Ukuleles in Fiction

Just thought I’d begin to look for examples of the ukulele as mentioned in fiction — novels. I don’t have many examples yet (just passing references), but I intend to kept an eye or two out for them.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940) mentions the ukulele in at least two of his short stories.

Flappers and Philosophers (1920), ‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’

Bernice hesitated. She felt that wit in some form was demanded of her, but under her cousin’s suddenly frigid eyes she was completely incapacitated.

“I don’t know,” she stalled.

“Splush!” said Marjorie. “Admit it!”

Bernice saw that Warren’s eyes had left a ukulele he had been tinkering with and were fixed on her questioningly.

“Oh, I don’t know!” she repeated steadily. Her cheeks were glowing.

“Splush!” remarked Marjorie again.

Tales of the Jazz Age (1921) [Blog note: Edith is at a party, and is attracting attention]

A dark man cut in with intense formality.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” he said gravely.

“I should say I do. Your name’s Harlan.”

“No-ope. Barlow.”

“Well, I knew there were two syllables anyway. You’re the boy that played the ukulele so well up at Howard Marshall’s house party.

“I played–but not–“

A man with prominent teeth cut in.

Another novelist who mentions the ukulele is Fanny Heaslip Lea (1884-1955). The Evening Independent (21 December 1926) in announcing Ms. Lea’s divorce on page 16, describes her novels in this way:

Oh, those stories! Ukuleles ‘neath the moon, passionately-red hibiscus, and maids that sat in grass skirts on a star-drenched beach and twanged and twanged at a uke.

So I went looking for her novels and the only reference I came across was in Sicily Anne: A Romance, Harper & Brothers, 1914. Disappointingly, page 64 provides this particularly unromantic exchange:

Mrs. Kennard, delicately fingering an ukelele,
called out to him at once.

“Jimmy-boy! Come, sing. We need you.”

“Nothing doing!” said Jimmy Fox, untruthfully
and impolitely. “I’ve got a cold.”

and a little further on …

Once he [Jimmy-boy] killed a mosquito, smearing it brutally upon the sleeve of his pajamas, but the bloody deed afforded him small relief. When the rest of the house-party ceased from troubling and the last ukelele tinkled into silence upon the last laughing good night, he breathed a prayer of gratitude, but it was two hours after that before his eyelids closed definitely and sleep came upon him unawares.

That’s it until something better comes along.

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Published in: on October 29, 2009 at 6:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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