Twilight of the Belle Epoque, A Graph Review

  A Graph Review
50 with highpoints 70

Twilight of the Belle Epoque

By Mary McAuliffe

Hardback published 2014            £18.95                27 b&w plates and 1 map

Published by Rowman & Littlefield

twi bell pic
You dive into this book, this period, with a swirl of the Paris Exposition of 1900, rushing to the opening of the Metro, over to the summer Olympics in Paris, the racing of cars round the street.  Are introduced to musicians, artists, engineers and entrepreneurs throughout as Mary McAuliffe dips into their circles.  The new buds waiting to flower like Picasso and those many others, arrived or struggling like Ravel, all mixing and meeting together with the ‘elders’ like Sarah Bernhardt.  From the first page through the next 16 and onwards to page 350 you are swept along into the Paris of artists of every genre and many nations.  A hub, a glittering city that drew unto itself the fashionable and unfashionable alike.  You do get reminders of the recent past which help to keep the reader in tune with the specifics of the day, very useful if you have not yet read her earlier book.  This book is happily read as a stand alone but you may well thirst for the detail from Dawn of Belle Epoque.

I love the way people appear, artists too numerous, Marie Curie and Paul Langevin, Debussy, Stravinsky, Baron Von Richthoven, Proust, Apollinaire, Renault, just a random selection from an overflowing index.  If anyone from that period were in Paris they will no doubt be in the book and indexed, as and when.

After the first, the following chapters are devoted to each year.  The fine detail, the meticulous quotes and explanations of the developments, forward and back.  Of lives, personal and artistic, woven into the fabric of Paris.  Politics seeps in, the friction with have versus the have-nots and street life; and of course the precursors to war.  Shadows, black clouds that cast out much of the glitter.  The last chapter, 1918, the final year of World War 1, begins with an outline of the situation in Paris. German shelling of the city, their lines almost on the outskirts of the.  The city truly in siege but the flow of names and events still appear.  Picasso, Sarah Bernhardt, Proust and on, inhabit the paragraphs with Clemenceau, and now Dreyfus and Charles de Gaulle.

Armistice saw three days of celebration in Paris.  On the second day the lights along the boulevard went up for the first time in four years.  The war had wreaked its havoc and McAuliffe quotes Proust’s housekeeper in that a society and way of life “was disappearing then and is now gone forever.”  Quoted as having been a ‘golden age’, in reality for the majority it was not but for others, for many reasons it seems it almost was.

A final paragraph concludes this exceptional book. Two books if you include Dawn of the Belle Epoque as its forerunner.

The dazzling excitement of the opening chapter runs through to the intrusion and attrition of the war, completing this finely detailed, researched period.  Highly readable but may make you breathless!

40 pages of notes, 10 pages of bibliography and an extensive index

Definitely to stay on my shelf, with the first volume, Dawn of the Belle Époque   hardback   £16.95    978 1442209275            pprback  978 1442209283    £11.95