(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Subtitled The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady, Anita Loos’s novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is the story of Lorelei Lee, a former actress and social climber who makes her way into the glittering social life of the Jazz Age. Told in the first person, the novel takes the form of Lorelei’s diary and records events in the final months before her marriage to the wealthy Henry Spoffard.

Lorelei’s adventures began at a secretarial college in her native city of Little Rock, Arkansas. Although she had been enrolled for only one week, Lorelei was immediately hired by a lawyer named Jennings. Though Loos does not say so, readers are to conclude that Jennings was more interested in Lorelei’s beauty than her clerical skills. When she discovered that Jennings was having an affair with another girl, Lorelei shot him and went on trial for assault. Charming both the judge and jury with her naïveté and physical charms, Lorelei was acquitted. She moved to California, where she began to receive small roles in motion pictures and first assumed the name “Lorelei.” While working as an actress, she was discovered by Gus Eisman, the “Button King” of Chicago, who introduced her to members of his circle and began buying her increasingly lavish presents.

Because of the narrator’s extreme innocence, Lorelei often does not understand that she is the butt of other people’s jokes. At one point, for example, her friend Dorothy says that it would be no more possible to lower Lorelei’s reputation than it would be to sink the Jewish navy (a force that was nonexistent when the novel was written). Rather than being insulted, Lorelei is flattered by Dorothy’s remark, taking it to mean that her virtue is unassailable. Though Lorelei...

(The entire section is 726 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Ankum, Katharina von. “Material Girls: Consumer Culture and the New Woman’ in Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Irmgard Keun’s Das kunstseidene Mädchen.” Colloquia Germanica 27, no. 2 (1994): 159-172. Traces the theme of consumerism in Loos’s novel and contrasts the different reactions to this theme in American and German cultures.

Blom, T. E. “Anita Loos and Sexual Economics: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Canadian Review of American Studies 7, no. 1 (1976): 39-47. Examines the reactions of Edith Wharton and William Faulkner to Loos’s novel.

Carey, Gary. Anita Loos: A Biography. London: Bloomsbury, 1988. The best survey of Loos’s life and work. Examines both the background for and the reaction to the publication of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Hegeman, Susan. “Taking Blondes Seriously.” American Literary History 7, no. 3 (Fall, 1995): 535-554. Explores Loos’s novel in terms of its treatment of femininity and compares the structure and themes of the novel with those of The Great Gatsby.

Mathews, John T. “Gentlemen Defer Blondes.” In Faulkner, His Contemporaries, and His Posterity, edited by Waldemar Zacharasiewicz. Tubingen, Germany: Francke, 1993. Discusses Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as a popular novel and object of mass culture in relationship to the contemporary novels of William Faulkner.