I don’t often get the pleasure of discovering neglected books before anyone else. Most of the lost classics I find are either from the brilliant Neglected Books Page or are only neglected in the sense that I haven’t heard of them even if everyone else has. This time I think I’m first in the door with Ladies in Hades (A Story of Hell’s Smart Set)1.
Just what the hell is this book? Imagine all of history’s temptresses and trollopes in Hell as if they were 1920s socialites and you’ll be in the right ballpark. Cleopatra lights a scented cigarette, Helen of Troy has bobbed hair, and Satan wears a top-hat. Honestly, this is the classiest Hell you’ll ever see. The book itself is a thinly veiled excuse to tell racy stories, turn history on its head, and fling out one-off witticisms for the sake of a cheeky joke. And really, what’s wrong with that? The novel is a complete delight. By page two I knew I was hooked:
Women, as women, [Satan] said, no longer interested him, now that they had become so much like men. He found them entirely too sophisticated for ordinary, practical purposes and much preferred good honest demonesses of the Lilith type, who were content to enjoy normal, sensible things in a normal and sensible way. They might be a trifle old-fashioned in their methods but at least they did not try to convert you to their ideas regarding birth control, or show how much they loved you by putting arsenic in the soup.
As if the verbal wit weren’t enough, the book is peppered with amazing illustrations of Julius Caesar smoking cigarettes and Lucrezia Borgia gussied up like a society vamp. Hell is apparently permeated with the twists and turns of the 1920s from art deco to prohibitionism. We have Gordon Ross to thank for the illustrations and Frederic Arnold Kummer to thank for the witty text. It was published in 1928 and, although I hadn’t heard of Kummer before, he has a long list of credits in pulp magazines and silent films. This guy seems well worth a look-in. Ladies in Hades must have made a modest hit because two years later Kummer published a sequel called Gentlemen in Hades, which doesn’t have the same ring to it but which I have on order nevertheless.
Without further ado then, I have to present scans of the beautiful illustrations in this book. Deco and twentiesploitation fans, today is your lucky day.
Perhaps with the exception of a bizarre little blog called The Unknown History of MISANDRY, which posted what looks like the original cover plus some interesting quotes by Kummer from a 1928 interview. “Male exploitation is no longer the art it used to be… Twentieth century vampires could profit from the methods of famous sirens of history.” ↩