For the Soul of France

For the Soul of France

Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus

Book - 2011
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Cultural historian Frederick Brown provides a portrait of fin-de-sic̈le France, whose defeat by Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 resulted in a virtual civil war, waged without restraint, which toppled Napoléon III, crushed the Paris Commune, and provoked a dangerous nationalism that gripped the Republic. In the face of humiliation by Prussia, postwar France dissolved into two cultural factions: moderates, proponents of a secular state, and reactionaries--militant, Catholic, royalist--who felt that France had suffered defeat for having betrayed its true faith. A bitter debate took hold of the heart and soul of the country, framed by the vision of "science" and "technological advancement" versus "supernatural intervention." The roiling conflicts that began thirty years before Dreyfus did not end with his exoneration in 1900--instead they became the festering point that led to France's surrender to Hitler's armies in 1940.--From publisher description
Publisher: New York : Anchor Books, 2011
Edition: First Anchor Books edition
Copyright Date: ℗2010
ISBN: 9780307279217
0307279219
Branch Call Number: 944.081 Brow
Characteristics: xxv, 304 pages : illustrations ; 21 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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