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A Parisienne in Chicago: Impressions of the World's Columbian Exposition Hardcover – April 1, 2010
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"An excellent foreign traveler's account of Chicago, the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, New York City, and travel by ocean liner and train. The book provides wonderful commentary on gender relations and the contrast between Americans and the French." --Perry Duis, author of Challenging Chicago: Coping with Everyday Life, 1837-1920
This fascinating account of a French woman's impressions of America in the late nineteenth century reveals an unusual cross-cultural journey. Traveling to Chicago in 1893 because of her husband's collaboration on the fountain sculpture for the World's Columbian Exposition, Madame Leon Grandin was initially impressed with the city's fast pace, architectural grandeur, and social and cultural customs. Having gained an appreciation for the freedoms she experienced as a woman in America, she was reluctant to return to Paris, where she was all too aware that clearly defined social constraints still prevailed. Grandin's curiosity and interior access to Chicago's social and domestic spaces produced an unusual travel narrative that goes beyond the usual tourist reactions and provides a valuable resource for readers interested in late nineteenth-century America, Chicago, and social commentary.
Top Customer Reviews
The Columbian Exposition brought to Chicago visitors not only from all over the country, but from all over the globe. Among them were the sculptor, Léon Grandin, and his wife Marie. But their visit was a lengthy one, stretching over ten months, for Grandin was there to work with Frederick MacMonnies on the Columbian Fountain. Fortunately for us, Marie Grandin, who had been an elementary school teacher in France, was curious, intelligent, a keen observer, and kept a journal, which formed the basis for her book, Impressions d'une parisienne à Chicago. Equally fortunate for us, Mary Beth Raycraft has given us a respectful translation as well as an introduction that provides us with background information about Mme. Grandin, and contrasts her experience and book with those of other French women writing about America.
What makes Grandin's observations more substantial than many others is the fact that she did stay in one place for so long. In her ten months here, she stayed in boarding houses and residential hotels; visited schools (as a teacher, a particular interest of hers), stockyards and department stores; and made friends with fellow boarders and the social élite alike (she gave French lessons to Bertha Palmer, chair of the Expositions Board of Lady Managers).Read more ›
As the translator Mary Beth Raycraft points out, Madame Grandin's perception of what she encountered in America was shaped by her experience as a citizen of Paris. For example, while Americans were awed by the newly invented Ferris wheel which occupied the center of the Chicago fair's midway and could hold two thousand passengers, Grandin saw it as "a failed attempt to upstage the Eiffel Tower of the (last previous World's Fair) Paris 1889 exhibition."
Throughout her notes, Madame Grandin's compares the two cultures, noting differences in such diverse topics as marrying (love versus a dowry), child-rearing methods (rewarding versus punishment), art ("in general..not the natural tendency of [America]"), and construction methods ("In America, saving time is more important than saving lives.")
She also found humor in comparing the two cultures. For example, she says:
When you take the train (in Chicago), you can buy an insurance ticket in case a catastrophe interrupts the trip. All of the men get insured and their wives count on it. In France, all the husbands count on the death of their in-laws.Read more ›