Maybe it's the excitement over the upcoming Great Gatsby movie, but there seems to be a renewed interest in the turbulent Jazz Age that fell between the two World Wars.
During that time, class systems shifted and were redefined, the role of women in society was changing (too slowly for some), and the shock of war was still reverberating. That's perfect fodder for some engrossing reads, as the three books below prove.
Today also happens to be the anniversary of the first convention for women's rights, held in in 1848, so it is especially appropriate timing. Enjoy!
Rules of Civility
by Amor Towles
When George Washington was a schoolboy, he wrote an essay titled 100 Rules of Civility, meant to give guidance on issues of morality and etiquette. That text provides not the just the title, but the essence of Towles' book. It's a look at Manhattan society of the 1930s, when rules were changing and women were taking stronger roles in the workplace and in their personal relationships.
The lines between rich and poor were blurred as so many lost their fortunes and found themselves on the wrong side of the tracks. In Rules, Katey and Evelyn are smart and sassy girls who have moved to the big city for jobs and more glamorous lives. They make their way through jazz bars and fancy neighborhoods, discovering along the way that money really can't buy you everything.
by Laura Moriarty
It seemed such a simple thing – just chaperone the young Louise Brooks (soon to be known around the world as the "It Girl") on a trip from Wichita to New York for a chance to join a prestigious dance troupe. But the older (and fictional) Cora Carlisle, who has her own reasons for going to New York, doesn't know what she's getting into. It's the summer of 1922 and Cora finds herself in a non-stop tug-of-war with Louise, from how to speak, to the way she dresses, to how she interacts with men. Louise is on her way to defining the flapper persona, as women her age loosened their corsets and their morals. Cora begins her journey in a state of shock and confusion as she tries to keep up with the younger girl, but by the end of the book she learns that although change can be frightening, it can also be incredibly liberating.
Looking back at the two years between 1918 and 1920, Nicolson highlights the huge shifts in society for Great Britain as it tries to recover after a horrific war. Using a fascinating collection of historical documents, letters, and journals (including those of Queen Mary), we see a country try to regroup and put the pieces back together. But things can never be as they were before – women have been in the workplace and don't want to readily give their jobs back, the servant class and the ruling class has found itself on an even playing field that at least one side wants to maintain, and the weakened economy has become quite an equalizer. The Great Silence is a terrific follow-up to Nicolson's first book The Perfect Summer, which I reviewed here.