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Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends Hardcover – June 16, 2011
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[In her] splendid . . . work, Dawn of the Belle Epoque, Mary McAuliffe strikingly evoked the three flourishing decades of culture that followed France’s humiliation by Germany and the never-to-be-forgotten crowning, in 1871, of a German emperor at Versailles. (New York Times)
Rising from the ashes of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune, the tumultuous Third Republic's early years from 1870 to 1900, known as the Belle Epoque, was an era in which groundbreaking artists flourished: Monet, Eiffel, Rodin, Debussy, and other one-name legends. McAuliffe chronicles the story of Paris's rebirth, capturing the artistic freedom of impressionism in painting and music, and new ideas in sculpture and on the stage even as Republican secularists, lingering Communards, and the royalist Catholic hierarchy fought for political and popular control, a struggle wonderfully illustrated through the construction in this era of the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, and the Basilique du Sacré Coeur. [McAuliffe offers] fascinating glimpses into the lives of each significant figure . . . including Sarah Bernhardt's, whose self-marketing could well have served as a blueprint for Lady Gaga. The author doesn't overlook the Dreyfus affair and economic hard times, but the relationships and creative output of the era's innovators create a marvelous vision of Paris at its heady, uncertain best. (Publishers Weekly)
In Dawn of the Belle Epoque, Mary McAuliffe—who earned a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and wrote for Paris Notes—tells the intriguing story of how Paris came alive again after that black period of French history. . . . To tell this incredibly complicated story, Ms. McAuliffe uses an interesting technique, one that might be identified more with fiction than nonfiction. Arranged chronologically into 28 chapters year by year from 1871 to 1900, the book consists of short scene-like vignettes featuring key historical figures and their actions during the year in question. Thus Dawn of the Belle Epoque reads more like a novel than an academic history. . . . Rich with the flavor of words taken from primary sources, the book provides an intimate look at the very human side of history. An extensive bibliography including French sources and 24 pages of endnotes allow for much further reading investigation. . . . Today's Paris rose from war and ashes, as Mary McAuliffe's Dawn of the Belle Epoque so eloquently proves. (The New York Journal of Books)
Today, Paris retains its allure as a mecca for lovers of art, fashion, and high culture. To an extent, that allure is a legacy of the Belle Epoque, an age from roughly the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 to the onset of WWI in 1914. McAuliffe examines the earliest phase of the period, up to the turn of the century. As the term indicates, this was an era of wonderful cultural flowering. In literature, giants like Zola and Hugo were active. The list of painters and sculptors who emerged seems endless, including Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet, Monet, and Rodin. McAuliffe tracks, on a year-by-year basis, this explosion of artistic expression. She does not ignore the seamy underside of this glittering picture. She pays ample attention to the political turmoil, beginning with the horrors of the Paris Commune and ending with the disgrace of the Dreyfus Affair, which virtually dominated French political discourse for years. This is an excellent and honest portrayal of an exciting and vital era in European history. (Booklist)
It is within this psychologically damaged milieu that McAuliffe deftly explores the inner lives of the artists and those who surrounded them, and in the process humanizes these larger-than-life characters. For McAuliffe, these demigods of the art world were ordinary people who fell in love, mourned the loss of loved ones and worried increasingly about their financial security and their legacy. In examining the impact of the death of Hugo, the revolutionary career of Louise Michel and the passionate love affair between Rodin and Camille Claudel, McAuliffe has added a truly remarkable degree of insight into both the lives of the participants and the turbulent world they inhabited. McAuliffe paints with broad, majestic strokes a world that has been lost to us or perhaps never was. (Washington Independent Review of Books)
What a story [Mary McAuliffe] has to tell! In a world of breathtaking achievement in art, music, drama, dance, sculpture, literature, and occasionally even politics, the 'to-ings and fro-ings' of those synonymous with the period—Zola, Bernhardt, Clemenceau, Eiffel, Debussy, Rodin—are set against the perpetual high drama that was the Third Republic. This gossipy soufflé . . . will entertain those who love the arts, French history, or Paris. . . . A fun read for all. Highly recommended. (CHOICE)
Unique and insightful. . . . In each chapter we are introduced to the key personalities and events of the era, often through excerpts from letters or diaries. I felt like I was a part of the personal lives of everyone, and by the time I finished the book I had a deeper understanding of the (real life) characters, even those I already knew a lot about. Mary brilliantly juxtaposes the groundbreaking works in painting, sculpture, literature, poetry, architecture, and music with the collapse of the Second Empire, the Paris Commune, the Panama Canal scandal, turbulent clashes between the Republic and the Church, economic woes, nasty anti-Semitism, and the Dreyfus Affair. The struggles and events of these years have continued to influence French politics and society right up to the present day. (The Collected Traveller)
Mary McAuliffe’s book is a charming and detailed meander through the lives of the writers and artists who lived and worked in Paris between 1871 and 1900. Each chapter describes a year in the life of the French capital, during which the author depicts the major Parisian events and provides a fascinating variety of anecdotes, little-known facts, and background detail that any connoisseur of the city will relish. . . . The result is an informative and evocative guide to late nineteenth-century Paris that would be an ideal accompaniment to a stay in the capital. . . . A most entertaining and readable account of a fascinating era and will be useful to both students of Paris and visitors alike. (French Studies)
This book explores the private and public lives of well-known artists, composers, architects, poets, novelists, sculptors, playwrights, actresses, dancers, entrepreneurs, and politicians in the last third of the nineteenth century. McAuliffe’s deep research in both primary and secondary sources, combined with her skilled reconstruction of social and professional networks, results in a wealth of fascinating, roughly interwoven biographies and historical events....[I]t is an evocative and pleasurable read. (French History)
This book explores the private and public lives of well-known artists, composers, architects, poets, novelists, sculptors, playwrights, actresses, dancers, entrepreneurs, and politicians in the last third of the nineteenth century. McAuliffe’s deep research in both primary and secondary sources, combined with her skilled reconstruction of social and professional networks, results in a wealth of fascinating, roughly interwoven biographies and historical events. . . . [I]t is an evocative and pleasurable read. (Contemporary French Civilization)
Mary McAuliffe takes us on an engaging tour of Paris at a turbulent moment in its history. From the disastrous Franco-Prussian War to the hopeful turn of the twentieth century, year by year she chronicles in wonderful detail the highs and lows faced by the city's high-powered political leaders and its creative men and women. Along the way, her beautiful storytelling reveals the triumphs, challenges, and scandals of an age that brought one century to an end and launched another. Anyone who loves Paris will enjoy this delightful book. (Jeffrey H. Jackson, author of Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910)
Composers, scientists, engineers, architects, politicians, painters, sculptors, novelists, poets, hoteliers, restauranteurs, journalists, actors, dancers, courtesans, merchants, patrons. . . . Somehow, someway, Mary McAuliffe, in Dawn of the Belle Epoque, manages to unwrap the essences of all of their lives and to uncover their almost unbelievable interconnectivity during an astonishing inflection point in Paris―indeed, world―history. Out of hundreds, this is simply the most enjoyable Paris book I have ever read. (Mark Eversman, editor, Paris Notes)
The Federation of Alliances Françaises is pleased to suggest Mary McAuliffe's wonderful new book. Once again this historic period comes to life as the Paris of 1871 recovers to greet the 'full flower' of the Belle Epoque. A great read for your book clubs. (Mimi Gregory, president, the Federation of Alliances Françaises)
I love Dawn of the Belle Epoque. It gave me a whole new layer of Paris to appreciate, and I truly savored every insight. (Jane Robert, president, Renaissance Française - USA)
About the Author
Mary McAuliffe received a Ph.D. in history from the University of Maryland and has taught at several universities and lectured at the Smithsonian Institution. For many years she was a regular contributor to Paris Notes. She has traveled extensively in France and is the author of Paris Discovered: Explorations in the City of Light. She lives in New York City with her husband.
Top customer reviews
The most interesting sections of the book for this reviewer were the insightful sketches of impressionist artists Monet, Manet, Pissaro, Degas, Pissaro, Degas and Berthe Marisot. Sculptor Rodin is covered as well as such musical masters as Debussy, Ravel, Faure, Satie.
Great authors such as Zola, and Victor Hugo also receive many pages of biographical profiles. We see how their lives intersected and how Paris became the intellectual and artistic capital of the world
This book would serve well in a course on the Belle Epopue or can be read with pleasure by the solitary reader. Excellent!
This book is in almanac format, following a dozen or more of the most famous people of that time. The information given is a little light and in some cases repetitive (for example, we're told three or more times that Marie Curie worked in a primitive shed at her university...we aren't told very much about her accomplishments beyond her discovery of two elements: polonium and radium) or incomplete (here the Dreyus affair isn't really resolved anywhere in the text, time simply seems to march on).
This book seems more suited as travel guide