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Breakthrough (Living the Twenties #AtoZChallenge 2020)

The Twenties were a time a great innovation. The old world that had existed in the 1800s died in the fires and destruction of WWI. The 1920s saw the emergence of a new world. But it didn’t happen overnight. Most of that innovation that became available to an increasing number of people in the 1920s had its roots in the 1800s. The 1920s were just the breakthrough. 

The slow change of the 1800s

We tend to consider the 1800s – at least in the Western World – as the Victorian times. We give to it a homogeneous feel, even if it was indeed a century, and hardly all characterised by the social rules and costumes under Queen Victoria’s reign. 

And it might indeed seem quite homogenous, especially in comparison with the 1900s. Change came slowly. Inventions – though there were many – didn’t really enter people’s lives and so they seem less apparent, even less important. 

The Twenties were a time a great innovation. The old Victorian world died in the fires and destruction of #WWI. The 1920s saw the emergence of a new world #history Share on X

Victorians were not fond of changes. Besides, they had painfully created a world where change was not desirable. Europe experience a long peace the likes of which the continent had never known before. All conflicts and fights were confined outside of Europe’s borders, and the same was largely true for the United States also. 

Any change could upset that balance. In fact, the risk became ever stronger, the more the century progressed. The discrepancy between the actual advancement in many fields and what society was ready to accept became ever larger as the century wore on. 

WWI archive (British Library)

This is the causes of WWI arose, one of the most enigmatic events of the contemporary world. Society, especially the younger sector of it, needed, wanted a change. That’s why they responded so enthusiastically to the beginning of the Great War, something that to us – who know what that conflict was going to be – seems almost inexplicable. Young people saw the war as the opportunity to fill the gap between the old, artificial peace and the modern life they wanted it. 

The breakthrough

The Great War started off like all other previous wars. Everyone reckoned that it would last a few months, enough to reestablish a few political balances and open the way for new social attitudes to become acceptable. 

What nobody realised at first was that life had gone far ahead of them. The weapons that appeared in the war were the result of discoveries and inventions that have piled up during the century and were powerful beyond anyone’s expectation. They created conditions of war that were so new nobody knew how to handle. New solutions were necessary, and those too were provided by the new technology and the new discoveries. 

WWI artillery

On the fields of WWI, medicine leapt ahead further than it ever did during the preceding century. Technologies which had previously been mere curiosities found their application on the battlefields. And on the home front, social barrier fell as the men who had gone to war never left space for women to find a new independence. 

When the war was over, going back on any of these fields was impossible. The new technologies, the new discoveries and procedures, even the new way in which people related to each other, slipped out of the emergency of war to insinuate into people’s everyday life. 

What in the 1800s had been curiosity and during the war had been emergency, in the 1920s became the new normalcy. 


Enzo Travero, A ferro e fuoco. La guerra civile europea (1914-1945), Il Mulino, Bologna, 2008


  • Tasha Duncan-Drake
    Posted April 2, 2020 at 09:36

    It is such a shame it took something so terrible to make so many major advances practical and prevalent. It is sad that such impetus is needed for change. Let’s hope such good things come out of the crisis the world is facing at the moment.
    Virginia’s Parlour – The Manor (Adult concepts – nothing explicit in posts)
    Tasha’s Thinkings – Vampire Drabbles

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2020 at 16:08

      I’m sure our world won’t be the same, when this is over. Just like it happened to our ancestors. I really hope something good will come out of this.

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 2, 2020 at 11:42

    It always stuns me how much people going into WWI didn’t think it was going to be the even that it became. One of the stories about this is the Christmas truce, where people celebrated Christmas across enemy lines in the first year of the war… and then it never happened again, because the entire concept of war changed by the next year…

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2020 at 16:10

      True. So many things where changed by the war.
      When I first started researching WWI, I had a very hard time understanding even why it broke out. It was such a complex situation.

  • Frédérique
    Posted April 2, 2020 at 13:08

    It’s amazing how great inventions are diverted in time of war, for purposes other than those initially envisaged.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2020 at 16:11

      True. But I’m even more amazed by the leap forward that medicine did because of the war. It is true that even from such evil something good eventaully came.

  • Anagha Yatin
    Posted April 2, 2020 at 14:42

    After reading through your post, I realised its relevance to today’s situation. I hope the world will be better place, a new place to coexist with nature rather than competing with each other.
    At the same time, feel strongly as to why the humanity has to suffer to see the change, the new new? Will, we ever learn from our past, our mistakes, I wonder.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2020 at 16:12

      I often woner that too. One would think that history has already given us plenty of lessons from which to leran.

  • Nilanjana Bose
    Posted April 2, 2020 at 15:40

    People going into war always think oh it will be over in 6 months and we’ll be back for Christmas. after teaching the *&^%$# a lesson, And the reality is quite different. It drags on in a cascade of violence and counter violence, then the disaster capitalists move in to make money off it and so on…why we can’t learn from the past never fails to baffle me.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2020 at 16:14

      Very true. Our Twenties look more and more like one hundred years ago. I’m alwasy quite upset by it. But then again, I think that the 1920s actually brought about a lot of good things too. So I hope.

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted April 2, 2020 at 15:41

    Interesting, and terrible, how society changed.

    An A-Z of Faerie: Brownies

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2020 at 16:15

      There’s so much we can learn from it, though. Let’s hope we will.

  • Ninu Nair
    Posted April 2, 2020 at 15:49

    It is unbelievable how the Victorian era changed after WWI and you could write about it in such a crisp and interesting way.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2020 at 16:16

      The change that society went thought after WWI is one of the most fascinating historical topics I’ve ever researched.

  • Joy Weese Moll
    Posted April 2, 2020 at 20:07

    This was very helpful. I don’t know much about that era between Victorian times and WWI.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2020 at 22:13

      It’s a fascinating time. I’m discovering it too, which is so exciting.

  • Birgit
    Posted April 3, 2020 at 03:20

    The war brought the biggest change and brought about the more modern woman, medicine, film and so much more

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2020 at 10:35

      That’s so very true. We often only remember the distruction, but WWI actually brought about many good things that today we take for granted.

  • msjadeli
    Posted April 3, 2020 at 04:04

    Perfect example of be careful what you wish for. Boredom is by far preferable to war.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2020 at 10:35

      But also a perfect example of how complex history is 😉

  • Raesquiggles
    Posted April 3, 2020 at 11:01

    Are we about to embark on another breakthrough after this global crisis? The young are clamouring this time for climate change, not wars, so at least there might be a positive outcome.
    Another great post. I’m hoping to write a novel about the advancement of medicine during WW1.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2020 at 10:43

      I see so many similarities between the 1920s and the 2020s, that I wouldn’t be surprised that some of the same kind of changes will happene.

      Oh, I’d love to read that story! Keep me posted!
      And remember that on my blog htere’s alwasy room for a fellow 1910s-1930s writer 😉

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