How is one to find the perfect young man, either they seem to be half-witted, or half-baked, or absolute sinks of vice or else actively dirty… All very difficult.
Nancy Mitford, letter to her brother Tom, June 1928
I’m currently reading a book on those Bright Young People, that 1920s/30s group of party loving extroverts:
Homosexuality was as characteristic of the Bright Young People as a cloche hat, or an outsize party invitation. No English youth movement, it is safe to say, has ever contained such a high proportion of homosexuals or – in an age when these activities were still illegal – been so indulgent of their behaviour. There were several reasons for the irretrievable air of campness with which the average Bright Young entertainment of the 1920s was riotously invested, symbolised, perhaps, by the unwritten law of the Oxford Hypocrites Club that ‘Gentlemen may prance but not dance’. On the one hand the movement’s constituency extended deep into the bohemian sub-world in which homosexuality had immemorially flourished. On the other, most male Bright Young People were recruited from English public schools, where homosexuality, if not tolerated by vigilant head-masters, was endemically present among the pupils. Looking back on her teenage years, Jessica Mitford noted that ‘nearly every English boy I knew had a terrific exposure to homosexuality… Some stuck to it, some didn’t, but nobody paid much attention either way, as I recall…’
To this already charged atmosphere could be added the tendency of many of the era’s young men to pass through a homosexual ‘stage’ before settling down into heterosexual marriage. Evelyn Waugh, for example, went through a violent gay phase at Oxford before setting his cap, unsuccessfully, with Olivia Plunket Greene.
Bright Young homosexuality, consequently, took in a variety of forms: predatory career homosexuals; nervously experimental young men; Wilde-era survivors; many more besides. At its core lay a group of orchidaceous Etonians – Eton was perhaps the most openly gay school of the era – with an insider’s knowledge of each other’s characteristics and peccadilloes. When Tom Mitford tried to warn his sister Nancy off Hamish Erskine, it was because he himself had had an affair with Erskine at Eton and knew his unreliability at first hand.
Source: Bright Young People: The Rise & Fall of a Generation 1918-1940, by D J Taylor
There is a whole chapter on the subject of ‘Gay Young People’ which makes interesting reading.