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Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of London's Jazz Age Hardcover – January 6, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374116830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374116835
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #999,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By MarkK VINE VOICE on January 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Throughout much of the 1920s, Londoners had a front-row seat to the antics of a small group of socialites about town. These young men and women staged lavish parties, disrupted activities with scavenger hunts and other stunts, and provided fodder for gossip columnists and cartoonists. This group, dubbed the "Bright Young People," was fictionalized in novels, recounted in memoirs, and is now the subject of D. J. Taylor's collective history of their group.

An accomplished author, Taylor provides an entertaining account of the group. He describes its members - which included such people as Stephen Tennant, Elizabeth Ponsonby, Brian Howard, Bryan Guinness, and Diana Mitford - and the antics that often attracted so much attention. Yet his scope is also broadened to include people such as Cecil Beaton and Evelyn Waugh, socially on the fringe of the group and yet important figures whose interactions with them prove highly revealing. Through their works and the sometimes obsessive coverage they received on the society pages he reconstructs the relationships and the events that captivated the public's attention.

From all of this emerges a portrait of a phenomenon that was in many ways a unique product of its time. In the aftermath of the demographic devastation of the First World War, the 1920s was a decade that saw the celebration of youth, all of whom grew up in the shadow of a conflict that was the dominant experience of men and women just a few years older than them. The survivors lived in a world where the older generations were discredited and traditional social structures faced increasing economic pressures.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this book with real eagerness and was disappointed with it. The author kept losing focus. He would zero in on a chapter about Evelyn Waugh and Cecil Beaton and it would be a page turner. Then, unfortunately, he would move on to another chapter and lose the thread. He did finally focus on the life of Elizabeth Ponsonby and perhaps that is how he should have dealt with the material which is voluminous. There was just so much ground to cover and I think the author didn't know how to grapple with the material successfully. Having just read some of the diaries of James Lees-Milne and an autobiography by Leolia Ponsonby (who is mentioned in this book) I can see why this writer was attracted to the subject matter, but I think he just never got a real handle on it. I loaned the book to a friend who is an avid reader and this should have been right up his alley but he put it down half way through and returned it. Not a good sign.
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Format: Hardcover
Britain's Lost Generation grew up immediately after World War I. Too young to take part in the fighting, their childhoods were scarred by loss and privation. Its small wonder that in the early 1920s these young men and women began to make their marks as brainless partiers intent on having a good time, unchecked by the influence of older brothers (dead on the battle field) or parents (somewhat poorer and definitely out of fashion). D.J. Taylor does an excellent job of chronicling the lives of these men and women through the 1920s and 1930s and then beyond.

Many of the Bright Young People were highly gifted writers, like Evelyn Waugh, Harold Acton, and Nancy Mitford. They began producing novels and thinly disguised memoirs of the Bright Young People while the group was still in its heyday. Others, like Elizabeth Ponsonby and Brian Howard, squandered whatever creative talent they possessed in a fog of booze, drugs, and ceaseless but purposeless activity. I enjoyed reading the many anecdotes with which Taylor enlivens his text, describing elaborate masquerades or complicated and sometimes cruel practical jokes, but it grew wearisome to think that the people participating kept it up unceasingly for more than a decade. Often what seems like a good idea and a lot of fun at 21 begins to seem rather dull and pointless by 25 and unbearable by 30, but that never seemed to dawn on many of the Bright Young People, making that sobriquet seem even sadder and more ironic. Taylor thoughtfully provides us with an afterword in which he summarizes the later careers of the Bright Young People, some brilliant and many more banal.

Bright Young People is an entertaining work which will appeal to social historians and scholars of twentieth century English literature, as well as anyone who enjoys reading about gifted and talented young people and their less brilliant but still amusing hangers-on.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bright Young People is the story of a particular group of young people who lived in London in the 1920s and `30s. Born at around the turn of the century, they were well connected and, for the most part, wealthy. They were known for the outrageous lifestyles they led, holding themed parties until dawn and performing tricks upon each other. The Bright Young People relied largely on the press to publicize their activities, and they included, among others, Nancy and Diana Mitford, Bryan Guinness, Evelyn Waugh, Brian Howard, Brenda Dean Paul, Cecil Beaton, and Elizabeth Ponsonby.

The book is divided into thirteen chapters, with little interludes focusing on specific people or things (on is on all the books Brian Howard never wrote). The book is a bit disorganized; the chapters don't seem to be arranged in any others, and the interludes, rather than being enlightening, hinder the flow of the book. The book is also a little unfocused; al large part of it is devoted to Elizabeth Ponsonby and her fraught relationship with her parents (chronicled extensively in their diaries). It's almost as though Taylor meant to write a biography of Elizabeth, realized he didn't have enough material to write it, and expanded the book to focus on all the Bright Young Things of the period. There's also a lot about Brenda Dean Paul's drug addiction and weight loss; but in contrast, there's not a whole lot about any of the other people of the "movement--" not even on the Mitfords or Evelyn Waugh. There's also a dearth of information on the Bright Young Things' relationships with each other, which was disappointing to me.
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