“You are all a lost generation”
Gertrude Stein, quoted in preface to Hemingway’s Sun Also Rises (1926)
All the works listed below were scheduled to go into the U.S. public domain in 1999–except that a 1998 law mandated a 20 year delay–causing higher prices for students, teachers and libraries. Instead of 1999, these works will become part of the U.S. public domain only in 2019.
Caveat: This is a work in progress. It may not be accurate. However, it will be updated over time (and hopefully made more accurate). Some of the works listed below might be very well be in the public domain or special arrangements might have been made to make them available in digitalized form. Always google to be sure. If you have edits/additions, send them to me here: idiotprogrammer at fastmailbox.net .
How I Compiled This List
First, let me explain how I located works specific to each year. I’m no expert on that decade, and frankly I did nothing that no other savvy Net Surfer could do using google and well-known resources.
- Wikipedia uses year pages as a central reference point to events, people and creative works particular to the time period. If you go to Wikipedia’s entry to 1923, you will find links to Literature and Film. I’ve found a lot of discrepancies about dates on wikipedia, so you shouldn’t take for granted that dates are absolutely correct (you should probably verify these dates elsewhere). However, they are usually in the ballpark. One of the problems with this dating system on Wikipedia is that it based on self-reporting by wikipedia posters; many well-known works probably haven’t been listed yet. Still, it’s enough to get a person started.
- University of Pennsylvania has a great listing of prize winners by year. Obviously not all great works were prize winners, but this helps you to be sure you haven’t overlooked any prize-winning works. This site links to digital copies when available. Sometimes it happens that post-1922 works have made it in the public domain for one reason or another. Also, because copyright law in Australia is Death + 50 Years, Project Gutenberg in Australia, they are sometimes able to carry certain works not yet available in the U.S. (Suddenly my heart is surging with a feeling of Australian nationalism).
- For general reference information about copyright, check University of Pennsylvania’s listing of copyright laws by country and Cornell U.’s reference guide to U.S. copyright law.
- Google Book Search tends to be pretty conservative about which books it allows full text for, but on the other hand, the best two things about it are 1)easy access to the copyright page to verify date (regardless of whether it’s in public domain) and 2)google-produced PDFs which are just a collection of screenshots of scans. I haven’t tried it, but now Project Gutenberg’s Distributed Proofreader’s Project is using these PDF’s to OCR these works, saving individuals and libraries a lot of time and effort (horray Google!) .
- Here’s a list of copyright renewals by year. For example in 1923, works needed to be renewed in 1950, 1951 or 1952. This table provides a gigantic page of 1923 works which were not renewed and a list of works which were renewed (zip). I can’t really say how accurate or complete this information is (and by the way, I generally did not consult it when listing works below).
- The Internet Speculative Fiction Database is the only literary source that lets you narrow by year. Its purpose seems to be sci fi/fantasy, but for now the database lists lots of general works as well. It also lists short stories and essays printed in a particular year–particularly useful. This website is still buggy and lists incomplete/unedited information. Also, the dates may contain second editions, so some might already be in the public domain. Still a good resource, and likely to improve with time.
- Project Gutenberg lists a lot of works that are post-1922 but are not put in the public domain by virtue of publication date. Maybe they have made alternate arrangements. The PG Clearance team is pretty sharp; I seriously doubt they would make a mistake.
- The Golden Age of Detection wiki lists detective novels from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, period between the 1920s and 1930s in England and (to a limited extent) the U.S. There are many ways to find detective novels in a certain time period. The most direct seems to be to enter “1923” as a search term in its search box.
- The IMDB database offers lots of ways to browse films by date. The problem is that even in 1923 there were 2099 listings. This is a cumbersome way to search. However, links on the left side allow you to list by total votes and by average vote. These two links have further links to the 100 top links in that category. However, I’ve observed discrepancies in dates. Also, many of these films are foreign, and you can’t tell the release date of these films in the US. I’m limiting myself to American releases (generally). Don’t forget to click on the Review link for individual films. BTW, make sure to check whether the film has a link to an External Review; some of the notable ones do.
- In archive.org you can do search by Date Ranges. You have to use Advanced Search, and it’s a bit cumbersome, but it works; . Also Openflix is distributing early public domain works. You can’t neatly search by year, but often entering the year into the Search box produces tidy search results. They used to provide p2p links, but now they provide links to streaming videos and cheap editions you can find on amazon.
- See also the National Registry of Films list. You can list films by date, and pretty much see which films that historians and archivists deemed notable/significant for a particular year.
- Other Categories: I am generally not listing literary works originally other than English here. For English-speaking audiences, we care about the copyright date of translations (although it is true that a person living today could write their own free translation from the original and post it online). Also, I haven’t listed much in the way of history/nonfiction/essays simply because I have no way of finding out what’s out there.
The Ghosts of 1923–A Synopsis
1923 was a great year. The country was suffering under an incompetent U.S. president, and in midyear another took office to fix the mess he’d created. William Butler Yeats won the Nobel prize. Both Robert Frost and E.E. Cummings produced their first major collections of poetry (so did Wallace Stevens, but luckily it contained previously published works now in the public domain). W.C. Williams wrote two volumes of poetry; curiously even his pre-1923 works haven’t made it onto Gutenberg. A female sci fi writer named Gertrude Atherton published a sensational, semi-autobiographical novel Black Oxen, about a middle-aged woman who miraculously becomes young again after glandular therapy. It was made into a well-received film a year later. Harlem Renaissance writer Jean Toomer created Cane, a series of poems and short stories considered to be an important work of high modernism. English writer (and friend of Rosetti) Hall Caine wrote an anti-war novel of a romance between a German POW and an English girl; it was made into a film in 1927. Feminist dramatist/fiction writer Zona Gale wrote another love story that satirized life in a small town. Edwin Lefèvre wrote a classic novel describing the life of a professional stock-trader on Wall Street (akin to a 1920’s Bonfire of the Vanities). Elmer Rice wrote Adding Machine, widely considered an early expressionist classic of American theater. P.G. Wodehouse had another Jeeves book out; G.B. Shaw had another play; Willa Cather had two novels; H.G. Wells had one, and adventure writer H. Rider Haggard had one too. Arnold Bennett had his last great masterpiece Riceyman Steps (now on Gutenberg).
IMDB shows a mere 2099 movies produced in 1923 (a good percentage, we may assume are not American). Everything is still silent (obviously), but still there’s a wide variety of productions. Laurel and Hardy released 19 new films; Buster Keaton produced three; Hal Roach’s Our Gang comedies started appearing with 19 in 1923; so did the classic Harold Lloyd‘s Safety Last (where he hangs off a clock on a building). Cecil de Mille produced two more epics. We also see an early work of Fay Wray (who starred in King Kong 10 years later). Alla Nazimova produced the controversial and lavish avante-garde Salome version of Oscar Wilde’s play, replete with “bare-chested boys, blond Nubian slaves, metallic potted palms, art nouveau floral patterns, and birdcage dungeons (wrote a Village Voice critic recently). There was Covered Wagon, a Western with a giant budget and other films with various plots about orphans, Irish immigrants, woman heading off to Hollywood to be a star (Hollywood was big even then).
Of course, I have only scratched the surface. Obviously there are many more books, plays and movies and paintings I haven’t had time to describe here. Now, thanks to 1998 legislation passed by your congressmen, these and other works will have to wait an extra 20 years for Americans to have easy access to them. You have 12 years of waiting to go.
Literary Works of 1923–Poems/Drama
- E. E. Cummings – Tulips & Chimneys
- Robert Frost – New Hampshire (won Pulitzer)
- William Carlos Williams: Go Go, Spring and All
- Elmer Rice – The Adding Machine
- George Bernard Shaw – Saint Joan
- John Masefield — Dauber And the Daffodil Fields
- Wallace Stevens – Harmonium
- Owen Davis, Icebound (won Pulitzer for drama)
Literary Works of 1923–Fiction
- Gertrude Atherton – Black Oxen (racy sci fi later made into 1924 film)
- Sherwood Anderson – Many Marriages
- Max Brand – Seven Trails (writer of Westerns/pulps)
- Hall Caine – The Woman of Knockaloe
- Willa Cather – A Lost Lady; One of Ours
- Marie Corelli – Love and the Philosopher
- Zona Gale – Faint Perfume
- Georgette Heyer – The Great Roxhythe (Heyer wrote historical romances/detective novels)
- Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes (Children, Newberry)
- A. A. Milne – The House at Pooh Corner
- Jules Romains – Knock
- Felix Salten – Bambi, A Life in the Woods
- Dorothy L. Sayers – Whose Body? (expired copyright)
- James Stephens – Deirdre
- Jean Toomer – Cane
- H. G. Wells – Men Like Gods
- Margaret Wilson -The Able McLaughlins (Pulitzer) . Wully McLaughlin, a member of a Scots community in frontier Iowa, is alarmed by the behavior of his sweetheart when he returns from battle in the Civil War.
- Edwin Lefèvre – Reminiscences of a Stock Operator (free on the net)
- H. Rider Haggard – Wisdom’s Daughter
- Arnold Bennett – Riceyman Steps (now at PG)
- Gasoline Love (early film with Fay Wray)
- Burning Brazier (surreal French/Russian detective ) Ivan Mozzhukhin
- Little Old New York, comedy of Irish female immigrant who comes to USA starring Marion Davies), dir. Sidney Olcott
- Zaza, story of French music star battling with her rival
- The Extra Girl, actress wins a contest to become a star
- Our Hospitality & Balloonatic, Three Ages, Love Nest (1923) Buster Keaton classic
- Covered Wagon, Western with giant budget
- The Daring Years, starring Mildred Harris, Charles Emmett Mack and Clara Bow
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney
- The Purple Highway, starring Madge Kennedy, Monte Blue, Vincent Coleman and Pedro de Cordoba
- Safety Last!, starring Harold Lloyd. In one scene, Lloyd is seen climbing around and hanging off the side of a tall building, including a very famous scene where he hangs off a clock. Lloyd did all of his own stunts, and worked without a safety net. Also in the same year, Why Worry?, silent comedy about hypochondriac millionaire
- Salomé, starring Alla Nazimova; directed by Charles Bryant, stylized avante-garde version of Oscar Wilde’s play (deemed a “culturally significant film by the National Film Registry).
- Souls for Sale, starring Richard Dix and Eleanor Boardman; look at gliterati of Hollywood
- A Woman of Paris & Pilgrim , starring Edna Purviance; directed by Charles Chaplin
- It’s a Gift & 18 other Our Gang films (written by Hal Roach )
- White Rose, D.W. Griffith tale of an orphan girl who goes out into the world.
- Bright Shawl, adventure/political/spy thriller Edward G. Robinson, Mary Astor, William Powell
- Adam’s Rib & 10 Commandments Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
- Laurel & Hardy: 19 videos (!!!)
- Studies in Classic American Literature, by DH Lawrence; famous litcrit.
- Robert Henri – The Art Spirit (essays and conversations about art by artist/teacher who led Ashcan Art movement of realistic American art).
- How do I find out about which sound recordings from that year are in the public domain?
- How do I find paintings/visual works of art produced in individual year? And how do I find public domain art in general?
- How can I find out if my congressman voted for this Freeze-the-public-domain legislation?
compiled by Robert Nagle (aka idiotprogrammer).
Coming January 3: Ghosts of 1924