It is possible to read the life of Brenda Dean Paul in a variety of ways. While Elliott Hicks in a recent article focuses very largely on class relationships in interwar Britain, this short piece concentrates more on issues with a specific connection to the drug policy context and to the development in Britain of social modernism. These lines of inquiry are of course linked to social class but cannot be ‘read off’ from class positions.
By the term social modernism, I am referring to lifestyle practices associated with modernism in the arts and literature, alongside which it crossed the English channel in the interwar years. Brenda Dean Paul belonged, largely through the influence of her mother Irene Poldowski, to a rich and complex European modernist network. The lifestyle practices to which I refer would include divorce, bisexuality and same sex relationships, travel, bohemianism, liberal views of the proper relations obtaining between parents and children, the frequenting of nightclubs and so on. Although modernism has frequently been associated with a disdain for popular culture, it is noteworthy that jazz music and jazz modes of dancing were also part of this mix and would lead some of its adherents into the politics of race in the United States. Social modernism was also closely linked to experimentation with drugs.