The dust jacket of Juliet Gardiner’s huge, scholarly and readable history of the years between the Slump and the Second World War bears the legend, ‘Britain’s Forgotten Decade’. In fact, as she well knows, few periods have been examined with such attention and evaluated with such passion. Mass-Observation at the time and subsequent academic investigation have plumbed the depths of the Depression and exposed the anatomy of appeasement. Figures such as Churchill, Keynes and Orwell have been scrutinised to the last follicle and they continue to fill the mind like proverbs. A flood of dramatically titled books testifies to the perennial fascination of the era: Devil’s Decade, Britain’s Locust Years, The Morbid Age and (to name Zara Steiner’s important forthcoming study) The Triumph of the Dark. Nevertheless, Juliet Gardiner explores the 1930s in such massive and minute detail that she often seems to be introducing us to a world we have lost.
In this ‘intimate history’ she pieces together a rich and complex mosaic of pre-war existence, much of it unearthed from original sources. Slices of home life are juxtaposed with chunks of work experience. Struggles for survival on the dole are set beside a consumer revolution. Slums and suburbs