Black Oxen
  • Publication Date: April 5, 2012
  • ISBN: 9781554810253 / 1554810256
  • 350 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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Black Oxen

  • Publication Date: April 5, 2012
  • ISBN: 9781554810253 / 1554810256
  • 350 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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Black Oxen unites such unlikely topics as medical rejuvenation treatments, eugenics, American youth culture, and cross-generational relationships. The beautiful American widow of a Hungarian count, Mary Zattiany is fifty-eight years old; after receiving experimental “rejuvenation treatments” and returning to America, however, she is mistaken for a woman in her twenties, and falls in love with a much younger man. Set in an era fixated on youth, beauty, and pleasure, but focusing on the experiences of an aging woman, Black Oxen offers a unique and unsettling view of the Jazz Age.

Black Oxen was written in a burst of mental energy after Gertrude Atherton herself received an experimental anti-aging treatment; the introduction and appendices to this edition explore parallels between Atherton’s medical treatment and that of her rejuvenated protagonist, as well as provide selections from other contemporary writings on aging, science, and the role of women in the 1920s. Stills and posters from the 1924 film adaptation are also included.


“Broadview’s edition of Atherton’s Black Oxen is long overdue. Of interest to students of 1920s culture, gender studies, and aging studies, Atherton’s novel explores the 1920s female rejuvenation craze. Melanie Dawson situates Atherton’s work in the context of its time, exploring gender and generational tensions, the cult of the flapper, the literary sophistication of the Algonquin Round Table, and the role of American intellectuals on the international stage. Historical documents that illuminate these issues, as well as the popularity of Atherton’s novel and its film adaptation, will bring the novel to life for students. Dawson’s edition of Black Oxen should help the novel enjoy the rejuvenation it deserves.” — Meredith Goldsmith, Ursinus College

“Melanie Dawson’s critical edition of Gertrude Atherton’s Black Oxen provides a good range of contextual materials illuminating the novel’s exploration of youth culture, science and technology, eugenics, and sexual politics in the early twentieth century. Dawson’s helpful introduction also emphasizes the novel’s engagement with national and international concerns of the period. Supplementary materials provide a useful overview of rejuvenation theories (including Atherton’s own writing on the subject), contemporary discourses of marriage, gender, and the flapper, and the reception of Atherton’s novel and its popular movie version. The edition will be particularly welcome in modernism and women’s studies courses.” — Gary Totten, North Dakota State University

Gertrude Atherton: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text

Black Oxen

Appendix A: Age and the Body

  1. From George F. Corners, Rejuvenation: How Steinach Makes People Young (1923)
  2. From Eugen Steinach, Sex and Life: Forty Years of Biological and Medical Experiments (1940)
  3. From Gertrude Atherton, “Second Youth” (8 July 1939)
  4. Readers’ Letters to Atherton

Appendix B: Theories of Cultural Change in the 1920s

  1. From Ben B. Lindsey and Wainwright Evans, The Companionate Marriage (1927)
  2. From Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties (1931)
  3. From Floyd Dell, Love in the Machine Age: A Psychological Study of the Transition from Patriarchal Society (1930)

Appendix C: The Flapper and the Other Generations

  1. E.L. Aultman, “What Is a ‘Flapper’?” Los Angeles Times (1 March 1922)
  2. Helen Bullitt Lowry, “Mrs. Grundy and Miss 1921,” New York Times (23 January 1921)
  3. Alma Whitaker, “Exit Flapper; Enter the Mysterious Woman of Thirty,” Los Angeles Times (23 July 1922)

Appendix D: Reviews of the Novel and the Film

  1. Carl Van Vechten, “A Lady Who Defies Time,” The Nation (14 February 1923)
  2. “The New Curiosity Shop, Black Oxen,” The Literary Review (7 July 1923)
  3. “First National’s Black Oxen Plays to Capacity Business,” Moving Picture World (19 January 1924)
  4. Frank Elliott, “Black Oxen, Frank Lloyd, First National,” Motion Picture News (5 January 1924)

Select Bibliography

Melanie V. Dawson is Assistant Professor of English at the College of William and Mary.