16 February 2015

Portraits of a Marriage: James Montgomery Flagg and Arthur Stringer's Bittersweet Wine of Life

In the glow cast by Valentine's Day, no attention should be paid to Arthur Stringer's The Wine of Life, but I've been working on a piece about the novel for Canadian Notes & Queries.

Such a horribly depressing book!

Jobyna Howland, c.1908
The Wine of Life is a roman à clef born of the author's doomed first marriage to Jobyna Howland, the original Gibson Girl. So much has been made of his bride's beauty that Stringer himself is invariably given short shrift. Don't kid yourself, this son of Southern Ontario was one good looking fella. Madge Macbeth, no stranger to the roman à clef  herself, thought Stringer as "beautiful as Adonis, irresistible as Eros."

Bonus: At 6'2", he was even taller than Jobyna.


The Stringers met at a Manhattan party in 1900, married seven weeks later, and divorced in 1914. There's much more to their story than that, of course, but I'm saving this for CNQ. What I want to do here is share a discovery.

The Wine of Life was published in 1921 by Knopf; a cheap A.L. Burt reprint followed. Their dust jackets feature the same drawing by the great James Montgomery Flagg, though the books themselves contain no illustrations. What I've discovered is that Flagg sketched twenty-three others, printed in the last months of 1921 when the novel ran in  newspaper syndication. The sampling here come the Pittsburgh Press. The one at the top of this post, published 26 October, is my favourite. They may be muddied on microfilm, but I think you'll agree that each remains a visual treat.

10 October 1921
3 November 1921
5 November 1921
9 November 1921
10 November 1921
12 November 1921
16 November 1921
15 December 1921
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