Britain between the Wars, 1918-1940

By Charles Loch Mowat | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Stability and Change: the Condition of Britain in the Twenties

1. THE RINGING GROOVES OF CHANGE

NOMAN of middle age and comfortable means, contemplating the condition of things in the early twenties, would agree that the postwar England bore much resemblance to the country he had known before the war. The old order had passed away, the halcyon days of the privileged classes. The war had cut across everything. 'Change and decay in all around I see'; it was easy for the casual observer to sum up his impressions in the words of the hymnal, and ignore the manifold evidences of stability which were present also.

A changing spirit was most apparent among writers, less so among artists and architects; it was apparent also in the manners and morals of the younger generation. Here the gap between the generations which the war had caused was most obvious. It was as wide as the gap in political life, but it was the inversion of it: in politics the older generation remained in the saddle, in literature the younger generation, those who had fought in the war and those too young to have done so, quickly thrust its elders into the background. For these reasons the mood of the twenties in society and in the arts was in contrast with that in politics, in looking forward rather than backwards; in the thirties also there was a contrast between the two, but of a different sort; the political mood was one of drawing inward, of insularity, the literary mood was outgoing, inclining towards a world view, social consciousness, a platonic affection for the proletariat.

There were great changes also in the realms of science and learning and in popular ideas about the nature of man and the universe. New knowledge could, of course, spring only from the old, so that its presence was a mark of continuity even when its acceptance was a stimulus to change. For many it was an age of disintegration. The old beliefs, the old props were gone; first

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