Described in the blurb as a ‘sweeping look at the changing world of the Jazz Age, as life below stairs vanished forever, loose morals ran riot, and new inventions made it seem anything was possible’, this book gives an entertaining glimpse in to the lives of the Bright Young People, the wealthy young Mayfair set who ran riot in London in the Nineteen Twenties. Presented in a gossipy tone, with first-hand accounts from those who were part of the group of friends dubbed the ‘Bright Young People’ by the popular press, and the generation of ‘Bright Young Things’ they led and inspired. The central cast of aristocrats and artists loom large in a playful narrative of all night dancing, freak parties, treasure hunts through London, immodest fashions and heavy drinking. The more staid members of their age group and class, the debs, and the attitudes of their parents to the antics of the hedonistic set are also covered.
The focus is primarily on London; however there is some reference to the United States and Paris. As Jazz was a large part of the lifestyle of the Bright Young Things, this isn’t surprising. The spread of this form of music from the southern United States across the Atlantic to London and the on into Europe is fascinating, although the author doesn’t go in to a great deal of detail.
Also covered in the book are references to changing sexual attitudes, and the growth of consumer ‘labour –saving’ goods as more people had access to electricity and servants became rarer.
While this book is subtitled ‘Life in the Roaring Twenties’ it doesn’t really give much of an insight in to life for those who weren’t wealthy and educated, and living in London. Bare mention is given to the lives and aspirations of working and lower middle class people, who presumably had ambitions and needs as well. It’s very gossipy in nature, relying on published diaries, letters and autobiographies/biographies for much of the detail. The ‘flapper’, her dress, attitudes and occupations are a recurring feature of the book.
I didn’t feel that the author really put meat on the bones of the subject, although the origin of certain terms originating in, or associated with, the decade are explained and there is a decent bibliography at the back. I’d say this was quite a good book for GCSE students wanting a bit more information about the Twenties, and those wanting an overview of the decade. At the very least it’ll get people started and then they can move on to more detailed studies of the decade.