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3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 14 December 2007
If we think that it's a new thing, the way that the gutter press and gossip mags now are obsessed with celebrity, we're wrong. The Bright Young People were there first. I bought this book after reading a review, because I'm interested in one particular person in one particular photograph. I found it enlightening and amusing. The Bright Young People that Taylor writes about were few; no doubt a lot of hangers on described themselves as Bright Young People during and after the event, but this book is about the epicentre, the small group of partygoers who started the trend then either took a back seat, left the country or were destroyed by it. The book concentrates on the essence of the movement, if that's what it was, the people at the heart of it, actual events and the people the newspapers wrote about. It doesn't truly describe a whole generation, just the ones who defined it and the waves they made.
Reading about them, I can see the influence they had on my working class, northern great aunt who gave up a good job as a cook to train as a secretary in London so she could go out dancing in the 1920s. She must have read about them in the press and wanted a part of it. She went on to run the factory that made rivets for Spitfires, then to help at a refugee camp in Italy, spoke four languages and judged dogs at Crufts. The Bright Young People seem to have unleashed a spirit of defiance of convention that spread amongst their generation then was crushed by mid century hardship and censorship. It makes me want to reread Waugh and watch Stephen Fry's Bright Young Things with a better understanding of their list of players.
There have always been upper class scoundrels, fritterers, debtors, drunks, sluts and fallen angels; for me, the way the press and contemporary novelists documented this particular group has the most relevance to present times.
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on 6 May 2014
Although keeping up with the cast of characters can be a bit confusing and pondersome at times, I like this book very much. The author has done a good job of compiling existing publications on this topic, along with his own research. I thought that one of the main persons discussed, Elizabeth Ponsonsby, could have been the model for Sebastian Flyte of "Brideshead Revisited". Like Sebastian, she was viable only in her youth, during the 1920's after which time, alcoholism and carelessness went out of fashion. There are many more interesting people in the book, most about whom information is very hard to find. This book is well written, and if you are a fan of the 1920's, as I am, it's well worth purchasing if your local library doesn't carry it.
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on 27 August 2014
very good fast delivery. very pleased.
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on 12 July 2009
This is a brilliant anatomy of 'the Bright Brigade' - that generation of eccentric, aristocratic and moneyed young men and women who partied their lives away with such determined frivolity in the decade and a half after the Great War before the Depression, Fascism and another looming international conflict was to bring them crashing back down to earth. The book is extremely well researched and beautifully written, as one would expect given that the author is both a distinguished biographer (of Orwell and Thackeray) and a fine novelist. But what really struck me was the fact that Taylor is not in the least judgemental about these brittle young Bohemeians and their silly escapades. Instead of showing them to be dissolute and unsympathetic he reveals the sense of melancholy and futility that lay beneath their lives with the unceasing round of parties and 'amusing' entertainments. More importantly Taylor reveals the literary legacy that this lost generation has left behind, notably in the novels of Waugh, Powell and Nancy Mitford. If you're interested in the glamorous and eccentric personalities of the 1920s and early 30s then this excellent book is for you.
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on 21 December 2014
Very interesting reading
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 January 2014
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". D.J. Taylor's fascinating book explores the main events and the key players, throughout the 1920s, 1930s, World War Two and into the post-WW2 era.

I encountering many names that I was already quite familiar with (e.g. 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 more) 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, 1918-39.

Elizabeth Ponsonby's story looms large in this book, as D.J. 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.

D.J. 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 equilibrium that sours every relationship and endeavour they are involved in". A harsh and telling view from an eye-witness,and probably closer to the truth than the more 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 People".
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 24 January 2009
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. In this respect, the Bright Young People represented a garish defiance of the old order and a celebration of life, yet one driven by an undercurrent of sadness and sense of loss.

Taylor's account is infused with both sympathy and insight. At points his narrative degenerates into descriptions of one party after another, when the people threaten to blur into a single generic stereotype, but he succeeds in conveying something of the flavor of the era. From the photos included, the reader can see the fun the young men and women smiling and hamming it up as they pose for the camera, but for what lay behind their expressions readers should turn to this book.
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on 16 March 2017
Enjoyable read about this loose-living era. Much overlooked social history. Well researched and excellent writing. For more on Mrs Meyrick read Alice Diamond and the Forty Elephants : The Female Gang That Terrorised London
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on 14 November 2007
I really enjoyed this book, which uses a large amount of original material - letters, diaries of the subjects and their families, as well as more public sources, to discuss this flamboyant and often tragic group in a very sensitive and thoughtful manner, with a good idea of the contemporary context and how this changed with the 1930s. Nice use of language, with something of a flavour of the times.
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on 27 September 2015
It is surprising to me that DJ Taylor is a novelist, as he seems to have no gift whatsoever for bringing people alive on the page. Instead, he offers up bland summations of (and woolly pontifications about) the themes and trends he imagines he is discerning in the behavior of the Bright Young People, while his portraits of such potentially amusing and/or poignant figures as Brian Howard and Cecil Beaton and Elizabeth Ponsonby lack both colour and depth, despite the wealth of material he had to draw on. Someone coming to the book with no knowledge at all of this group of people could undoubtedly learn a thing or two, but otherwise there seems little point in reading it. I wasn't expecting profundity, but I did at least anticipate that it would be lively and enjoyable, only to find myself giving up out of sheer boredom.
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