12 February 2010

Russell Lynes Famous "Brows"

I am a completest. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. If I like a singer, I want EVERYTHING they ever sang, every band they ever played with, every track they sang back-up on. Books are the same way. I read something I like, something that peaks my interest and I want to read EVERYTHING that author wrote. It is a sickness, I know.

This leads me to Russell Lynes. Lynes came to prominence with an article he wrote for Harper‘s Magazine. entitled, “Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow”. It caused a sensation. In the 1940’s society was not willing to admit to such strong delineations in culture. Russell Lynes ran with it.

He followed up his article with a humorous book called Snobs. It is the genre of book I am drawn to, a look at the changing role etiquette plays in everyday life. It looks at snobs. I love snobs or should I say, I love the way snobbery takes place in our lives and popular culture. Russell Lynes held the same sort of interest.

“You may not be a Snob, but your best friend probably detests a certain species of Snob, and your worst enemy certainly is one.”
There are regional Snobs, moral Snobs, sensual Snobs, political Snobs, emotional Snobs, taste Snobs, occupational Snobs and reverse Snobs. Lynes reminds us,
“In the days when Ward McAllister was arbiter of Newport society there were precisely four hundred souls in New York worth knowing and only “nobodies” lived west of the Alleghenies.”
As for the life of a regional Snob, it is said that a boy who lived on Martha’s Vineyard was asked to write an essay on a famous dictator. His paper began, “Mussolini is an off-islander.”

The sensual Snob drinks his whiskey bonded.
The car Snob would prefer and old Rolls than a new Chevy.
You get the idea.

Lynes moved from Snobs to Guests in his second book. There are multiple cites for that old adage about fish and guests stinking after three days.
“If you have a house on an upland meadow, or a cottage by the sea, or a cabin in the woods, you are likely to discover by the middle of June that the precious relaxation which w you have waited out the winter to enjoy is a mirage. The weekends during which you intent to commune with nature and your family are booked solid with weekend guests until after Labor Day.”

He reminds us that the best thing about a weekend is just that … it ends.

While Lynes was a master at the humorous little tomes about etiquette, he was also a scholar. His major work, The Domesticated Americans is a survey of how Americans live within their homes. He looks at the evolution and fashion of architecture.

How have our past times have evolved?

How did the literature about home keeping morph into the modern cookbook, etiquette references and sex manuals?

How did he veranda give way to the porch and the porch into and outdoor room unto itself?

How did bedroom furniture progress from the nineteenth century to the modern day?

Lynes tackles these questions and many more with his refined humor and eye for detail. This is the perfect book for the designer’s library.

I might have passed over The Domesticated Americans if it hadn’t been for that slim volume on Snobs that led to my catty desire to read about Guests that finally reveled a brilliant and informative cultural history. And don't forget his book, The Tastemakers, which reprints his article “Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow". So being a completest is a good thing. I believe I am still missing a Russell Lynes or two. I guarantee you, if I see one of his books, I will indeed purchase it.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Thanks!

    I'd forgotten about Russell Lynes...I used to LOVE both his subject and his style.

    Am I mistaken in remembering that his brother was the glamor photographer George Platt Lynes?


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