published An Interrupted Night. Like her novel, Unto the End, An Interrupted Night was written for adults and dealt with issues of love, marriage, infidelity, and sacred vows. The book received good reviews, but it would be Isabella’s final novel.
Unfortunately, Isabella Alden passed away the following year, in 1930, never knowing that—almost one hundred years later—an entirely new generation of “present day young people” would love and cherish her books.
2 thoughts on “Isabella and the “It” Girls”
I understand Isabella’s despair completely…what on earth would she have thought of today’s generations? The mind reels! I’m glad Grace picked up the mantle and showed that generation’s pure of heart that others existed who loved Christ and lived for Him. What an excellent blog post on Isabella’s heart. Don’t you wish she had listened to Grace’s pleas and then we’d all know what happened to Ester Reid’s spiritual offspring? Thank you for sharing these thoughts!
You’re very welcome, Karen. I don’t think Isabella ever realized the precious legacy she was leaving, yet 21st Century readers (young and old) are still blessed and inspired by her stories. —Jenny