From Publishers Weekly
Fans of Evelyn Waughs Vile Bodies
and Decline and Fall
will recognize the glittering world of the Bright Young People, the London socialites of the 1920s who had their costume parties and other exploits celebrated (and excoriated) in the tabloid media. Taylor, a literary critic and biographer, acknowledges that this crowd—which included Cecil Beaton and Nancy Mitford—were the Britney Spears and Paris Hilton of their day, but doesn't belabor the point excessively. Taylors account is not so much a straightforward history as a bundle of thematic essays arranged chronologically; one chapter, for example, discusses the ways some gay Brights were able to avoid much of the repression prevalent throughout British society at the time, while another covers the themes of the fiction that came out of the scene. There are still plenty of juicy anecdotes to go around, although Taylor says that reports of drug-fueled orgies are exaggerated, and points out that Britain in the 1920s was a tightly regulated society. The text is enlivened by several Punch
cartoons from the period, vividly depicting the hold these rich young partygoers once held on the publics imagination. (Jan.)
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In 1920s London, privileged and moneyed young people fell in with one another to create a social scene that thrived on sensation and notoriety to an extent that might rival today’s cult of celebrity. Some of their names endure: Evelyn Waugh, Cecil Beaton, Nancy Mitford, Hermione Baddeley. But many others, household words in their day, have not thrived as well in memory: David Tennant, Elizabeth Ponsonby, Anthony Powell. Their parties were legend, the scavenger hunts they organized in Mayfair to flaunt their excess time and money figured in every newspaper, and Noel Coward sang of their exploits. They frequented Rosa Lewis’ legendary Cavendish Hotel. Much of their flamboyance was a reaction to the privations and losses of World War I. Taylor has done a masterful job of detailing this hedonistic moment, but American readers may find many of the references to people and places not immediately familiar and recognizable. --Mark Knoblauch