French History: Belle ‰poque Essay

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Belle Epoque means beautiful era in French. This is an apt description of what took place during the late 1800s up until the start of the First World War. This period of European history is characterized by political stability, peace between major European nations and a flourishing in almost all aspects of society. This modern golden age of Europe started with the peace following the Franco-Prussian war. (Rudorff) Although tensions were still present between rival countries like France and Germany, the improvement of international relations helped conclude treaties and summits.

Most notable of these were the Congress of Berlin in 1878 by which the major countries of Europe met to discuss the future of the Balkan and Ottoman states, and the Berlin Congo Conference in 1884 which aimed to regulate European trade in Africa. (Childers and Teaching Company. ) The major European countries at the start of the Belle epoque were pursuing diplomacy with each other in concern with major issues. This could be said to be a result of the past Franco-Prussian war Politics in the Belle Epoque was with few explosive conflicts.

Europe as a whole was too interested in Africa, in the Scramble for Africa that followed the Berlin Congo Congress, to fight with each other in their native continent. The Scramble for Africa denoted the individual European Countries contest over the resource rich continent. The internal politics of each country was relatively stable, except for Portugal, with the revolution of 1910. Although peaceful, The Belle Epoque was characterized by growing tension between the bourgeoisie and the workers throughout Europe, giving an increase in socialist activities.

During this period, science and technology made rapid advancement in almost all fields. The relative isolationism between countries and parts of the world was significantly reduced with the proliferation of new modes of transportation like the automobile, the airplane, and the underground railway system. The world further shrank with the advent of the telephone, which enabled real time voice communications across far distances. The world of arts was also revolutionized with the cinematograph and the phonograph. The Belle Epoque also produced various breakthroughs in physics, microbiology, biology and chemistry.

This was the time of the discoveries and theories of Pasteur, Planck, Bohr, and Einstein among others. It was also in 1895, upon the death of Alfred Nobel, that the Nobel Prize was enacted. The social sciences and psychology also flourished with thinkers like Sigmund Freud, Max Webber and Simmel. Perhaps the most noted feature of the Belle Epoque is the revolutionary transformations in the art and literature of the world. The stability of the major European countries, and the ease by which on could travel within Europe all gave rise to art revolutions centralized in European capital cities.

In, Paris, a new movement called Impressionism, from the work of Clause Monet set the standard all across Europe. This was followed by the Expressionist movement, originating in Germany, which spread all throughout Europe and across the Atlantic, to America. Most notable of these were the works of Edward Munch, Wassily and Egon Schiele. Art Nouveau, fin de siecle and other art movements sprang from various European cities as offspring of both Impressionism and Expressionism. The era also produced a rise in graphic art, with a huge proliferation of sketches, etchings, lithographs and posters.

The decadence brought upon by stability is evident in the quality of life and the vibrant display of the arts in the major European capitals. The artistic freedom in this era was also one highlight. Every topic, every scene could be seen depicted in almost any medium during the Belle Epoque. Artists in this era gained almost worldwide notoriety, like Oscar Wilde. The advances in art were not limited to painting and sculpture. Architecture and fashion also flourished during the Belle Epoque.

Parisian fashion among the middle and upper classes were sophisticated and extravagant. (Feinblatt et al. ) Architecture progressed with the rise of the artistic movements, producing many revolutionary works. The introduction of the cinematograph also revolutionized visual media, leading to greater interest in films and cinema. Louis Lumiere produced the first short films that were the first paid public exhibitions of such works. Melies introduced the realm of the extraordinary to the films, showing fantastic spectacles as opposed to real life events.

Even advertising reached its first pinnacle during the Bell Epoque, with prints and poster being source of income and avenue for artistic expression. Literature, music and the theatre accompanied the arts progression during the Belle Epoque. Expressionism lent new material to theatrical productions, which now aimed to shock audiences with graphic and sexual material. (Rearick) Music in the Belle Epoque is evidenced by salon, which gained mainstream popularity due to its light and shot tones. Naturalism and realism pervaded literature, with writers like Yeats, Fontane, Mauppasant and Zola.

The surrealist works of Franz Kafka also dealt with the conditions of society, the transformation of the world. Other authors include Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust. (Trueba and Lola Films (Firm)) The Belle Epoque ended with the beginning of the First World War. The tensions that belied the calm surface of the era culminated in a war that involved almost all major nations in the world. The socialist undertones brewing during the Belle Epoque all exploded during the war. The Belle epoque is considered the golden age of Modern Europe.

In between two major wars, the peace in this era produced a general feeling of stability and decadence. Prosperity and enjoyment permeated the lifestyle of the middle and upper classes. The stability of the era also paved the way for rapid advancement in the arts, science, literature and technology. As an era, the Belle Epoque is a good case study as to how productive peace can be, and the effects of wars on the development of mankinds culture.

References Childers, Thomas, and Teaching Company. Europe and Western Civilization in the Modern Age. [sound recording] /. Teaching Co. ,, Springfield, VA :, 1998. Feinblatt, Ebria, et al. Toulouse-Lautrec and His Contemporaries : Posters of the Belle Epoque from the Wagner Collection. (1985): 264 p. Rearick, Charles. Pleasures of the Belle Epoque : Entertainment and Festivity in Turn-of-the-Century France. (1985): xiii, 239 p. , [10] p. of plates. Rudorff, Raymond. The Belle Epoque; Paris in the Nineties. (1973): 365 p. Trueba, Fernando, and Lola Films (Firm). Belle Epoque [the Age of Beauty]. [videorecording] =. Columbia TriStar Home Video,, [Burbank, Calif. ] :, 1994.

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