The Great Recession, which has overwhelmed us on both sides of the Atlantic during the past year or more, has brought to mind the ghastly decade of the 1930s, when tens of millions lost their jobs, went hungry, and – worst of all – nearly lost hope. Not unlike Morris Dickstein, who has now written a cultural history of the Great Depression, I grew up with parents affected permanently by that era. My father often recalled the struggles of his immigrant Italian family at that time, when he – a teenager – was forced to leave school to help the family survive. Although he lived to see in the new millennium (and did well in later life), I don’t believe he ever forgot the terror and embarrassment of those years.
A seasoned critic, Dickstein has done a remarkable job in Dancing in the Dark, offering a readable survey of the literature, music, theatre, photographs and films of that era, staging a subtle defence of the arts themselves and their ability to inspire people in dire times. One sees