Last year I read Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson about the so-called surplus women (all 1.9 million of them) who were left to fend for themselves after WWI once marriage was ruled out for them following the deaths of so many young men in the trenches. They carved out new lives, found jobs and settled for a life without love or children, something none of them expected when they were growing up, having been drummed into them at school and home that a woman’s duty was to find a husband and provide children. With this option taken away from them, they were setting forth into uncharted territory, fighting prejudice and having to proved themselves in what was a man’s world. This was a non-fiction social history which I enjoyed tremendously and found enlightening as there were many aspects to the women’s struggles which I could understand and empathise. Of course things have moved on since then, but there were several examples which made me feel that a lot of what women go through now stem from that era and are still ongoing.

I enjoy reading popular history, something that’s not too academic and dry, and which provides an introduction to more serious work if your interest is piqued and you want to rifle through the references to find out more about the subject. And it’s been a pet project of mine to research and read about life during the interwar years, not just in Britain but world wide. I’ve been concentrating on Britain because of the wealth of research that’s been done and the books that are available here.

So I jumped at We Danced All Night by Martin Pugh when I caught sight of it at the library. This was more a general history rather than a focus on women, but there were a couple of very interesting chapters regarding feminism and the struggle faced by countless women in being taken seriously and ultimately getting the right to vote. But it’s not just about that and the book discusses all aspects from colonialism and empire through to politics, culture, sports, food and leisure in an engaging and highly enjoyable manner. There were also liberal references to Vera Britten and E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady (both of which are on my TBR pile and am looking forward to reading this year).

I particularly enjoyed the chapter about the bright young things and flappers (notorious because they were care-free) as much as the chapters on food, marriage and education as well as class conflict and the monarchy. We Danced All Night is a general book that goes into enough detail that you will learn something new in each chapter. At around 450 pages, it took me a while to read this book partly because I was in a bit of a reading slump post-Christmas, but every time I dipped into this book while commuting or before bed, I found it a gripping read.