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A Parisienne in Chicago: Impressions of the World's Columbian Exposition Hardcover – April 1, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press; 1st Edition edition (April 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252035135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252035135
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,008,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"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

Book Description

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.

Customer Reviews

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By mojosmom VINE VOICE on April 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It is 1893 in Chicago. Just two decades earlier, the city had experienced a fire that destroyed a large part of it. Now it had been rebuilt with energy and innovation. Architects like William LeBaron Jenney, Louis Sullivan, and Holabird and Roche were introducing Chicago and the country and the world to the skyscraper. And Daniel Burnham and the firm of Burnham and Root were coordinating the building of the Exposition that was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America.

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).
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Format: Hardcover
During the summer of 1892, a twenty eight year old French school teacher traveled to America with her husband, who was contracted to work on his country's exhibits at the World's Columbian Exposition being held in Chicago in 1893. Monsieur and Madame Grandin spent a total of ten months in America, and visited New York, Niagara Falls, Philadelphia, Milwaukee ("sightseeing" during the great fire there), and Washington D.C. in addition to their extended stay in Chicago. Throughout her journey, Madame Grandin took notes that formed the basis for a travel memoir which she later published in France. Now we are able to read Madame Grandin's account in English.

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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gary T. Johnson on October 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
One of the pleasures of this account by a French observer is to look up her descriptions of well-known individuals. She describes Bertha Honoré Palmer, the President of the Board of Lady Managers for the exposition, as "a charming American woman who lives in Paris and is a distinguished art critic." Palmer was "attractive and witty with a Parisian sort of distinction", someone who has "a very French appearance...." You might gather from this that her observations all were predictable, but sometimes I find even a throw-away comment arresting. On her way to Chicago, she visited New York. While she liked the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she preferred the New York's Museum of Natural History. Why? "More than fine arts, American instinctually appreciate works of nature. No expense has been spared in assembling the most varied and unusual examples." Superficial, perhaps, but maybe at that time, she was right. If so, doesn't this help to explain why, over a century later, our great natural history museums hold such a vast legacy?
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