Virginia Woolf once declared that human nature changed in 1910. Leaving aside the fact that Woolf’s chief evidence for this announcement was the fact that her cook no longer slaved in the depths of the basement but now ventured into the drawing room, she was making a serious point. Woolf identified the Post-Impressionist exhibition of 1910 as the turning-point, the moment when human relations shifted, forcing change in literature, politics and conduct. In other words, the modern movement began before 1914. The First World War merely accelerated things; it didn’t cause them.
Philipp Blom starts from the premise that the years before 1914 have been treated as hostage to historical inevitability. Rather than search for the origins of the Great War, he investigates the cultural changes occurring before 1914. It was a time