For the Soul of France

For the Soul of France

Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus

Book - 2010 | 1st ed.
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In a perfect joining of subject and writer, cultural historian Frederick Brown, author of acclaimed biographies of Zola and Flaubert, gives us an ambitious and revealing portrait of fin de siecle France, an era of upheaval and uncertainty that helped to shape the first half of the twentieth century.
Brown examines the events leading up to the twilight years of the nineteenth century when, defeated in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, France was forced to cede the border states of Alsace and Lorraine. In the subsequent civil war, Napoleon III was toppled, the Paris Commune was crushed, and a zealous nationalism gripped the republic, setting the stage for the Dreyfus affair. The author describes how postwar France was rent by a bitter debate between those who believed in science as the only way for the nation to regain its stature on the world stage, and those who believed in the singular ability of God to save their country. And he makes clear that the conflicts that began thirty years before Dreyfus became the festering points that led to France's surrender to Hitler in 1940, and to Marshal Petain, head of the collaborationist Vichy government, being heralded, at the time, as France's savior.
An essential book of French cultural history.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780307266316
0307266311
Branch Call Number: 944.081 BROWN
Characteristics: xxv, 304 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.

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EvanSchoenfeld
Aug 27, 2017

I skimmed over some of the early parts where so much detail about political changes after 1870 got mind-boggling. However, the author was setting the stage for the fin de siècle conflicts between the French Left and Right, and by the time we get to ‘Boulangerism’ it’s pretty interesting. Historians usually take care to show how one event leads to another, and there’s a bonus when they give you a vivid sense of the past that feels like understanding . . . even if it makes you shudder. I get the impression that France at the end of the nineteenth century was in the same collective mind set that characterized Germany after WWI—the retreat into irrationality and xenophobia, the yearning for dictatorship. Good sense brought France back from the brink. One regrets that the wonderful original painting of the period wasn’t covered, but you can’t have everything.

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