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The Long Week-End: A Social History of Great Britain, 1918-39
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Group Reads Archive > The Long Weekend by Robert Graves

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Nigeyb For anyone interested in the era this book is essential. Like most BYTers, I am fascinated by the first fifty years of the twentieth century and read a lot of fiction and non-fiction from this era. My focus tends to be on Europe, and in particular the UK, and so I was particularly interested in reading this "social history of Great Britain" during the peace that endured between World War One and World War Two.

The book was first published in 1940 and so is written without the knowledge of the outcome of World War Two.

That this book contains an alternate, idiosyncratic and personal history of Britain between World War One and World War Two, becomes very apparent when the reader arrives at the chapter headings. Here's a list of the 26 chapters contained within this book:

Armistice, 1918
Revolution Averted, 1919
Women
Reading Matter
Post-War Politics
Various Conquests
Sex
Amusements
Screen and Stage
Revolution Again Averted, 1926
Domestic Life
Art, Literature, and Religion
Education and Ethics
Sport and Controversy
The Depression, 1930
Pacifism, Nudism, Hiking
The Days Of The Loch Ness Monster
Recovery, 1935
The Days of Non-Intervention
'The Deepening Twilight of Barbarism'
Three Kings in One Year
Keeping Fit, and Doing The Lambeth Walk
Social Consciences
'Markets Close Firmer'
Still At Peace
Rain Stops Play, 1939

Furthermore, the topics covered within these chapters tend to meander about, and the authors touch on all manner of disparate elements of life in Britain during this era. This means the book is chock full of fascinating trivia and ephemera, however it also means the book can feel unstructured, kaleidoscopic, and - on occasion - somewhat overwhelming.

I suspect a book written now, about this era, might deem a lot of the information in this book superficial, insignificant or irrelevant. Every page contains a curious insight, or remarkable fact, or piece of period detail, that really illuminates the period. Based on my knowledge (which is far from comprehensive), this book appears to really capture the spirit of the years between 1918 and 1939.

Reading the book brought up parallels to modern times, showing that the more things change the more they stay the same. Moralists attacked the immorality of the times, popular music, books and movies were blamed for the lowering of the standards of decency and culture, the older generation decried the lax mores of the young, the high brows decried the intrusion of American low-brow culture. Sound familiar?

I found the extensive quotes from newspapers illuminating, particularly leading up to the declaration of war.

The book provides a fascinating alternate history of Britain between the wars, and one that focuses as much on the general public, the mood of the nation, the fashion and trends, as the bigger picture.

I really look forward to hearing what the rest of you make of this remarkable book.


message 3: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments I'm not very far yet this time. I originlly read this +35 years ago in college in coordination with my class in English History.

One of those books that got me in trouble on tests. I always had trouble remembering what book I wss raking a quote from.


Nigeyb Great news Val.


Nigeyb Jan C wrote: "I'm not very far yet this time. I originlly read this +35 years ago in college in coordination with my class in English History.

One of those books that got me in trouble on tests. I always had trouble remembering what book I wss raking a quote from. "


How are you getting on with it Jan? How does it compare with the first time your read it all those years ago?

Val wrote: "This is now available for collection at the library, so I should be able to collect it and start reading tomorrow."

How are you getting on with it Val?

I found this comment on a review from Amazon.com:


One of the nicer things about this book is the vividness of the detail which Graves and Hodge bring to their subjects. When they write about the night clubs of the 1920s, they bring them to life almost better than the novelists who wrote about the same period. The book is a treasure trove for trivia buffs, armchair historians, or people looking for background colour from the period.


I think Evelyn Waugh might have something to say about that, but I think the general sentiment is accurate. As it was written so closely to many of the events being described it felt very evocative.


Julie Hello Everyone!
I'm a bit behind with this book as I am taking it very slowly! However, just thought I would pop in and say how much I am enjoying it. Its packed to the gunnels with all sorts of interesting information. I am about two thirds of the way through and quite amazed at some of the stuff that was doing the rounds at that time. Most notable [for me] being that Britain seemed to be aware of another war on the horizon as early as 1930!Have I read this right?


Nigeyb Hi Julie, I am so pleased to hear that you are enjoying this book. I don't recall the part about people predicting war in 1930. It sounds quite plausible that some commentators would be suggesting it as a possibility. That said, the majority of people were either ignoring the possibility or just hoping for the best. I recall that Churchill was something of a lone voice when, in the late 1930s, he was stating war would be inevitable.


Nigeyb This still sums it up for me...

"The book is a treasure trove for trivia buffs, armchair historians, or people looking for background colour from the period".


message 9: by Julie (last edited Jul 15, 2013 06:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Julie I have just finished this wonderful book! It was definitely one to read slowly due to the sheer amount of facts and interesting information that I gleaned from it.Interestingly,I got the feeling that the British people, right up to the start of the war, were refusing to believe that it could or would ever happen as Nigeyb mentioned above. A real bury your head in the sand moment!! This has definitely made me want to explore in more detail the build up to WW2!


message 10: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments I'm a slow reader too, Julie. Although I did read it years ago in college.


Nigeyb Julie wrote: "I have just finished this wonderful book! It was definitely one to read slowly due to the sheer amount of facts and interesting information that I gleaned from it."

Thanks Julie. I am so pleased that you enjoyed it so much. I completely agree with your comments.

Julie wrote: "This has definitely made me want to explore in more detail the build up to WW2! "

If you are up for reading some fiction set in the immediate pre-WW2 era then I recommend Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton.

It's probably my favourite book of the BYT era. The book was written under the shadow of the seemingly unstoppable advance of Germany and Nazism. The novel searches for a human metaphor to express the sickness that Hamilton perceived in this period. As a Marxist he identified the petty bourgeoisie, from which the characters Netta and Peter had sprung, as the enemy. The novel concludes just as Great Britain declares war on Germany. Where the stgory really succeeds for me was is in its evocation of London as war looms.



Here's some more information:

Hangover Square is a 1941 novel by English playwright and novelist Patrick Hamilton (1904–1962). Subtitled A tale of Darkest Earl's Court it is set in that area of London in 1939. A black comedy, it is often cited as Hamilton's finest novel, exemplifying the author's concerns over social inequalities, the rise of Fascism and the hovering doom of World War II.


If you like the sound of that you could vote for it in the forthcoming September Fiction Read poll. Who knows, we might end up discussing it in September. And if not, it's essential reading anyway.

If you decide to read it I'd love to know what you make of it.

Oh, the Patrick Hamilton Appreciation Society, a GoodReads group that I set up, is also reading Hangover Square in September 2013. So that's another way to discuss the book if you feel inspired or intrigued. Click here for more information and/or to join The Patrick Hamilton Appreciation Society.


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