The Fifties Mystique by Jessica Mann - review by Katharine Whitehorn

Katharine Whitehorn

Escaping the Mad Men

The Fifties Mystique


Quartet 222pp £12

To people who are young now, the Fifties are as remote as the Regency – their world dates from the Sixties at the earliest. But those of us who lived through them have very differing views. Jessica Mann, in this excellently readable book, sees them as a retrograde era when many of the freedoms and pleasures we take for granted today had not yet arrived; and that besides physical deprivations dating from the war – rationing, the bleakness of damaged buildings – there was above all a sense that the only things women were for were homemaking and looking after children. Seen too often through rose-coloured spectacles, the Fifties, Mann thinks, were pretty grim.

The book is in part autobiographical, and in spite of her criticisms of the decade, it was a happy time for her, married young to a brilliant archaeologist, Charles Thomas. She had read archaeology herself, though was disappointed that the excavations were of ‘the rubbish tips of illiterate peasants rather

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