The Top 10 Party Girls in Literature
Marlowe Granados recommends glittering characters who pursue pleasure in a world that doesn't want them to succeed
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From an age that was often too young to be anywhere, I found myself in closed-off rooms. They ranged from green rooms at concert halls to back rooms at parties. By the time I was 21, I had known my purpose in those spaces, how and why I was invited into them, and what was expected of me. I was a seasoned party girl who flitted in and out of metropolitan cities with seemingly few resources. People had seen me around. They would say, “Oh her, I’ve known her forever!”
The politics of the Party Girl have always been of interest to me, simply because of the way she moves within a world that warns her to be careful. To watch her behavior, her tone, her drink. She exists on a precipice of seeking out fun, when also too much fun, she’s warned, is dangerous. The prevailing image of the Party Girl has historically been white—of course, non-white Party Girls have existed, but how much space do we lend them in its canon? How much fun are they allowed to have? My characters come from a lineage of flappers, demimondaines, and society girls, where what unifies these archetypes is how they attempt to rise ranks with charm as their only currency.
My debut novel Happy Hour follows Isa Epley and Gala Novak, two young women in pursuit of pleasure at whatever cost—and usually on someone else’s dime. They traverse New York’s social scenes with disarming aplomb—wily, mischievous, and irreverent. Isa, being of Latinx/Asian descent, structures her delicate world of fun with a kind of alertness that her white counterparts need not have. Keeping sinister outcomes at bay, Isa gets away with it all. Her forebears are sometimes not as lucky. Each of these titles share a glittering character who pursues pleasure, freedom, and beauty in a world that does not want them to succeed.
Mr. Right is Dead by Rona Jaffe
The titular novella in this collection follows a playgirl named Melba Toast who gathers men and gifts without a touch of malice, “She takes quick flights of fancy and quick flights across the country in quest of someone she had two dates with a month before.” The narrator is a willing accomplice to Melba’s schemes and comes to the realization that though she makes it look easy, a playgirl’s life is often hard work.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
This list would be amiss without Holly Golightly. The glamorous call girl who left men wanting more. She has some of the best Party Girl pedigree—a secret marriage, a mob connection, and a casual grasp of French. I often find myself repeating her aperçus—“Certain shades of limelight wreck a girl’s complexion.”
Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
Dundy’s protagonist Sally Jay Gorce feels like the original American in Paris. “I could have never got out of him a single fur, or a single jewel, or a jar of fresh caviar,” she says while contemplating how rich men are suspicious of those who orbit them and have lesser means. Djurna Barnes once wrote a short story called “The Woman Who Goes Abroad to Forget,” Sally Jay Gorce could very well be that woman. Dud Avocado is for those who need a beginner’s guide on how to live.
House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Lily Bart is, in a way, the martyr of Party Girls. A woman who loves the beauty and luxury of the world she grew up in only to be punished by the cruel mores of her very class. As she desperately tries to marry a man of means to cover her growing gambling debt (chic!), she is sabotaged at every turn and dies in poverty.
Lote by Shola von Reinhold
The search for extravagance and luxury lands this contemporary novel on my list. The protagonist Mathilda fixates on a photograph of a Black modernist poet and finds herself at an artist residency in the same town the poet was known to live. The novel displays the critical importance of tracing a history of decadence that has long been forgotten.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
Two charming flappers cause mischief across New York, London, and Paris. Written in diary form with clever malapropisms sprinkled throughout and a faux-naïf narrator in Lorelei Lee, nothing bad could ever happen to these women, and that’s a design of their own making.
100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell
Much like the fluid identity of a “Hot Girl”, the Party Girl lifestyle is an ethos, and nothing says Party Girl more than a roving landscape of lovers. Short, first-person vignettes follow the unnamed protagonist on a revelatory, queer misadventure meeting boyfriend to “boyfriend”.
Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys
When I think of a Rhys novel, I envision scenes of a lone woman drinking Pernod at a café she can’t afford and gazing at shop windows for a dress she’ll spend the last of her allowance on. Good Morning, Midnight follows a middle-aged Sasha Jansen as she returns to Paris and is haunted by memories of a life that she’ll never return to. Rhys’s talent is in painting a scene that at turns is tragic, but cut through with moments of humor and lightness.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
After a long-term relationship detonates, Queenie Jenkins careens around London in a never-ending spiral of bad decisions and sexual foibles. Wrestling her mental health, heartbreak, and a prudent Jamaican British family, Queenie attempts the clumsy journey of trying to achieve independence through sexual encounters.
The Chosen and The Beautiful by Nghi Vo
A retelling of The Great Gatsby from the eyes of Jordan Baker—this time queer and Vietnamese. Vo reinvents the Fitzgerald classic into one that is filled with magical realism and a recognizable decadence. For those that always thought Jordan was the unsung heroine.