Home > Labor, Miscellaneous, Socialism/Communism > Floyd Dell in Davenport

Floyd Dell in Davenport

From University of Iowa Special Collections

Dell strengthened his unconventional image by publicly embracing socialism. He had leafletted plant gates for the presidency of Eugene V. Debs in 1904 and had joined the socialist local in Davenport. He adopted a brand of socialism which combined municipal ownership of public services with the more utopian outlook of George Bernard Shaw and the Fabian Society in England. As a teenager, Dell thought that socialists “believed in another kind of world than the one we lived in, and were helping to bring it about-a world of justice and beauty and order.” [22] The rhetoric of socialism provided Dell with solace for his own family disappointments, and the meeting of the local replaced the hours spent at the library. Dell’s fictionalized self, Felix Fay, “found happiness at last. It seemed that he entered, at first only for moments, and then for long golden hours, an enchanted land in which there was neither desire or fear — only the solace of magic words. ” [23]

Dell’s first attack on established beliefs came with his writing for the Tri-City Workers Magazine, a periodical designed “to discuss all public questions of local and general interest from the viewpoint of those workers who clearly understand this class division and class struggle.” [24] The magazine contained poetry, advertising, articles, editorials, and a series of “muckraking” exposes presenting an “inside view” of modern industrial settings such as a candy factory, department store, cigar factory, corn planter workers, and a button factory. For one year this became Dell’s showcase for five pseudonymous articles, one article on the kindergarten movement and his first book review. He enjoyed support from another new arrival in Davenport, Fritz Feuchter, a mail carrier who supported Dell in his investigative journalism. Feuchter became the fictional character Vogelsang who told Dell’s alter ego, “You have been mooning about, writing verses about life instead of living.” [25] Although the magazine folded after the municipal election of 1906, it provided Dell with necessary modifications to his public persona.

On the one hand, Dell found in Iowa a city where he could revolt against established authority. He could criticize the library board, the school board, and Brick Munro’s bawdy dance halls. [26] On the other hand, Davenport was a place where his rebellion was tolerated. He later admitted that he encountered “an unexpected general tolerance for what were regarded as my rash but interesting youthful ideas.” [27] His fictionalized portrayal of the city described a pleasant city: “its long tree-shaded streets, its great parks, its public buildings, even its shops and homes . . . had a kind of dignity and serenity, as though in this town it was understood that life was meant to be enjoyed.” [28] At the close of his novel Moon-Calf, Dell as Felix mused about how Davenport had been built for nurturing. “It had been built for young men and girls to be happy in, to adventure in, and to think strange and free and perilous thoughts.” [29] In one of his visits home, Dell publicized his novel by stressing again his pleasant thoughts about Davenport. “It was a place where I found … friendship and beauty and adventure in the world of ideas.” [30] Dell was not inclined to reject the small town as Sinclair Lewis so satirically did in the 1920s. [31]

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