It’s a strange experience, working backwards through our story. Things that we take for granted become new and exciting, full of possibilities. In this generation, one of the new things that became more available was mains electricity, allowing electric lighting in some houses. The world must have seemed a lot brighter, after the gas lights and candles that were the previous source of light outside daylight hours. Another innovation for this generation was the gramophone record player. Music could be heard without being in the presence of the person playing it. The record player itself might have been encased in bakelite plastic, another new invention. Cinema became hugely popular in this period. People took the tram to town to watch the new international silent movie stars enacting their stories to the accompaniment of live or recorded music. They could take the train between cities, and even telephone their destination before setting off.
Several classics of children’s literature date from this period: Wind in the Willows, Kim, the Peter Rabbit stories – and Peter Pan played in the London theatre. Is it a coincidence that the new discipline of psychoanalysis was being explored in Vienna at the same time, with its focus on the significance of childhood experience? The boundaries were being pushed back in the visual arts, too. Paris was a focal point for this. Visitors to the city could take the new underground Metro with its fantastic Art Nouveau entrance ways.
It was also a time of exploration of humanity and human rights. Women organised in many countries, to pressure the government to give them the right to vote in elections as men did. And there was a transformation in what women were able to wear. At the start of the period they wore long dresses with billowing skirts, bloomers, corsets, bonnets; getting dressed each day must have taken a long time.
By the end of the period women wore clothes that would be recognisable today. The corset finally declined in popularity and loose-fitting dresses which reached above the ankle allowed women more freedom of movement.
Workers in factories were also seen to have rights. This was the time of a rise of the Trades Union movement. There were strikes, especially when employers tried to impose pay cuts.
From now on through the generations, it seems that there is always a background of conflict. The Great War was the most destructive war so far, with huge numbers of young men killed. The British men who died were disproportionately from the wealthier families, as another reality for this generation was the poor health and diet of the urban poor. More people lived in cities and had little access to fresh food, and far more young men from working families were rejected as unfit to join the armed forces on the grounds of health.