Evelyn Waugh – A Handful of Dust
Nineteen twenties socialite Brenda does everything society expects including marrying Tony Last. Owner of a country pile Tony appears dull but provides Brenda with a backdrop to a brittle and decadent society world.
Bored Brenda embarks on an affair with penniless, handsome and lightweight John Beaver.
Society fakes a shocked attitude, but the book reflects that extra marital affairs was something of the norm for the 1920’s upper classes. As always with Waugh the world he writes about can produce a certain alienation, but the insight is suburb and the characters perfectly drawn. As Brenda’s affair reaches its inevitable conclusion the balance of the characters is so perfect I felt sympathy for both her and Tony. The picture drawn of their young son is beautifully written, and initially gives some hope that the next generation will have a more innate knowledge of how to cope with life. For a picture of a society that has lost the capacity to truly love I strongly recommend this book. There are also a few surprises towards the end of the book that I certainly wasn’t expecting.
Nancy Mitford – The Pursuit of Love
I’ve always been fascinated by the Mitford family. Siblings of such extreme and different characters it’s hard to imagine they had the same parents. This book is a fictional portrait of the family and gives an insight into both the post 1st World War period and upper class family life at this time. Life doesn’t exist in shades of grey and the father figure, Uncle Matthew, comes from a generation of “haves” that did exactly what they wanted to. It’s very funny as well as uncovering the brittle society that the characters inhabit. Love is something that exists in dreams but not in real life. Self-analysis of oneself and others just doesn’t exist and the consequences are dire. The author makes us feel sad when her characters reap the consequences of their actions, but not for too long. In the Mitford world life must go on and you must seek out the positives
Of its time but a beautifully written book that shouldn’t be dismissed.
This is about one day in the life of Clarisssa Dalloway who is giving a party! It shows the social shallowness of a rich woman in post-war Britain.
Return of The Soldier
This was written in 1918 and shows the devastating impact of shell shock and memory loss on an upper class marriage. The attitudes of 1916 are reflected by the three women connected to the returning soldier.
Zennor in Darkness
This is set in Cornwall in 1917 where D H Lawrence and his German wife have come to escape the war paranoia. They befriend an artist whose cousin is on leave, suffering from shell shock.
Set in 1914, this novel focusses on young men and women at the Slade School of Art and the life-changing consequences of war. Henry Tonks, the real life plastic surgeon and artist, is introduced in this novel and the theme of reconstructive facial surgery is continued in Toby’s Room.
All Quiet on the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque was written in 1929.
It follows a group of German schoolboys encouraged to immediately enlist by their patriotic schoolmaster. “Suddenly we found ourselves horribly alone and we had to come to terms with it alone as well” he writes as they bravely faced death.
Penguin Book of First World War Stories
The Penguin Book of First World War Stories includes contemporary as well as retrospective stories. For me, reading all the stories in order was preferable to dipping in as it gave me a stronger sense of the period. I particularly enjoyed The Bowmen, Blind and Told by the Schoolmaster.
The 39 Steps by John Buchan was written in 1915, but set just before the war. It is significant as one of the first adventure novels but also reflects the paranoia, espionage and nationalism of the time. It was serialised and very popular with the soldiers in the trenches. The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers has a similar theme and was written in 1903.
39 Steps by John Buchan at the moment was written in 1915, but set just before the war. It is significant as one of the first adventure novels but also reflects the paranoia, espionage and nationalism of the time. It was serialised and very popular with the soldiers in the trenches. The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers has a similar theme and was written in 1903.