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France, Fin de Siècle [Paperback]

Eugen Weber
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 14, 1988 0674318137 978-0674318137

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 modem-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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Weber, historian and author of many books, vividly describes France in the 1880s and 1890s. The everyday life of the people, the role of women, the constant crises in politics, the state of the arts and theater, the appearance of new inventions, the rise of the popular press, and the growth of leisure time are among the many topics covered. Based on numerous contemporary sources, Weber's fine social history is an important addition to the study of 19th-century France. Broader in scope than Charles Rearick's Pleasures of the Belle Epoque (Yale Univ. Pr., 1985), this book will be a valuable addition to public and academic library collections. However, a bibliography would have been helpful. Kathleen Farago, Lakewood P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Eugen Weber has probably done more to enrich the historiography of modern France than any other contemporary American historian. His trademarks are originality and formidable erudition, both much in evidence in his latest book, which will not disappoint his admirers. France, Fin de Siècle offers nothing less than a portrait of an age, viewed not from the perspective of the twentieth century but through the eyes of an inquisitive contemporary tourist, sensitive to surface phenomena...It is a delight to read. This is history as art. (J. F. McMillan Times Literary Supplement)

History is clearly becoming more fun. In Eugen Weber's France, Fin de Siècle, statesmen and treaties are set aside in favor of the stuff of everyday existence. We learn about bathing, smells, sanitation, domestic quarrels, underwear, sexuality and the bicycle as they evolved during the last two decades of the nineteenth century...[Weber] is interested in an apparent discrepancy of the fin de siècle. On the one hand, it was famously the age of decadence--moral, material, and social, castigated or else delighted in by the intellectuals and artists...On the other hand, it was a time of real improvement in living standards and greater opportunities for leisure, sport and social progress...The surface that interests Mr. Weber turns up plenty of remarkable material...But perhaps the greatest triumph of Mr. Weber's approach to history comes in his evocations of the stress and tear of human relations...He also manages to raise anecdotal history to a nearly philosophical level. (Peter Brooks New York Times Book Review)

The epoch immortalized by Marcel Proust in Remembrance of Things Past has now found a historian equal to the task of capturing its tones and textures. In this engaging and nicely illustrated book, the eminent UCLA historian Eugen Weber shows that history can be fun and instructive at the same time. (Lynn Hunt Los Angeles Times Book Review)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (April 14, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674318137
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674318137
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #120,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Anecdotal Pictures of Fin de Siecle France March 5, 2002
By A Customer
In Eugen Weber's work, France, Fin de Siécle, the author contends that the period leading up to the close of the 19th century in France exemplified characteristics that serve to define it as a separate entity from the later Belle Époque. In presenting this argument, Weber studies various aspects of Fin de Siécle France and attempts to show their uniqueness from other periods of French history. A time known for decadent behavior, dynamic social strata, new societal roles, and literary and artistic virtuosity, Weber artfully reconstructs the period with due attention given to the technologies and innovations pushing France's move towards modernity and convenience. In this manner, Weber's largest contribution to understanding of the Fin de Siécle period remains the importance his research places on French society's reaction to the radically changing world around them. Whether manifested in art, politics, literature, or economics, Weber effectively shows that the Fin de Siécle embodied not only innovative, but also quite reactionary responses from the French people - a point sometimes glossed over by focusing largely on the achievements of the intellectual and artistic subculture of the period.

In this work, Weber attempts to examine the larger social undercurrents in Fin de Siécle France, as this period remains forever immortalized and likewise popular due in part to the art and literature of the Symbolists, Impressionists, and Romantics. Though the period exemplified painstaking endeavors in decadence and the elevation of vice against virtue, Weber argues that such focus on pessimism remained a characteristic of a much larger societal grouping than solely the Bohemian intellectuals.
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By Nancy
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very thorough and interesting book. It investigates many different and unique facets of life in France during this time period.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent January 15, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Lively and witty writing style is engaging as well as informative, a worthy overview of French life pre-WW1 that also makes excellent reading. I bought this for a research paper intending to sell it off after. I'm keeping it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars La Belle Epoque January 15, 2013
By Gaetan
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This is a must read for those who want to better understand the end of the 19th century in Europe.
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4 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars France: Fin de Siecle May 9, 2000
By A Customer
Extremely interesting book about decadence and social decline at the end of the century.
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