Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of London’s Jazz Age

Written by D.J. Taylor
Review by Helene Williams

For American readers, the phrase “lost generation” conjures up the names Hemingway and Fitzgerald and other arty types who spent the 1920s in an alcohol-fueled haze in Paris. England had its own lost generation of “young bright people,” who exemplified post-World War I hedonism among the young and (mostly) wealthy. Its denizens included some names readily recognized today (Nancy Mitford, Cecil Beaton), but D.J. Taylor’s well-documented account of the period includes many names unfamiliar to the nonhistorian, as it should.

The young bright people of London’s jazz age are in most cases the equivalent of the socialites and media personalities of today (Paris Hilton, anyone?) — those who seek the limelight but who provide no lasting contributions, cultural or otherwise, to keep them in the public eye after their youth has faded. Photos of the participants and events (“The Bottle and Bath Party,” “The Impersonation Party,”) supplement the real strength of this book, which is Taylor’s tracing of the connections between the people: who was related to whom, who was spurned when, who corresponded about what. Flighty adventures, fast-changing sexual mores, and parodies in literature (Waugh’s Vile Bodies) are among the fascinating discussions in this entertaining and educational volume.