Marks, Percy: The Plastic Age
(researched by Laura Sekela)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

Percy Marks. The Plastic Age. New York: The Century Co, 1924.
The initial copyright, for this edition, was claimed by The Century Co.

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

First American edition published in trade cloth binding.

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

170 leaves, [8] pp. 3-332 [2]

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

This edition has no introductory material.

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

There are no illustra

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

The book is easy on the eye due to the wide margins, and white space between words and lines. The book is in good condition with the exception of scratch marks in the corners of the cover, and the looseness of the spine. The print has held up
well, and appears to have been consistent throughout. The book measures as follows: Page = 184.15mm by 124.46mm Text = 127mm by 86.36mm Type = 88.9R

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

The book is on wove paper. The paper is in excellent condition. There is no visible foxing or staining. There is a tear on page 147/148. The paper has a slight amount of yellowing due to age, but this is barely notic
eable when reading. The paper feels smooth and sturdy.

11 Description of binding(s)

The binding cover has a dotted-line grain, and is Reddish orange. The title and author are stamped in black on the cover and spine. The publisher is stamped in black on the bottom of the spine.
Transcription of front cover: The | Plastic | Age | Percy Marks Transcription of the spine: The | Plastic | Age | Percy Marks | The | Century | Co.

12 Transcription of title page

Title page verso transcription: COPYRIGHT, 1924, by | THE Century Co. | PRINTED IN U.S.A.

13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

Percy Marks' papers are in the permanent custody of Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. They contain the manuscripts of nine of his novels, but not The Plastic Age. The holdings do contain notes pertaini
ng to the manuscript. There are, also, sixteen folders of fan mail, which reveal the widely varying public reaction to The Plastic Age.

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

This copy contains two adhesive labels one on the frontispiece and one on the flyleaf indicating ownership by Floyd H
art of Medford, OR. Additionally, there are faded pencil marks that appear to have been a signature in the upper center portion of the right-facing flyleaf, as well as, some letters and numerals in the upper right hand corner of this same page. The dedication reads To MY MOTHER.

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A


2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

There were four printing runs in the first four weeks of publication due to the demand for the book. Additionally, there was a fifth printing approximately one month after the original printings.

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

Marks, Percy, The plastic age. Selwyn & Blount: London, 1924. 7-320 p. Marks, Percy, The Plastic Age. Grosset & Dunlap: New York, 1925. Photoplay Edition Marks, Percy, afterword by R. V. Cassill, The Plastic Age. Southern Illinois University Press: Carbondale; Feffer & Simons: London, 1980 c1924. 343 p., Reprint of the ed. published by Century Co., New York. Sources consulted for this assignment: Catalog of The Library of Congress Eureka National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints National Union Catalog Post-1956 Imprints Records of the U.S. Copyright Office The British Library General Catalogue of Printed Books WorldCat

6 Last date in print?

The most recent Books in Print lists the 1980 reprint, of the original edition, as still available. This edition was part of a series of reprints entitled "Lost American Fiction".

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

Number unavailable

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

50,000, May 1924 ---- Dust Jacket of first Britis h edition

9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

Under the heading Four Lives Ones You Must Know About in the April 12, 1924 edition of Publishers Weekly, Percy Marks is one of four authors discussed. His portion of the advertisement reads: Percy Marks author of "The Plastic Age" has written a college novel that had to be reprinted the week it was published and has been reprinted five times to date. He is a college man himself, graduate of the University of California, A.M. Harvard, instruct or at M.I.T., Dartmouth, Brown University. Additionally The Century Co., ran a full page advertisement, in the March 8, 1924 edition of Publishers Weekly, to promote nine of their recent publications. The copy on The Plastic Age reads as follows: The "Main Street" of college life. Four printings in four weeks. It is being discussed heatedly from one end of the country to the other.

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion

12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A

The Plastic Age [Motion Picture], B.P. Schulberg Productions, 1925., Produced by B.P. Schulberg, Directed by Wesley Ruggles, Cinematography: Allen G. Siegler, Performers: Clara Bow & Gilbert Rowland. 2 film reels/ 68 minutes . Silent film with English intertitles. Sources consulted for this assignment: The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures in the U.S. Magill's Survey of Cinema: Silent Films Records of The U.S. Copyright Office

13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A


14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A


15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A


Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

Percy Marks was born September 9, 1891, in Coleva, CA, to Henry and Sarah Lando Marks. He earned his Bachelor of Letters degree at the University of California in 1912 and subsequently a Master of Arts degree at H
arvard University in 1914. He spent the next ten years working as an educator. His first position was as supervisor of education at The State Infirmary in Tewksbury, MS. Marks then spent four years, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as an English instructor. He follow
ed this with successive posts at Dartmouth College and Brown University. Within this time period, he served as a second lieutenant of infantry during World War I. His first novel The Plastic Age was published in 1924. Marks wrote this book while working as an instructor at Brown University. The Plastic Age was his first and best-selling novel. He described this novel as an attempt "to present dramatically the good
and bad in undergraduate life". In 1925 he gave up his teaching career in order to devote himself to writing and lecturing. Between 1925 and 1949 most of his major works were written. After leaving the academe, Marks married and began to publish books at regular intervals. He was married to Margaret Ellen Gates in Gardena, California, on December 17, 1927; they had one daughter, Sally Jean. Marks was a prolific writer. He followed The Plastic Age with Martha (1925), Which Way Parnassus (1926), Lord of Himself (1927), A Dead Man Dies (1929), The Craft of Writing (1932), Better Themes (1933), A Tree Grown Straight (1936), And Points Beyond (19
37), What's Heaven For (1938), The Days are Fled (1939), No Steeper Wall (1940), Between Two Autumns (1941), Full Flood (1942), Knave of Diamonds (1943), Shade of Sycamore (1944), and Blair Merriman (1949). In addition to his novels, Marks published frequently in periodicals. These included: Harper's, Liberty, Ladies Home Journal, and The Saturday Evening Post. He published mainly short stories, but he, also, wrote essays, articles, and book reviews. In his latter years, he resumed teaching as an instructor of English and literature at the University of Connecticut at Waterbury, a post he held until shortly before his death. Percy Marks died in New Haven, Connecticut, on December 27, 1956. Percy Marks' papers are in the permanent custody of Yale University. The author's widow, Mrs. Bernard Barton donated the Papers, to The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, in November 1962. The papers are contained in ten boxes that occupy 3.75 lin
ear feet. The papers are available for research. The collection contains manuscripts, correspondence, and personal papers. Within the collection there are, also, notes, fan mail, reviews, and publicity. The material spans the years 1900 to 1961, with the
bulk falling between 1920 and 1950.
Sources consulted for this assignment:
National Cyclopadeia of American Biography, Vol. 46. James T. White Co.: New York, 1963
Percy Marks Papers. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary. H.W. Wilson Company: New York, 1948
Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary, first supplement. H.W. Wilson Company: New York, 1955

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

The Plastic Age was reviewed widely in the contemporary press. Overall, the reception seems to have been surprisingly positive given the subject matter of the book. Realistic is the term most often used to describ
e the book. The New York Times reported the following:
"He has succeeded in portraying with relentless truth, with quite uncanny insight, and an almost photographic and, indeed, phonographic realism, a panorama of life at a typical American college at the present time."
"Each experience in turn comes up for review?and each in turn gets the same detached yet realistic treatment."
Booklist held a similar opinion when it revealed "Every side of college life is touched upon in this realistic story of Hugh Carver's four years of Sanford".
As in all things, there were dissenting opinions. The most cogent suggests that the novel is one fantastical story after another. G.B. Dutton writes in the June 7, 1924 edition of the Independent: "Even for the young people of to-day there are adventures other than those of flamboyant nights and sodden days. In short, the facts adduced in this type of fiction may be accurate, but the evidence is incomplete, and the resulting picture is as romantic
as fishermen's stories or tales of far travelers."
The negative opinions were not restricted to the truth of the book they included criticism of the writing itself, and the explicit subject matter.
"Of the three classical qualities of a good novel, structure, style, and character drama. The first is totally wanting in this effort. The second never rises above the level of tolerable reporting and the third is faintly discernable in rudimentary and st
atic outlines. If the requirements of post-graduate literature are not higher than that they ought to be." (Outlook, February 27, 1924)
"Mr. Marks intention is unobjectionable, but his art suffers from needless emphasis." (The Times Literary Supplement, June 26, 1924)
It should, also, be noted that Boston police banned The Plastic Age, along with eight other contemporary novels, in 1927.
Booklist, 20:339, June 1924
Independent, 112:314, 7 June 1924
Literary Digest, 93:31-32, 2 April 1927
Nation, 118:289, 12 March 1924
New York Times, p9, 3 February 1924
New York Tribune, p21, 3 February 1924
Outlook, 136:360, 27 February 1924
The Times Literary Supplement, p402, 26 June 1924

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

The subsequent reception of The Plastic Age comes primarily from papers, speeches, and current novel reviews seeking to put the "college novel" in context. Overall, these reviewers cite Marks' contribution to this genre as a unique and important contri
bution. This novel has, also, been used in social analyses of the 1920's.
In a paper, given at the annual meeting of the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Amerikastudien in Mannheim on 2 June 1968 it was stated in relation to The Plastic Age, and other novels in this genre.
"a colorful, clear and complex panorama of American college reality emerges with the position of the individual student in society as the chief theme of the ?student novel'."
This paper was a contribution to a discussion about the woeful state of the ?student novel' in Germany as compared to the success and importance of this type of novel in 20th century America.
In a review of current campus life, Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz discusses the current state of the "college novel" in a broader social context. She sees the period, when Marks wrote, as a more innocent time. The students are heroic in their desires, which is
a reflection of the state of the broader culture. Of The Plastic Age, she says:
"Stover at Yale and books such as Percy Marks' The Plastic Age that followed presented young heroes who went through an archetypal pattern. A young man entered college enthusiastically and wanted to become a college success. He had promise and seemed des
tined for victory. Then disillusion set in. He saw evil existed in organized college life. Although books and ideas began to matter, temptation proved stronger than morality, and cynicism reigned for a season. But at the end of the four years, the hero de
parted with an adult realism, a mature and grounded self-knowledge that gave him a solid basis for belief in himself. He went out into the world as a knight ready to do battle and work for personal success and social good. In the typical college novel the
good values of the real world, represented by professors and great books, won out over the temporary false values of college life."
Horowitz sees The Plastic Age and other similar novels of this period as morality plays, and proponents of the status quo. This assessment differs markedly from contemporary reviews of this novel. Although the contemporary novels praised the realism of Th
e Plastic Age, the general consensus was that the actions of the college students represented a fundamental difference between students and adults. These students' experiences would challenge the status quo.
Todd A. Gormley, in his paper Progressive Petting, continues this theme. His paper discusses the sexual mores of college students versus the greater society, and determines that college students simply redefined behavior with their own rigid codes of beha
"In his 1924 book, The Plastic Age, Percy Marks shows this complex peer culture through a fictional story about college students during the 1920s?Marks later describes Hugh's reaction to Carl's 'going all the way': ?He envied Carl, and yet - and yet h
e wished Carl hadn't done it.' Through this complex form of pressure, the youth of the 1920s had replaced their parents' standards and restraints with their own acceptable set of standards."
Bungert, Hans Jahrbuch, Amerikanisches Hochschulwesen In Literarischer Gestaltung (West Germany) 1967 12: 74-91.
Gormley, Todd A., "Progressive Petting: The youth of the 1920's", 1998
Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz, Undergraduate cultures: what ever happened to Dink Stover? (review essay), Change , 25:5, Sept-Oct 1993
Yevish, Irving A., "Campus Rebellions: Their Literary Heritage", Colorado Quarterly. 20:4, 1974

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

Critical Analysis: The Plastic Age, by: Percy Marks
The Plastic Age appeared in 1924, and all but disappeared after Grosset and Dunlap's photoplay edition in 1925. It reappeared in 1980 as part of the "Lost American Fiction" series published by Southern Illinois University Press. The Plastic Age was part o
f larger cultural trends. The popularity of the novel was due to the climate in which it was published; as such, it did not enjoy the longevity of other best sellers. The best seller The Plastic Age, by Percy Marks, is part of two larger trends in fiction. The first and most obvious is that of the "college novel". The second is as a fictional representation of current cultural trends. The Plastic Age was written in a t
ime of great cultural change, and provided an easily read primer on the youth of the 1920's. The 1920's were an era obsessed with youth on all levels be they local, national, scholarly, etc. Additionally, the 1920's were a time of great prosperity. Prospe
rity often gives a society the time to find new problems, which tend to be social in nature.
The United States had come out of World War I as a prosperous nation, which had finally been recognized as an influential country on an international basis. The United States played an important role in the latter days of the war, and in the peace negotia
tions. It should, also, be noted that the experience of World War I, for the first time, gave the opportunity of international travel and all that implies to members of most social classes. The men, who returned from Europe, brought a level of experience
or sophistication home to a no longer isolated nation. The experience of war and the absorption of another culture change forever the individual's as well as a nation's values and self-perception.
At home, there was a change ensuing that would forever alter the individual and nation without the influence of outside agents. During this time period, the United States experienced a monumental shift from an agrarian society to an urban society. Between
1910 and 1930, the population went from 54% rural to 44%. Farmers, who worked small and/or non-mechanized farms, were dislocated to cities in search of employment (Risjord 227). The social changes that occur in a culture when this happens have been well
documented. The changes most relevant to an analysis of The Plastic Age, and other books, of this genre, are the isolation from the extended family of a village culture, the subsequent dislocation of youth, and a sense of anomie first recognized on a broa
d scale within a larger culture be it in neighborhood, city, or nation.
There were additional demographic shifts that shaped the culture into which The Plastic Age was received. The United States was experiencing a level of prosperity and concomitant standard of living that had never been seen. In 1921, real per capita income
was $522. By 1929, it was $716. (Risjord 228) This prosperity brought independence from the extended family, and geographic dislocation as has been discussed. The living arrangements of young adults changed as a consequence. Many more never married adult
s, to include young adults, were residing separately from their families. There was much discussion of single young women living alone, and the impending moral and societal disintegration. As a result, women's boarding houses, with strict supervision came
into being. According to the 1910 census, 39.1% of never married women and 45.6% of such men were not residing with their parents. The size of this population grew considerably through the 1920's. There was, also, a marked increase in college attendance.
The 1920 census reported 810,704, 18-20 year olds attending school. By the 1930 census, that number had increased to 1,449,343.
The Plastic Age tells the story of dislocated youth. The characters, in this novel, struggle with their burgeoning independence, precipitated by college attendance, in a changing cultural landscape. These youth represented the youth of the 1920's to the b
ook's audience. Their struggle for independence is revealed through their individual struggles with sex and romance. They seek a means of defining their values, when the values of their peers are disparate from those of their parents. The relationships an
d events, of this novel, mirrored similar happenings throughout the nation.
The literature, of the time, represents the new perception of the United States in that what happens at the micro level of relationships is recognized as potentially transforming on a macro level. There were two themes, in the literature of this period, t
hat were far more prevalent than the "college novel", but both themes are relevant to an analysis of The Plastic Age. The first was a general condemnation of rural traditions and lifestyle. The village and its farmer were to be scorned. They were backward
, and places to be escaped. There was a mean undercurrent to the rural existence found in the more serious books with this subject. (Leuchtenburg 225-228) The debate between rural versus urban values contained in these novels is similar to the debate bet
ween adult and youth values in the "college novel" of this period. The second theme was that of the individual. This corresponds well with the isolationist response of the U.S. to their experience in World War I. It was, also, part of a larger backlash ag
ainst the perceived corruption of the Victorian era. These books contained a since of nihilism and narcissism that was not a part of the literature of the 19th century. (Leuchtenburg 141-156) Simply put the United States was experiencing growing pains in
ternally and externally that were represented in the art of this period.
A survey of the research, in this time period, shows a considerable amount of interest in youth, and their behavior. Numerous papers to include: "Sex Experiences of Boyhood." Journal of Social Hygiene 12 (1926): 262-273, "On the Psycho-Sexuality of Colleg
e Graduate Men." Mental Hygiene 7 (1923): 697-714, "In Defense of Necking." The New Student 7 April 1926: 9-10, "Petting and the Campus." The Survey Vol. 54 1 July 1925: 393-395, 412, and "The Mating Season of Co-Education." Contemporary Attitudes: Essays
in Many Fields of Thought. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1929: 434-442, deal with the changing social mores of youth and the attendant repercussions. (Gormley 10)
Into this framework, The Plastic Age was introduced. The Plastic Age was not the first novel, of this genre, to be published in the United States, but it was the number two bestseller of 1924 (Hackett 189). As such, it holds an important place in America
's literary and cultural history. The Plastic Age followed in the genre and literary tradition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise (1920), Charles Norris' Salt (1918), and Reginald Kaufman's Jarvis of Harvard (1901).
Marks first sent his manuscript to Harcourt Brace, but the manuscript was rejected because it was viewed as "deliberately scandalous?overemphasizing youth's interest in sex" (Kunitz). This initial reception was repeated once the novel had been published a
nd distributed, but not to the degree that one would expect. There was a curiosity about youth in this period, and an overall loosening of the moral values carried over from the Victorian period. It was not just the literature of youth that had become mor
e sexualized. This was, also, the beginning of risqué advertising, movies, and dancing (Leuchtenburg 168-171).
Marks quickly found another publisher, and his novel was published in early 1924 by New Century Co. The Plastic Age was extremely popular with the average reader. As was mentioned, The Plastic Age was the number two best seller of 1924, but it was, also,
the number five most purchased book of fiction by libraries (Publishers' Weekly 689). This suggests that the book met a communication/ entertainment need for the buying public. There was a demand for information concerning youth, and an ever-growing youth
The reviews of The Plastic Age frequently sited its' realism, and the sexual discussion contained therein. These were great selling points. It was promoted by the publisher as a "college novel" written by an actual "college man" (Publishers' Weekly 1247).
The implication being that this novel would provide a first-hand account of the lives of actual college students. Both the reviews and the promotion served as signals that the book would satisfy the curiosities of the reading public.
The subject matter, of The Plastic Age, was its selling point. It was a novel reflecting current cultural trends and interests. The reviews did not site elements, such as literary quality, that would suggest staying power. As such, the novel had a flash o
f popularity and then disappeared.
Advertisement, The Publishers' Weekly 105, no. 13 (12 April 1924) 1247.
Gormley, Todd A., "Progressive Petting: The youth of the 1920's", 1998
Hackett, Alice Payne, 70 Years of Best Sellers 1895-1965, New York: R. R. Bowker Co., 1967.
Kunitz, Twentieth century authors; first supplement. A biographical dictionary of modern literature, New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1955
Leuchtenburg, William E., The Perils of Prosperity 1914-1932 2nd edition, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993
"Library Association Announces Best Sellers" The Publishers' Weekly 107, no. 8 (21 February 1925) 689.
Risjord, Norman K., America: A History of the United States 2nd edition, Engelwood, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1988
United States Census Bureau, 1910, 1920, and 1930 census records.

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