France : fin de siècle

by Eugen Weber

Paperback, 1986




Cambridge, Mass ; London : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1986


The end of the nineteenth century in France was marked by political scandals, social unrest, dissension, and "decadence." Yet the fin de siècle was also an era of great social and scientific progress, a time when advantages previously reserved for the privileged began to be shared by the many. Public transportation, electrical illumination, standard time, and an improved water supply radically altered the life of the modest folk, who found time for travel and leisure activities--including sports such as cycling. Change became the nature of things, and people believed that further improvement was not only possible but inevitable. In this thoroughly engaging history, Eugen Weber describes ways of life, not as recorded by general history, but as contemporaries experienced them. He writes about political atmosphere and public prejudices rather than standard political history. Water and washing, bicycles and public transportation engage him more than great scientific discoveries. He discusses academic painting and poster art, the popular stage and music halls, at greater length than avant-garde and classic theater or opera. In this book the importance of telephones, plumbing, and central heating outranks such traditional subjects as international developments, the rise of organized labor, and the spread of socialism. Weber does not neglect the darker side of the fin de siècle. The discrepancy between material advance and spiritual dejection, characteristic of our own times, interests him as much as the idea of progress, and he reminds us that for most people the period was far from elegant. In the lurid context of military defeat, political instability, public scandal, and clamorous social criticism, one had also to contend with civic dirt, unsanitary food, mob violence, and the seeds of modern-day scourges: pollution, drugs, sensationalism, debased art, the erosion of moral character. Yet millions of fin de siècle French lived as only thousands had lived fifty years before; while their advance was slow, their right to improvement was conceded.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member TheBooknerd
I purchased this as a supplementary read for one of my literature classes. I found it to contain good information, but I would not recommend it to the casual reader.
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
The closing of a century is a time of change in history and culture. This was never more true than at the end of the nineteenth century; the era now known as the "fin de siecle". Eugen Weber focuses on France in this fine history of that era. It is a history organized topically rather than chronologically. Thus Weber offers discussion of the lives of people, their way of living and the impact of technological changes. The change in political and educational patterns highlight how the old morphs into the new even in this area. Anyone interested in the arts is treated to a discussion of decadence which opens the book. There is the naturalism of writers like Zola, but also the neurosis of the age with hints of Freud and Nietzsche. Even sports is not neglected in this eclectic and always fascinating picture of the end of a century.… (more)



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