Bernice Bobs Her Hair

I’d like to say that my interest in this story came first from F. Scott Fitgerald’s writing. Or, even from the 1920s themselves. It didn’t. It came from the hair. Because a bob is my very favorite cut, the cut that I’ve worn most frequently for the last twenty years. (Although my curls are not in the formed waves you frequently see on Zelda. Look at the photograph of her above, and tell me she doesn’t look absolutely charming. Schizophrenic or not.)

A few years ago when I came to school after Santo had given me another fabulous cut, our Art teacher said, “Your haircut reminds me of Bernice.”

“Bernice?” I inquired.

“Yes, from that short story by Fitzgerald. You know, Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” she replied.
“No,” I said, “I don’t.”

So, when The Classics Circuit Tour came around, with The Lost Generation for its theme, I knew I had to write about this story which is included in the collection Flappers and Philosophers.

Now that I’ve read the story, I’m not certain that resembling Bernice is a compliment. Although it’s certainly preferable to me than being compared to her cousin, Marjorie. Bernice is visiting her cousin from Eau Claire, where she was perfectly comfortable driving her own car, living her own life. But, in Marjorie’s world a girl lives on her charms. And one of the ways that her charms can be measured is by the number of times she is cut into during a dance.

No matter how beautiful or brilliant a girl maybe, the reputation of not being frequently cut in on makes her position at a dance unfortunate. ‘Perhaps boys prefer her company to that of the butterflies with whom they dance a dozen times an evening, but youth in this jazz-nourished generation is temperamentally restless, and the idea of fox-trotting more than one full fox trot with the same girl is distasteful, not to say odious.

At first, Marjorie implores her many beaux to dance with Bernice. Then, when Bernice overhears Marjorie talking to her mother about Bernice’s lack of charisma, Bernice claims she will go home.

“I guess I’d better go back to Eau Claire–if I’m such a nuisance.” Bernice’s lower lip was trembling violently and she continued on a wavering note: “I’ve tried to be nice, and–and I’ve been first neglected and then insulted. No one ever visited me and got such treatment.”

Marjorie calls Bernice’s bluff, then teaches her how to be more effective socially. Bernice must brush her eyebrows so they’ll grow straight and have her teeth straightened a little; learn to be nice to men who are “sad birds”;  she must neither lean on a dancing partner, nor stand straight up. Bernice learns Marjorie’s skills so effectively, that soon she has not only many dancing partners, but Marjorie’s best beau, Warren.

When Bernice declares that she will bob her hair, Marjorie again calls her bluff, and Bernice finds herself in the barber’s chair much like Marie Antoinette at the guillotine.

Vaguely she wondered why she did not cry out that it was all a mistake. It was all she could do to keep from clutching her hair with both hands to protect it from the suddenly hostile world. Yet she did neither. Even the thought of her mother was no deterrent now. This was the test supreme of her sportsmanship; her right to walk unchallenged in the starry heaven of popular girls.

Courageously, Bernice has her hair bobbed. But, she is not prepared for the reactions she receives from the surrounding crowd, Warren, or even her aunt and uncle. The only thing we could foresee as an eventuality was the little smirk playing around Marjorie’s mouth when Bernice’s tresses were gone.

This is one of those stories with an incredibly ironic ending. Much like O. Henry’s story, The Gift of The Magi, it is not so much about the loss of hair as the reasons behind why it was cut. As well as the things that are learned from doing so.

You can read Bernice Bobs Her Hair online. Really, take the time to read this sensational story which was first published in 1922. Then we can talk about the ending together. It’s one of my favorite pieces by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

(This story was read and reviewed before my Lenten project of reading only the Bible until Easter Sunday.)

12 thoughts on “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”

  1. I love the cover of this edition with Louise Brooks. So stylish. I've read a couple of Fitzgerald's novels (I love The Great Gatsby) but haven't tried any of his short stories. I really should since I have such a weakness for flappers:)


  2. I have a photograph of my grandmother, whom I never knew, with her hair looking remarkably like Zelda's. I can remember older relatives talking about having their hair "marcelled".I've never heard of the story, but look forward to reading it. Maybe there's enough distance between me and my own "Bernice period" that I can enjoy it and ponder the lessons.


  3. Chasing Bawa, hmmm, had no idea who was on the cover. Now I'll have ato look up Louise Brooks. I have a terrible weakness for flappers, too, and so many great perfumes were 'born' in the twenties. Ahh, it would have been wonderful living then, I think, until the crash of the stock market. But then again, no one should count on money in the first place, right? :)Helen, I would love to see this on PBS. They do justice to so many stories/novels! Jane Austen's works come to mind, which I loved on PBS. I'm afraid I've posted this picture of myself before, but it's the one which most closely shows off my favorite bob.Shoreacres, I've often wondered how hair was marcelled. I'll bet it was a combination of hot things (irons?) and did they even have gel then? Maybe some wicked ammonia kind of thing? I'd love to talk with you about this story. You're just the sort of person who would have the wise perspective, and input, that would put the story in a perfect light for me. As it is, I'm dwelling over its many facets and have been since I read it weeks ago.


  4. Bellezza ~ How wonderful that it's available online. I gave it a quick once-through last night and will read it more closely this weekend. Are you going to do a separate post for discussion? I wouldn't want to insert any spoilers here in case others want to read it. By the way – beautiful as your hair is in the photo, it's not even close to a "real" bob – the flapper sort. Those were short, and severe, like the one shown on the book cover. Mom and I have laughed that a bob has recently shown up on tv, worn by Hetty, the woman who seems to be In Charge Of Things on NCIS/Los Angeles. Mom says in her day, the bobs were often preferred by girls who would rather spend their time partying than caring for their hair. 😉 As for marcelling – it did involve a curling iron and yes, there were gels. 😉


  5. It's so great to read reviews on the Classics Circuit! I have never even heard of this story, much less the wonderfully titled "Flappers and Philosophers" book by Fitzgerald. Thank you for letting us know about this.


  6. Shoreacres, you're right: a 'true' bob is shorter and straighter across. That looks horrible on me because it's so very harsh, but then again, who could look harsher than Hetty on the link you sent me. 😉 She's charming in her own way, somehow. I'm fascinated with beauty styles from the twenties, and of course, that's when Coco came out with her Chanel No. 5. I can't imagine the gel, then, though. It must have dried to a rock-like consistency.MustardSeedReads, thanks for visiting me. I love the Classics Circuit, too, with its exposure to such wonderful literature that may be new to me, but is rarely disappointing. I had not known of Fitzgerald's short stories, only his novels like Gatsby, of course, and Tender is The Night. Now I'm in the mood to read everything he wrote.


  7. I love Bernice Bobs Her hair- I was taken back by how spot on he was able to talk about girls and how they work and their motives. Not all girls of course, but I know I have come across some pretty Mean girls in my life time.-Laurie


  8. Hmmm…I'd be really nervous if a teacher compared me to someone in a book! Sounds like a fun and yet painfully applicable story. I have a number of Fitz's novels on my shelf but I don't have the stories, I should find them somewhere. Thanks for this.


  9. I read this story some time ago in an American short story collection, and loved it. I can totally understand why Berneice did what she did at the end :-). Didn't know that Fitzgerald had short story compilations published during his lifetime, though — will have to look into that.Too bad Bernice didn't have such a flattering hairstyle as yours in the picture…but then it wouldn't have made a good story 🙂 .


  10. Oh your post has made me want to revisit Fitzgerald's short stories – I had a real passion for them when I was younger but I've not read them for many years. Zelda wrote some pretty nifty stories, too. Love your bob!


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