The Damned and the Beautiful
One morsel review: Well-informed dissertation about life of the new youth of the Roaring Twenties. Maybe a bit too wordy, but very interesting.
Genre: social history
The book presents a portrayal of family life, with special regard to the education of young people in Victorian/Edwardian Eras. It presents the social and material change that allowed a loosening of habits with regard to man/woman relationship and gives a vivid image of the life of young people in 1920s America.
The book opens with a presentation of the upheaval the new behaviour of youth stirred in the Twenties, then goes back so to relate what life was like for these youths’ parents in Victorian and Edwardian Eras. People familiar with the history of family will know these facts, but for me everything was new and very interesting. The attitude of bourgeoisie families toward children and personal aspirations in Victorian Era was enlightening, because they made sense of many characteristics of that age, especially with regard to man/women relationship. It was the idea that the fulfillment of personal aspiration was fine, the shifting of social expectation from a community welfare to a more personal fulfillment, and the advancement in contraception techniques, that allowed that explosion of egocentrism that was the Twenties. Young couple could decide now when to have children and even how many children and this resulted in a more satisfying life for the parents and a richer, freer life for the children.
This first part of the book was really very interesting and eye-opening for me.
The central part focuses on a very important age of life for the youth in the Twenties: college. In the Twenties, the number of middle-class young men and women going to college skyrocketed, which of course again impacted on personal aspiration and expectations, but also amplified the change already happening in the lives of young people.
It was in the colleges that what the author calls the ‘peer society’ was born. For the first time, young people found an early, prolonged adolescence free of family and society obligations and so they could devote all of themselves to their friends and groups of friends, who were the ones setting values, approving and sanctioning behaviours and generally choosing by themselves, never actually seeking the approval of the older generation. This attitude of finding their own way with their own means and shaped by their own values was general, but in colleges it became amplified by the share number of students gathering in the same place, away from their families’ direct control.
Although the dynamics presented are interesting, I found this central part of the book to be quite boring. The author reiterates the same concept over and over and over again without really adding anything new every time she talks about the subject matter. I really think this part could have easily been half the length and lose nothing.
The last third of the book was the more interesting for me because this is where the author covers attitudes and behaviours of the young generation of the Twenties. What they did, how they dressed, what they wanted to own, who they wanted to be around with. But also, more importantly, why they acted like that, why they dressed like that, why they talked like that, what they thought and why their values clashed with those of their parents even if there wasn’t a true breaking between the generations. It also covers how young people’s lifestyle influenced and often reshaped the lifestyle of the older generations as well in what was truly a social revolution.
So, all in all, the book was very interesting and informative. Pity it was too long in the central part and generally too long-winded in style.