Is this a story about women in journalism in the 1920s, or is this a story about burnout?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

Since I’ve dealt with my own episodes of burnout, I would say this sounds a lot like burnout. If you both love a profession and find yourself unmotivated to do the work, then you are suffering from depression/burnout.

The couple married in 1934. Velva sold her automotive Corona and would soon retire to the serenity of the Outpost Estates home where Rick grew up. She was free from the rat race.

And yet, when I looked in city directories for the next few years after she became Velva Marcus, I kept seeing a separate listing: “Darling, Velva G (writer).”

She had put off marriage until her career was in trouble; then she’d prolonged her engagement for year after year; and then even after, as late as 1938, it seems she wasn’t willing to relinquish the name she’d worked so hard to build.

At least 25 times in Velva’s writing, she speaks admiringly of Benito Mussolini. This was not unheard of in America at the time, but it still feels a little odd on a women’s interest page. She seems to admire his initiative, his belief, as she quotes him in a feature adorned with a large photo of the dictator, that “this life means struggle, risk, tenacity, and, above all, disentanglement from tradition and foolish vagaries!”

In another feature, Velva speaks of being beset by “that ceaseless, driving urge to do something bigger and still better than anybody else ever did it, to BE somebody more beautiful and clever and talented than any girl ever before was!” She seems filled with ambition. And this feeling colors her views on matrimony: “Love and marriage cannot really take the place of a career. A career satisfies a longing in a woman’s personality that is entirely separate from that part which is satisfied by love.”

Is it really possible Velva could have expressed such sentiments repeatedly for years and not really felt them? Could all of her prose have been concocted to sate the demands of her father and editors and publicists and never her deepest self? Why would she have delayed marriage so long if there wasn’t a vital part of her that wanted to fulfill all that promise first?

I think Velva answered these questions in the very format that defined her career. I think she meant what she wrote, and also didn’t.

The pieces where she rigs the question in ways aligning with your views are particularly enjoyable, but part of her talent lied in fulfilling both sides convincingly. Usually, it really was unclear where she stood. She could suggest that housekeeping was the height of drudgery, and then write, “some day I’m going to do nothing BUT keep house! … I’m going to keep house from dawn ’til dark, bustling from one shiny corner of my cottage to another.”

Reading in the moment, you really believe she believes whichever side she’s presenting. And she was able to pull that off, I think, because she often really did believe both sides. As a woman straddling new and old customs, Velva surely felt the attractions and detractions of both. She could write that marriage needs to be “reduced to its proper and not-terribly-so-important place in the scheme of living,” and also, a week after her engagement, write, “I don’t want my marriage casual…. And the institution of marriage as your mother understands it—is what I mean.”

…I think Velva felt everything about her career she told Rick and also everything she expressed in her writing. I think she wanted to have everything publicists promised and wanted to walk away from the whole thing, too. It’s not clear just what tipping point ended her career—whether she overcame her ambition or lost the industry’s backing—but both probably suited her. At least part of her.

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