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Genteel Interbellum Setting

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Party like it's 1929.

A (usually) unspecified date somewhere between the end of World War I in 1918 and the commencement of World War II in 1939. A time of women in evening gowns and gentlemen in dinner jackets mingling at well-to-do cocktail parties, rich tweed-clad country gentlemen and hard-boiled detectives who are veterans of World War I. Lots of action takes place in big country houses and small surrounding villages in the countryside, often involving (depending on the author/genre) either wacky romantic misunderstandings or cold-blooded acts of murder, both of which evolve around complex, labyrinthian schemes. In the more urban areas (usually either London or New York City), there's lots of Art Deco around, swank parties, heavy drinking, and gay repartee. While The Roaring '20s and then The Great Depression both took place around this period, the rather conservative and patrician milieu of the Genteel Interbellum Setting tends to keep the era's real-world social, cultural, and political upheavals somewhat at arm's length.

This trope was formerly named "Christie Time" after the period when most (if not all) of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels are thought to be set (they actually cover a time period of 1916 to the early 1970s, suggesting that Poirot lives to be over a hundred years old) and when all said TV adaptations are set. It could well have been called Wodehouse Time also.

The historical name for this period is the Interbellum, hence the name. Later portrayals may see it combined with Diesel Punk.

In his short story Umney's Last Case, Stephen King refers to a temporal variant, Chandler American Time. Here, the action is set at the very end of the period, just before America enters the War in 1941.

In Genteel Interbellum Setting and Chandler American Time the time from 1918-1941 is usually idealized, while in Diesel Punk it is the opposite, often containing critical deconstruction of the values of those times.

See also Old, Dark House, which is usually the setting for Ten Little Murder Victims.

Compare and contrast The Gay '90s, Big Fancy House, Victorian Novel Disease.


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    Board Games 
  • Clue/Cluedo is usually set during this period. Over the decades, modernizations have been occasionally attempted, but they never go over well and always revert back to the original.

    Comic Strips 
  • Rupert (which actually began in 1920) and other British children's Newspaper Comics.
  • The American-colonial Philippines had an equivalent in Kenkoy, which began in 1928, and whose title character enjoys dressing up to the nines, American-style (despite it likely being hotter in such a tropical setting), and wooing women and getting into silly hijinks along the way.

    Film — Live-Action 

  • Most of Nancy Mitford's body of work, but especially The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. The various TV adaptations fall under this heading as well.
  • Most of G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories, although the first two collections were published before and during WWI respectively.
  • Former Trope Namer Agatha Christie:
    • The Secret Adversary (1922), which introduced Tommy and Tuppence not so long after they were both out of work due to the end of World War I. Partners in Crime (1929) is a series of linked short stories about their joint venture in running a detective agency. Unlike Poirot mentioned above, Tommy and Tuppence aged roughly in real time.
    • Christie's final novel Curtain actually does provide a timeframe for her stories (or at least the ones about Poirot, though this would probably drag a lot of others into the mix as well by proxy due to overlapping characters), placing them in the period of the early 1920s through the early 1940s. This may not always be consistent with the details of all of her stories (especially the Poirot novel Third Girl, which deals with Swinging Sixties youth culture) but at least it's established.
    • The late Miss Marple novel At Bertram's Hotel provides an Internal Deconstruction. Written and set in the mid-1960s, it features Miss Marple checking into an old-established and seemingly-unchanged Olde Worlde luxury hotel, which turns out to have been taken over by a criminal conspiracy. The ending has Miss Marple reflecting to herself that times have changed and she can't live in the past.
  • "Dead Stars" (1925), by the Filipino author Paz Marquez Benitez, is implied to be contemporarily set in the 1920s American Philippines—a time similarly stereotyped as sunny, idyllic and peaceful (in fact, it's often locally nicknamed "peacetime"), but in the Filipino context "interbellum" doesn't so much count back to WWI, but instead to the Philippine-American War, the same war that allowed U.S. colonialists to occupy the fledgling first Philippine republic.
  • Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher mysteries, which are mostly set in Australia during 1928 (although the last two books have moved into 1929, and Murder in Montparnasse had flashbacks to post-World War I Paris).
  • Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn mysteries.
  • The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers.
  • Various books by Evelyn Waugh, most notably Vile Bodies and Brideshead Revisited, though the latter averts this by telling the story through characters during the war reminiscing about the life they've lost.
  • P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories are often remembered as this, but in fact they do have occasional references that establish the passing of time (there's a past-tense mention of World War II in at least Ring for Jeeves - which is a bit of Oddball in the Series - and short story Bingo Bans the Bomb is set in context of nuclear disarmement protests). The TV series is definitely and deliberately set in Christie Time, though.
  • Jean Ray's Harry Dickson novels.
  • E. F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia books.
  • Leslie Charteris' first few dozen stories about The Saint. But poor old Simon Templar, an RFC veteran from WWI, was still debonairly thirtyish in WWII, and still in harness in the 1983.
  • Jo Walton's Alternate History Small Change trilogy takes place in an extended Genteel Interbellum Setting: Britain's fascist-sympathetic government stays out of WWII, while one main character is a homicide detective whose investigations drag him deeper and deeper into a conspiracy trying to keep it that way.
  • Most of H. P. Lovecraft's stories take place in this time period, appropriately enough as it covers the span of his literary career and he far preferred Ye Olde Anglo-Saxon way of life to the hustle and bustle of contemporary urban America; as the setting is Lovecraft Country, it remains credible.
  • The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, is supposed to be set in a generic, strangely historically-detached version of The Roaring '20s where jazz, flappers, and Prohibition curiously go unmentioned.
  • S.S. Van Dine's erudite and sublimely supercilious Philo Vance.
  • Many of Rex Stout's early Nero Wolfe novels are set in this period.
  • Richard Lockridge's husband and wife detectives, Mr And Mrs North.
  • Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man epitomizes the high-life in New York during this period.
  • The Phantom Detective provides a pulp-hero version of the genteel detective.
  • Damon Runyon's works are some of the definitive "Everyone's-a-gangster-and-wears-hats-while-talking-snappy" incarnation of the era.
  • The Ellery Queen series had its origins in this setting.
  • Erich Kästner's comedy Drei Männer im Schnee (Three Men in the Snow), including snooty servants, big cars, and a second date engagement.
  • A few Biggles books set during his "freelance Gentleman Adventurer" period before his Mandatory Unretirement to fight the Nazis take place in this setting, most notably Biggles and Co, which was basically a standard issue detective story with added Sky Pirates.
  • Madeline and to a lesser degree the first book of Babar take place in a particularly Gay Paree-flavoured version of this trope.
  • Consider The Lily is set in England among the landed gentry in 1929
  • The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School and The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School are set at an all-girls boarding school in England at some unspecified point in the 1920s. Aftereffects of World War I come up at several points, and the epilogue chapter of Secrets has the main characters meeting again as adults during World War II.
  • The Remains of the Day, as with the movie, bounces between interbellum and post-war.
  • Though the course of 20th century history has changed a lot due to the Confederacy winning the War of Secession the world of Timeline-191 also features two extremely destructive global conflicts closely analogous to our world wars. After the standalone first book in the series, the remaining ten novels are divided into three series. The middle series covers the entirety of this war's interbellum setting, which is similar in a lot of ways, but far less 'genteel'.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Max Raabe and Das Palast Orchester are a modern jazz orchestra from Berlin that specializes in music of this era (and performing covers of modern pop songs in the same style).

  • Basically all of Noël Coward's comedies, such as
  • A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino note 
  • Lend Me a Tenor
  • Operatic example: Lennox Berkeley's chamber opera A Dinner Engagement.
  • Ferenc Molnár's Játék a kastélyban was adapted into two very Interbellum-flavoured English-language plays: P. G. Wodehouse's The Play's the Thing (1926), and Tom Stoppard's Rough Crossing (1984 but set in the 1930s).

    Video Games 
  • The first Laura Bow game, The Colonel's Bequest takes place in this setting. The story is set in 1920s Louisiana, and Laura's friend Lillian along with all of Lillian's family are invited to her uncle's slightly decrepit bayou plantation, where he announces that he is drawing up his will to split his money between them. Everyone, regardless of whether they are elderly Grand Dames, glamorous young actresses, or ne'er do well rogues, has a secret to hide or knows the secrets of someone else present, and it isn't long before a series of murders begins...
  • The Professor Layton series seems to be set in this, but the anachronisms flow so thick, you might as well chalk it up to Purely Aesthetic Era.
  • Amiga game Murder! is set in this kind of environment; the player character is in a mansion with a dead body and a lot of guests with secrets and has two hours to solve the crime before the police show up.

    Western Animation 
  • The Legend of Korra is set in an alternate universe 1920s to 1930s aesthetic bonded with Asian elements.

Alternative Title(s): Christie Time