Originally printed: Vanity Fair, March 1916
First reprinted in: Never reprinted
Original Byline: Robert C. Benchley
When Benchley’s early freelance pieces came back return to sender – and they did so with depressing regularity for a while there – they generally bore the scars of editorial disdain for their excessively “collegiate” nature. This one pager displays many symptoms of that core defect before leaving the Harvard Yard entirely during its final paragraphs. For the majority of the essay, RCB affects a tone that will be readily recognizable to anyone who has read a Twitter thread or Substack squib by a Young Person who hates Young People. You know the way that goes: “These damned hipsters are always already part of the Bourgeois system that they claim to oppose and their aestheticization of life on the margins amounts to nothing more revolutionary than a frilly frame around their parents’ society page photos. Besides, they probably aren’t even actually enjoying themselves.”
It’s a dead-end critique we’ve all heard a million times, and it wasn’t any great sociological shakes in 1916, either. Ah, but instead of pursuing his entirely extraneous inquiry to its bitterly foregone conclusion, RCB pulls up his stake in this toothless skewering and lays his literary dance card on the table. Then, to paraphrase Sam Spade, he is dangerous! He has no settled thoughts on “la vie de Bohème”, but he does have a good idea of what Vanity Fair will publish, and isn’t that what it’s all about?
“The only trouble with this pitiless exposé of Bohemia is that I know practically nothing about the subject at all.”