From the author of England’s Dreaming (1992), a dense cultural history of adolescence from 1875 to 1945.
Savage’s choice of timeframe for this work makes the point that the concept of adolescence as a separate stage of life is not recent. To demonstrate how different Western nations have conceptualized and utilized youth, he draws on diaries, newspapers and magazines, novels, movies, advertisements and psychological and sociological literature, particularly G. Stanley Hall’s two-volume 1904 work, Adolescence. Savage opens with fervid entries from the diary of an imaginative, articulate Russian teenager living in France, followed by the flat statements of a 15-year-old Massachusetts youth who committed a series of horrific murders, both recorded in 1875. These polar opposites, the author argues, “showed that it was no longer adequate to think that adulthood immediately followed childhood; they were the harbingers of a new intermediate state that as yet had no name.” Savage then follows the twists and turns of youth culture through seven decades, examining urban gangs, the Boy Scouts, socialist and religious youth groups, young soldiers embittered by their role as cannon fodder in World War I, the Roaring ’20s exuberant jazz babies and Nazi Germany’s militaristic Hitler Youth. In the United States, awareness of adolescence coincided with the growth of the mass media and the rise of consumerism; youth styles were spread by movies, radio, magazines and ads. Savage analyzes the impact of such real and fictional characters as Baden-Powell, Peter Pan, Dorian Gray, Rudolph Valentino, even the murderous Leopold and Loeb. In conclusion, he points to adolescents’ economic clout and asserts that the postwar spread of American values has been spearheaded by pleasure-seeking teenage consumers. While Savage focuses on the young, he paints a broad social and cultural portrait.
Slow going at times, but with some fascinating characters and anecdotes.