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The Bright Young People were one of the extraordinary youth cults in British history A pleasure seeking band of bohemian party givers and blue blooded socialites they romped through the 1920s gossip columns But the uest for pleasure came at a price This work talks about of England's 'lost generation' of the Jazz Age


10 thoughts on “Bright Young People The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918 1940

  1. says:

    A good overview of the Worst Generation aka the Bright Young People of the 20s and 30s These were pretty much all absolutely awful posers and showoffs who needed a slap but fortunately the author knows this Highly readable with lots of useful refs for further reading and a specific chapter on homosexuality in the BYTs20s


  2. says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this moving and informative account of the 1920s British band of pleasure seeking bohemians and blue blooded socialites that comprised the Bright Young People DJ Taylor's fascinating book explores the main events and the key players throughout the 1920s 1930s World War Two and into the post WW2 eraI encountering many names that I was already uite familiar with eg Cecil Beaton Elizabeth Ponsonby the Jungman sisters Patrick Balfour Diana and Nancy Mitford Brian Howard Anthony Powell Evelyn Waugh Cyril Connolly Henry Yorke and many having read other excellent accounts of the era Theses include Mad World Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead The Mitford Girls The Biography of an Extraordinary Family The Age of Illusion England in the Twenties and Thirties 1919 1940 and The Long Week end A Social History of Great Britain 1918 39Elizabeth Ponsonby's story looms large in this book as DJ Taylor had access to her parents' diaries In the late 1920s and early 1930s she was a staple in the gossip columns who seized upon the Bright Young People's adventures and reported them with a mixture of reverence and glee There was plenty to report practical jokes treasure hunts fancy dress parties stealing policemen's helmets dancing all night at the Ritz and so on In a sense this is what the 1920s is best remembered for and for some it must have felt right after the trauma of World War One and with Victorian values in decline for young people to enjoy themselves However beneath the laughter and the cocktails lurk some less jolly narratives DJ Taylor manages to dig beneath the glittering surface where for every success story Evelyn Waugh and Cecil Beaton both launched very successful careers via the opportunities the Bright Young People scene afforded them there were also tales of failure and tragedy Some Bright Young People managed to adapt and prosper others either continued their 1920s lifestyles or were forever trapped by their gilded youths Elizabeth Ponsonby provides the ultimate cautionary tale She made a half hearted attempt at acting and later took a short lived job as a dress shop assistant but basically drank to excess gave parties and practically bankrupted her parents who fretted helplessly “It hurts us to see you getting coarse in your speech outlook in life” her mother wrote to Elizabeth in 1923 suggesting “you ought to enlarge your sphere of enjoyment not only find happiness in night clubs London parties a certain sort of person” This sounds like any parent’s out of touch lament but the Ponsonbys had genuine cause for concern The tone of Vile Bodies captures Elizabeth Ponsonby's routines as glimpsed in her parents' diaries In Vile Bodies Waugh states the Bright Young People exhibit naïveté callousness insensitivity insincerity flippancy a fundamental lack of seriousness and moral euilibrium that sours every relationship and endeavour they are involved in A harsh and telling view from an eye witnessand probably closer to the truth than the hagiographic accounts of the era As I state at the outset I really enjoyed this book and despite having read a few similar accounts I discovered plenty of new information and this has added to my understanding of this endlessly fascinating era I also found it surprisingly moving the diary entries by Elizabeth Ponsonby's parents are heartbreaking Recommended for anyone interested in the era of the Bright Young People45


  3. says:

    I would never have thought that anyone could write a book about the Jazz Age that could be so sleep inducing The author constantly goes into tedious detail where it is not warranted The core group of the Bright Young People of London in the 1920's were the first people via modern media to be famous for being famous They had no special talent or skills so how much can you write about them? There were some people on the edge of this group such as Evelyn Waugh who went on to greater accomplishmentsIn the case of Elizabeth Ponsonby the author seems to have committed to paper everything he managed to find on her However Elizabeth's only claim to fame was that she was great fun at parties And that's all she had no special talent or skill and did nothing of social significance A Wikipedia article on her has been deleted on this basis She did sponge off her long suffering parents until her premature death from drink in her late thirties but she's not the first person in history to have done that Yet the author gives much space to her story uoting extensively from her father's diary where one or two uotations would have sufficed I'd give this 15 stars if I could There is some interesting information here but it is lost in a morass of insignificant detail


  4. says:

    I had very little interest in reading this book and it took me awhile to get hooked by it but I do recommend it flawed though it is It seems every era of prosperity has its brat pack of flibbertigibbit young people with too much time on their hands too much cleverness and not enough enduring talent It’s called I’m tempted to say life The Bright Young People hereafter referred to as BYP were a group of aristocratic andor well heeled young people and their hangers on who started doing outrageous things within the confines of a tightly defined social milieu that pretty much characterizes England during just about any time in history after the Romans left c 410 AD Perhaps globalization has put the kibosh on such localized youth phenomenon – was the last outbreak in England was Carnaby Street in the Swingin’ Sixties? Or whatever street that was I can never keep this straight But in the 1920s the BYP were echt English with the exception of a few of them who wound up becoming Nazis and to some extent held the attention of the world or at least the English tabloids Affluent young people doing silly stuff Paris Hilton comes to mind as she should; she’d be good at being a BYP and I mean this as a compliment – BYP status involved a great deal of hard work shrewd friend and enemy picking and constant image burnishing Still who cares? Such gorgeous waifs add nothing to the culture nothing to the economy except spending lots in the frou frou market Well when it comes to the BYP of the 1920s Evelyn Waugh is part of the pack and Cyril Connolly and Anthony Powell some attention should be paid So I slogged on and found the book to have been well worth the effort But it could have been a much better bookFirst off Taylor couldn’t make up his mind what kind of book he wanted this to be and in the process missed an opportunity to write something that could’ve been great Things start out with a pretty clinical sociological cultural account of the era with lots of snooty contemporary “Punch” cartoons This is why it took my 4 months to read this thing because I found this opening stuff competent but rather underwhelming and again my lack of interest in the subject contributed to my lack of enthusiasm To be honest except for Waugh and the other literary lights I had trouble keeping the names straight But the true heart of the story came to my attention about halfway through when I noticed increasing references to elderly MP and diarist Arthur Ponsonby and his wife Dorothea and his alcoholic trainwreck BYP daughter Elizabeth and the man she was briefly married Denis Pelly This story was the heart of the book and gave it a heft that all those tabloid accounts of ridiculous theme parties couldn’t provide Astonishingly here is Taylor in the opening of his “Notes and Further Reading” section found at the back of the book after it was far too late to matter“The primary source for this book has been the mass of papers accumulated by the Ponsonby family These include the extensive diaries kept by Arthur and Dorothea letters sent to them by Elizabeth and the documents and other artifacts discovered in Elizabeth’s flat after her death” p 329So if this stuff was the primary source make the Ponsonby’s the heart of the story and let the other BYP’s enter the orbit This Ponsonby material from what I can tell is significant Arthur’s diary entries are heartbreaking – there is a talent often unintentional involved in writing a diary that anybody else would want to read and Arthur has it although so far as I can tell he did not have an eye on literary posterity; he wrote in order to compose his thoughts and to better understand his life and family The love for his hopeless helpless yet charming daughter Elizabeth is very very moving Her feckless husband soon divorced Denis Pelly is a case of a weak man trying hard to not be a wastrel I am not exactly sure what happened to Denis – unless I missed it and I tried the index to refresh my memory Taylor’s failure to address his fate is unfortunate And yet the reader will find that Taylor buries the Ponsonbys to the extent that they are just another casualty in BYP era decade long on going catastrophe There are clues that the Ponsonbys are special – one of the two photo sections has annoyingly truncated captions of the Ponsonby’s referring to them only by their first names that left me baffled and annoyed It was only halfway through the book before the Ponsonby’s emerged from the swirl of theme parties and car wrecks and hushed up scandals Only at the end of the book when Arthur stops keeping his diary except for occasional anguished and soul lacerating entries about his dead daughter did the full extent of Taylor’s missed opportunity come clear So the Ponsonby heart of this book is mostly lost in a whirl of BYP shenanigans Matters are not improved by Taylor’s intermittent mean streak and paparazzi mentality For instance one of my favorites of the BYP is Brian Howard a failed writer and poet of substantial but suandered talent Although Howard’s failures are detailed within the text Taylor feels compelled to devote an entire vicious chapter to him called “The Books Brian Never Wrote” The heartlessness of this inculcated in me a real antipathy towards Taylor – so what’ve you done Mr Taylor? Indeed almost all writers are failures in the big enduring sense of the word Howard’s sloth pusillanimity mama’s boy skirt clinging and wishful thinking are easy to savage but Howard also seemed to be a writer of some scruples and a decent amount of self awareness Taylor is far impressed by forgettable but relentlessly productive hacks such as Robert Bryon Making sure one establishes a career and stays comfy seems to be the benchmark of literary success for Taylor Even outside literary matters Taylor is a meanie For instance the pathetic but rather dazzling I must say based on a photo published in the book morphine addict Brenda Dean Paul comes in for some heavy handed snarky Lindsay Lohan treatment But Taylor’s breaking a butterfly on the wheel here for Brenda Dean Paul’s life was nothing but sad and pitiful and hopeless The Bryan Guinness a key BYP personality that emerges from Taylor’s book is also blundered Guinness the brewery heir fell in with the BYP’s and married disastrously always use the word “disastrously” when describing BTY marriages – it saves time one of them the beautiful and vacant Diana Mitford vacant but later all too filled up with intransigent Nazi ideology From Taylor’s depiction he seemed to be merely a particularly wan colorless version of the typical BYP male As it turns out his wife and his wealth made him party central at the end of the book we are told that Guinness was conservative and conscientious wanting nothing than to raise a family and did so having a bunch of kids by his second wife and generally live a responsible life That I still drink Guinness Stout is a testament to his business acumen But this information came late and as a surprise ending but it felt a little cheap – some hint of Guinness’s personality towards the beginning of the narrative would have provided this apparently normal decent human being with at least some of the heft his character deserved And yet Taylor is capable of balance and compassionate good sense What is strange is the fact he is best at the hard cases For instance some of the louche desperate and occasionally talented hangers on orbiting the core of the BYP self immolating super nova are rendered very deftly by Taylor Celebrity photographer Cecil Beaton’s frantic social climbing is outlined by Taylor with shrewd good humor without descending into nastiness Likewise outsider Inez Holden is also nicely sketched Further his take on the Mitford sisters who I’ve always find loathsome cloying uasi sinister silly and generally useless struck me as very balanced It would be easy to pile on Diana and Unity who greatly admired and met and dined with and practically defected to Hitler But History pretty much takes care of this kind of misguided foolishness and we don’t need somebody 70 years later going on and on about how benighted it all was The 1930s were very confusing politically and yet it was almost mandatory that everybody be very very terribly sure of themselves As Martin Amis notes the fascists wind up being universally deplored while the Stalinists of the era are still given an astonishing amount of slack Left or right it was as Auden famously said a low dishonest decade and the woozy substanceless BYP’s did not come particularly well euipped for the dangers and horrors of the 1930s But then almost nobody did except Winston Churchill But I digress and grossly over simplify Here’s something I didn’t know when England declared war on Germany in 1939 “Unity Mitford walked to the middle of the English Garden in Munich and shot herself in the temple” p 277 or so But even a bullet to the brain couldn’t kill Unity which is a testament to the incredible resilience of those awful Mitford girls The Germans patched her up and shipped her back to England Even Goebbels had no use for her A Mitford Waugh aside if you want something that will really make your gorge rise read Waugh’s letters to Nancy Mitford For decades he was her slave for reasons having to do with the BYP era he seems to have been dazzled by her beauty and her sister Diana’s mean girl cleverness elevated social status and wealth basically He just couldn’t shake her and his catty viciously gossipy letters to her decade after decade show just how the 1920s stuck to the bottom of his shoe The way he gently oh so gently tries to goad her into writing well rather than slovenly is sometimes funny sometimes nauseating In his defense Nancy was the best of the lotA few miscellaneous complaints etc The only two BYP’s I’ve ever had an enduring interest in is Waugh and Cyril Connolly I don’t include Powell because I know him only by reputation Waugh is handled uite well by Taylor who manages to get in both Waugh’s BYP biography and Waugh’s trenchant commentary on the BYP phenomenon in eual well balanced measures although “Brideshead Revisited” which is often concerned with the BYP 20 year long hangover is mostly absent Waugh’s first disastrous that word again marriage was to a woman also named Evelyn He Evelyn and She Evelyn as they were known and Taylor describes its disintegration with a commendable lack of malice But Connolly is weirdly inexcusably absent In a way he wrote the ultimate textbook on missed opportunities “Enemies of Promise” as well as perhaps the BYP’s most enduring literary work of all “The Unuiet Grave” which is merely mentioned by Taylor as having been published in 1944 The photos themselves are terrific in this book but nonsensically arranged and cropped and infuriatingly captioned half the time The bulk of the Ponsonby photos are coyly identified by first name only see above This disjointed postmodern approach to printing photos in books seems to have become an editorial trend one that needs to stop right now Note to editors or authors or whoever the hell is responsible knock it the hell off Run the pictures big clear and clearly captioned on glossy paper The virtual universe is already demolishing print so don’t put books at even of a disadvantage than they already are with clever collage mongering and shoddy captioning Names far too many BYP’s had surnames that function as given names or were otherwise confusing – Bryon Brian and Howard Brenda Dean Paul a woman with one girl’s and two boy’s names the two Evelyns he and she Taylor’s rather condescending tendency to refer to people by their given names added to the confusion and sent me to the index a lot to keep things straight


  5. says:

    I fell into this book sort of by accident It started with reading a couple of the Patrick Leigh Fermor travel books which reminded me that I am fascinated by the period between 1890 and 1939 when we were wrenched in my opinion into the modern world and the period between WWI and WWII was the new world's childhood I picked up Robert Graves' The Long Weekend a social history of 1921 1939 which is a terrific idiosyncratic read and then plunged into Bright Young People I am not a bit smarter for having read the book This is the tale of the young semi monied 'smart set' whose parties were the stuff of society sections and scandal They seem a perfect parallel for the Paris Hiltons and her tribe not particularly useful but taking up endless pages of copy Taylor wrote the book recently 2004? and I have to wonder why He tries hard to draw lessons from them without uite calling them dreadful examples but the lessons are obvious and in Taylor's hands lead to no conclusions Not counting the escapees like Evelyn Waugh and Cecil Beaton they are the same lost shallow or frittered lives that for some reason so enchant us in People Magazine or Star or Us which I absolutely read every time I have my hair done Among my friends it is legal to read them but illegal to buy them There is a better book in these stories bios would have made interesting reading I think there may be a pungent pertinent summation about our interest in the BYP caught embarrassed but fascinated by the excesses sort of sorry we missed some of those type of parties and heartily hoping our kids missed them tooI can't uite say I didn't like it but it is now on the stack of books destined to be donated somewhere


  6. says:

    Once I arrived at the second or third chapter I found this book difficult to put down for the night The style of the writing keeps readers moving along at a fast pace perhaps reminding us of the frenetic pace of the 1920s themselves Each prominent Bright Young Person's life and character is detailed with portraits drawn clearly After reading this book one almost feels as though one knows each member of the group personally Among the members of the group upon whom focus is placed are Nancy Mitford and her sisters Unity and Diana the Fascists among the sisters Alec and Evelyn Waugh Cecil Beaton Elizabeth Ponsonby and Brenda Deen Paul Other less well known members of the Bright Young People whom we get to know include Patrick Balfour Brian Howard Stephen Tennant and others whose life achievements failed to keep them prominent in the public memoryI'd recommend this book for readers interested in 20th century American culture the 1920s in particular and people who are curious about the small group of rich and boisterous youngsters who had so much influence during their time and yet now seem like falling stars very bright for a moment and then gone


  7. says:

    As someone who has always described myself as an old soul I have a natural predisposition to understanding and appreciating the past Though I recognize the implications and naiveté of such a wish not a day goes by that I still don't pine yearn and frankly tingle at the mere thought of being a young woman alive sometime during the first half of the twentieth century In my opinion those first fifty years garnered far snazzier fashions thought provoking art and interesting people than just about anything in the latter halfIn order to get my history fix I often watch movies from the silent era and golden age of Hollywood Bette Davis Bette Davis Bette Davis incorporate certain classic elements into my wardrobe and make up choices eg fishnet stockings loose fitting tops with belts wedged heels and constantly read about the people places and things of the various decades My latest conuest in the last department is a book called Bright Young People The Lost Generation of London's Jazz Age which is a thorough recreation and examination of the life and times of the budding British elite in the roaring '20s The author DJ Taylor not only provided my fix with his wonderful investigative work but he also supplied me with the inspiration to find out even about the people he traces to read some of the books they wrote and to finally get my hair wavedThe Bright Young People were a large group of London’s rich and famous young men and women They’ve been immortalized in literature Evelyn Waugh being the most prominent author of the period in movies Bright Young Things and in various other types of art In many ways they’re immortal beings which is odd considering they only existed for such a short time span in history For ten or so years they ruled the celebrity roost with their charming antics extravagant parties and bohemian sensibilities Gin and tonic bath and bottle parties and lighthearted feelings were all the rage with this brood In the end though their hedonism and the prospect and eventuality of war in later years stopped their frolicking and merriment A number of the Bright Young People failed to escape their hunger for extravagance and succumbed to the effects of alcohol and drugs Others went to war and perished Some retired their dancing slippers and hunkered down to a normal life Many vanished into thin air Taylor artfully traces the origins of the Bright Young People with the same effervescent touch the people themselves possess His language is sassy sweet and intelligent Though he covers a lot of ground in the roughly twenty years the text never feels heavy or meandering Instead it sucks you in like a great novel or a great piece of gossip Bright Young People will make you laugh while learning about a group of carefree individuals who at one point or another actually lived the life many of us dream of living Review by Sara Freeman


  8. says:

    I had previously read the biographies of Stephen Tennent and Brian Howard also Paula Byrne's very interesting book Mad World so I found little new in this work The exception being the material regarding Elizabeth Ponsonby the author had access to her family's archive unfortunately there was little to justify the detail to the point of tedium with which Mr Taylor treated this individual She was one of the less significant members of the Bright Young People really just an alcoholic who was famous for being famous and draining the funds of her long suffering parentsMore seriously than these faults I found a strong vein of homophobia throughout this work The author makes several remarks about homosexuals being predators and is dismissive of the courage of those brave enough to live their lives openly despite facing prison and social disapproval


  9. says:

    With their older siblings and friends dead on the battlefields of France Mayfair's jeunesse doree spent much of the 1920s acting out as outrageously as possible the celebrity gossip columns in the hottest pursuit This book picks over their in many ways tragic lives Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies which sends up the same set tells the story better


  10. says:

    This book is probably a little too esoteric for me I found the story of Elizabeth Ponsonby and her parents Arthur and Dorothea heartbreaking The Bright Young People were the Paris Hiltons Lindsay Lohans and the reality stars of their day It's sad that some bright young things never know when to leave the party