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The years before the First World War have long been romanticized as a zenith of French culture—the “Belle Époque.” The era is seen as the height of a lost way of life that remains emblematic of what it means to be French. In a vast range of texts and images, it appears as a carefree time full of joie de vivre, fanfare and frills, artistic daring, and scientific innovation. The Moulin Rouge shared the stage with the Universal Exposition, Toulouse-Lautrec rubbed elbows with Marie Curie and La Belle Otero, and Fantômas invented automatic writing.
This book traces the making—and the imagining—of the Belle Époque to reveal how and why it became a cultural myth. Dominique Kalifa lifts the veil on a period shrouded in nostalgia, explaining the century-long need to continuously reinvent and even sanctify this moment. He sifts through images handed down in memoirs and reminiscences, literature and film, art and history to explore the many facets of the era, including its worldwide reception. The Belle Époque was born in France, but it quickly went global as other countries adopted the concept to write their own histories. In shedding light on how the Belle Époque has been celebrated and reimagined, Kalifa also offers a nuanced meditation on time, history, and memory.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dominique Kalifa (1957–2020) was professor of history and director of the Center for Nineteenth-Century History at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon–Sorbonne. His books include Vice, Crime, and Poverty: How the Western Imagination Invented the Underworld (Columbia, 2019).
"Dominique Kalifa’s 'untold' history of the Belle Époque offers a probing reflection on the concepts through which we structure and give meaning to time and the past. Scholars of memory, nostalgia, and temporality will find much to think about in a book that is at once playful and ambitious."
--Stéphane Gerson, author of Disaster Falls: A Family Story