Although I was reluctant to do so, I have found it impossible to explore the world of Mayfair, Soho and Chelsea in the twenties and thirties without continually referring to Literature. so I’m reproducing here the list of recommended “Bright Young”People fiction as it appears in D.J.Taylor’s book.
Harold Acton Cornelian (1928)
Michael Arlen The Green Hat (1924)
Cyril Connolly The Rock Pool (1936)
Ronald Firbank Complete Novels (1961)
Henry Green Party Going (1939)
Bryan Guinness Singing Out of Tune (1933)
James Laver Ladies Mistakes (1933)
Nancy Mitford Highland Fling (1931)
Nancy Mitford Christmas Pudding (1932)
Nancy Mitford Pigeon Pie (1940)
Beverley Nichols Crazy Pavement (1927)
Anthony Powell Afternoon Men (1931)
Anthony Powell From a View To A Death (1933)
Terence Rattigan After the Dance (1939)
Evelyn Waugh Decline and Fall (1928)
Evelyn Waugh Vile Bodies (1930)
Evelyn Waugh Mr.Loveday’s Little Outing (1936)
I’ve not read the Acton or the Guinness but this seems a pretty useful list.Personally I find Powell unsympathetic and Beverley Nichols dull. but the subject matter is fascinating. The Green Hat is rubbish, but very entertaining (I’d add These Charming People to the list).Firbank’s influence is unquestionable but the five novelettes together might prove a bit much in one go. If Firbank is in as an influence then Huxley’s Antic Hay ought, perhaps, also be included. Similarly if Rattigan is there (and After The Dance is excellent) then Noel Coward should get a look in.
If we include post-WW2 writing then I would (and will again) argue for Jocelyn Brooke (The Military Orchid and Private View).Rosamond Lehmann too – both pre and post war.
Who else? Arlen aside, there are no “popular” or “genre” novels here. A case can be made for Dorothy Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise and Margery Allingham’s The Fashion in Shrouds (thanks, JS). In fact, all of Allingham’s early “cosies” have a Bright Young feel to them.
For the seedier side of club life, Gerald Kersh’s Night and The City is hard to beat, though it does not cover the raffish upper-crust in any detail.Cheyney, Horler and E.Phillips Oppenheim rely on cliche and stereotypes, but are interesting in that they allow us to see the viewpoint of “the common man” on the goings-on in high society.(I will, as I seem to keep saying, post more on this aspect shortly).
There must be others. The Apes of God? Jam Today? Half O’Clock in Mayfair? What about Nerina Shute? I invite you to make suggestions.