1939: THE LAST SEASON OF PEACE by Angela Lambert


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The frivolous excesses of the last London debutante season before WW II, recounted by the author of Unquiet Souls (1984). The Season was choreographed by upper-class mothers desperately seeking good matches for their 18-year-old daughters: the titled sought money, and vice versa. An estimated 900 to 1000 girls went through a several-month marathon of nightly dances, the all-crucial presentation to the King and Queen, and other strange customs, such as curtseying to a giant cake at Queen Charlotte's Ball. The products of extremely sheltered lives, they were for the most part oblivious of world affairs (""politics were not discussed in my family,"" one ex-deb recalls, ""so it was a complete surprise when war was declared""). Their recollections center around clothes (""I wore the most wonderful dress. . .pink tulle with bumblebees tangled up in it""), the exhaustion of regularly staying out till four in the morning, and the horrors of unfilled dance cards. All this is meticulously researched and occasionally quite fascinating, as the ""tiny meaningless roles which defined you as coming within or without the magic circle"" are delineated. But given the author's own particular take on the subject (""Is it unreasonable to wish that some of the debs--carefree, pampered creatures--had concerned themselves with the persecution of Jews and other minorities in Nazi Germany?""), one wonders: Why so much detail? Why the numbing recapitulation of so many parties? Solid social history, then, but the dancing goes on far, far too long.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson