54.9 F
Thursday, May 19, 2022

1922: Scenes from a Turbulent Year by Nick Rennison review – a slice of history repeating | History books

Must read

Publishers are getting ready to celebrate the centenary of 1922, the year the world emerged from war and pandemic to become recognisably modern. It was then that James Joyce’s Ulysses and TS Eliot’s The Waste Land were published, the USSR and the BBC were established and Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered. If this last example seems slight by comparison, it is worth remembering that the craze for Egyptian hieroglyphics fed directly into art deco, the visual style that is synonymous with the “roaring 20s” to this day.

Nick Rennison has sensibly got in early, bringing out his Scenes from a Turbulent Year while other authors and publishers are still putting the finishing touches to their manuscripts. In this enjoyable slice of popular history, he assembles a month-by-month almanac, including all the most notable moments from science, politics, art and culture. It makes for some unlikely associations. So, for example, January 1922 saw the second trial of Hollywood comedy actor Fatty Arbuckle for rape and manslaughter, the first successful treatment of diabetics with insulin, the death of Ernest Shackleton in Antarctica and Edith Sitwell’s debut performance of Façade to William Walton’s score. (“Drivel,” snorted the critics of a work that would become a much-loved standard throughout the 20th century).

Rennison lingers long enough on each entry to draw out its full resonance. So, for example, he explains why Shackleton’s death failed to bring about the popular outpouring of grief that had met the demise of his fellow explorer Captain Scott in 1912. The difference was that war had intervened, and the idea of plucky Englishmen going out to do risky things no longer carried the same thrill or pathos. It was simply one more sadness to add to all the others.

Enormous fun is had with the scorn heaped on new literary works that would in time be recognised as gamechangers. Joyce’s Ulysses, with its stream of consciousness narrative and its sexual frankness, struck many critics with horror when it was first published in book form. The man from the Daily Express thundered that “our first impression is that of sheer disgust” and went on to imply that his second and third impression wasn’t much better either. Even Virginia Woolf, whom you might expect to be sympathetic to Joyce’s project of literary modernism, sniffed that the whole thing reminded her of “a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples”.

Rennison makes it clear that this book has been put together during the pandemic, which means he is reliant on existing printed and online sources. Still, there’s a certain pleasure to be had in knowing that Lord Mountbatten, married in July, called the beautiful Edwina’s breasts “Mutt” and “Jeff” or that the death of Alexander Graham Bell in August was met with all telephones in the US falling silent for a full minute. There is also a sobering lesson to be learned from the fact that the reporter from the New York Times felt confident telling his readers that a speech given by an obscure German agitator called Adolf Hitler clearly exaggerated the young man’s hatred of Jews in order to drum up popular support. In private life, the reporter suggested, Hitler’s antisemitism was “not so genuine or violent as it sounded”.

1922: Scenes from a Turbulent Year by Nick Rennison is published by Oldcastle Books (£12.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com Delivery charges may apply.

Source link

More articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest article