Contempt for convention led all too often to poverty, divorce, addiction and even death – two studies show how England and America sold centuries of heritage for a few fleeting pleasures.


The affectations of small people with smaller talents who proved conclusively that if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything should have provided the world with a lesson in the value of values. Instead in a world where whirl is king and any sensation that can be exploited for cash will be they have served as a blueprint for people with more money and leisure than common sense. If you ever wonder why modern art is so damned ugly look at who and what produces it.

Among the bohemians : experiments  in living, 1900-1939 Virginia  Nicholson New York : William Morrow, c 2002   Bohemianism England History 20th century  Hardcover. “Originally published in Great  Britain in 2002 by Viking”, T.p. verso. 1st  U.S. ed. and printing. xix, 362 p. : ill. ;  24 cm. Includes bibliographical references  (p. [325]-332) and index. Clean, tight and  strong binding with clean dust jacket. No  highlighting, underlining or marginalia in  text. VG/VG

Subversive, eccentric and flamboyant, the artistic community in England in the first half of the twentieth century was engaged in the bold experiment of refashioning not just their art, but their daily lives. They reinvented the home, challenging and rejecting the smug certainties of the Victorian bourgeoisie, in what amounted to a domestic revolution.

From Roy Campbell’s recipe for bouillabaisse to Iris Tree cutting off her braid and leaving it behind on a train, creativity entered every aspect of these people’s lives. Bohemians ate garlic and didn’t always bathe they listened to Wagner and worshipped Diaghilev they sent their children to coeducational schools, explored homosexuality and free love, vegetarianism and Postimpres-sionism. They were often drunk and broke, sometimes hungry, but they were of a rebellious spirit. Inhabiting the same England with Phil-istines and Puritans was a parallel minority of moral pioneers, traveling third class and coping with faulty fireplaces.

This is a book about a search for truth and beauty in small things it is also about sacrifice, liberty, class conflict and the generation war. In many cases, Bohemia’s headlong idealism collided disastrously with the demands of everyday life. Accompanying the victories in this rebellion was an anarchic clutter of bounced checks, blocked drains, whooping cough, and incontinent cats. Sometimes artists felt lost amid the turmoil of new freedoms. Contempt for convention led all too often to poverty, divorce, addiction and even death.

Many of the heroes and heroines of this transitional time are half-forgotten, neglected characters from the footnotes of history who achieved little of artistic durability. Their voices have seldom been heard, but their valiant approach to the art of living deserves to be celebrated. For where they led, we have followed. Gradually, imperceptibly, Bohemia changed society. Among the Bohemians testifies to that quiet revolution.

 

Rebellion against Victorianism : the impetus for cultural change in 1920s America Stanley Coben New York : Oxford University Press, 1991  United States Social conditions 1918-1932 Hardcover. 1st ed., and printing. xiii, 242 p. ; 22 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [203]-228) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

The 1920s in America was a decade of rebellion, reform, and reaction as traditional Victorian values came under attack from all sides. Black leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, feminists like Alice Paul, politicians like Robert La Follette, and social scientists like Franz Boas and Margaret Mead all assaulted fundamental inequalities inherited from the nineteenth century.

A host of scientific breakthroughs eroded the foundations of the older world view, and cultural innovations like jazz challenged the nineteenth-century morality of most middle class Americans and also provoked spirited defenses of tradition by extremists like the Ku Klux Klan.

Stanley Coben introduces a new hypothesis about the reasons for the tumultuous cultural changes during the 1920s. He begins with the Victorian concept of “character,” the word which assured Americans of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that men were men, women were wives and mothers, and homes were sanctuaries.

Coben doesn’t spare us the seamy underside of the Victorian ideal either, such as the racism revealed by the Oxford professor who declared to an approving American audience in 1882 that “the best remedy for whatever is amiss in America would be if every Irishman should kill a negro and be hanged for it.”

Nor does he hesitate to describe the failures of those who rebelled against tradition, like the early supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment, or the farmer-labor-progressive presidential coalition of 1924. Rebellion Against Victorianism is particularly enlightening on cultural matters, showing how art forms of the ’20s – like jazz or the novels of Ernest Hemingway and Sinclair Lewis – were part of the rebellion.

The book includes a fascinating chapter-length discussion of the Ku Klux Klan which reveals that the Klan in the 1920s was in no way a Southern, fringe group – in fact, the K.K.K. had more members in Connecticut than in Mississippi. The Klan’s defense of Victorian “character” spoke to millions of Americans who found themselves shaken up by the cultural revolution going on around them.

In illuminating the events and personalities of this water-shed decade, Coben draws with equal confidence from the realms of culture and politics, science and society. His book brings an alternative perspective to the impetus for change in American life, demonstrating that many of the contradictions which inspired the rebellion against Victorianism still exist today. The results are sometimes startling, but always intriguing.

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