Frederick Brown, cultural historian, author of acclaimed biographies of Emile Zola ("Magnificent"--"The" "New Yorker") and Flaubert ("Splendid . . . Intellectually nuanced, exquisitely written"--"The New Republic") now gives us an ambitious, far-reaching book--a perfect joining of subject and writer: a portrait of fin-de-siecle France.
He writes about the forces that led up to the twilight years of the nineteenth century when France, defeated by Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, was forced to cede the border states of Alsace and Lorraine, and of the resulting civil war, waged without restraint, that toppled Napoleon III, crushed the Paris Commune, and provoked a dangerous nationalism that gripped the Republic.
The author describes how postwar France, a nation splintered in the face of humiliation by the foreigner--Prussia--dissolved into two cultural factions: moderates, proponents of a secular state ("Clericalism, there is the enemy "), and reactionaries, who saw their ideal nation--militant, Catholic, royalist--embodied by Joan of Arc, with their message, that France had suffered its defeat in 1871 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."
Brown shows us how Paris's most iconic monuments that rose up during those years bear witness to the passionate decades-long quarrel. At one end of Paris was Gustave Eiffel's tower, built in iron and more than a thousand feet tall, the beacon of a forward-looking nation; at Paris' other end, at the highest point in the city, the basilica of the Sacre-Coeur, atonement for the country's sins and moral laxity whose punishment was France's defeat in the war . . .
Brown makes clear that the Dreyfus Affair--the cannonade of the 1890s--can only be understood in light of these converging forces. "The Affair" shaped the character of public debate and informed private life. At stake was the fate of a Republic born during the Franco-Prussian War and reared against bitter opposition.
The losses that abounded during this time--the financial loss suffered by thousands in the crash of the Union Generale, a bank founded in 1875 to promote Catholic interests with Catholic capital outside the Rothschilds' sphere of influence, along with the failure of the Panama Canal Company--spurred the partisan press, which blamed both disasters on Jewry.
The author writes how 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, when the Third Republic fell and the Vichy government replaced it, with Marshal Petain heralded as the latest incarnation of Joan of Arc, France's savior . . .
"From the Hardcover edition."
"Vivacious and fluid. . . . Visitors to the City of Light, and Parisians themselves, may never look at the Eiffel Tower and the Sacrï¿½-Coeur quite the same way again. . . . Brown's storytelling is vivacious and fluid, but he also keeps a firm hand on his chronicle, bringing order and perspective to these often chaotic times. . . . For the Soul of France offers a great deal of instruction and many narrative pleasures (even for a French reader)."
--The Wall Street Journal
"A wonderful book. . . . Learned. . . . Vivid. . . . Consistently instructive."
--The New Republic
"Brown has the rare ability to write reliable and well-researched history for a broad nonspecialized public. Francophiles, in particular, will love this book."
--The New York Times Book Review
"A lucid, piercing portrait. . . . These events still resonate, and Brown shows they stand as powerfully as any structure in iron or stone."
"Terrific. . . . A brilliant study."
--The Boston Globe
"For the Soul of France is masterful history, brilliantly researched, and hard to put down."
--Henry A. Kissinger
"[A] sweeping reevaluation of late-nineteenth-century France. . . . In less than 300 pages, Brown brings together a host of characters who have themselves spawned thick biographies--Napolï¿½on III, Gustave Eiffel, Alfred Dreyfus--along with others less known today outside France."
"More than a century on, the Dreyfus affair still holds important lessons about freedom, notably the fragility of basic liberties when national security is invoked. It is also a reminder of the deep roots of anti-Semitism, in France and beyond."
"A fine work. . . . Brisk and readable. . . . Brown is a historian who believes that things actually happened in history, and he has one interest: telling the story. . . . Truly worth reading."
"The search for national identity reverberates through [For the Soul of France] so compellingly that even hardened Francophobes may appreciate the passion and prejudices inflaming a country whose contradictory instincts for grandeur and provincialism seemed limitless during the 19th century."
"Brown, a distinguished cultural historian, gives us the story in riveting detail, moving an interesting human cavalcade across the precariously turbulent political stage that was fin de siï¿½cle France."
--History Book Club
"Nobody outside France writes better about French history and culture in the late 19th Century than Frederick Brown. . . . For the Soul of France is an epic piece of history on a grand scale, full of deeply disturbing resemblances to our own."
--Michael Korda, author of With Wings Like Eagles
"After Napoleon III fell in 1870, the stakes were high in France: The form of government, the church's role, the structure of the economy were all in flux. Brown lays it all out masterfully."
--The Montreal Gazette
"Richly illustrated. . . . An important work of cultural and intellectual history."
--Library Journal (starred review)
"A very good example of cultural history. It suggests that even in the heyday of bourgeois materialism, the most important, and often decisive, matter was what large groups of people preferred to think and believe. His episodes are well-selected, and their developments well-written."
--John Lukacs, author of Budapest 1900
Number Of Pages: 304
Published: 8th February 2011
Publisher: Anchor Books
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 20.96 x 12.7
Weight (kg): 0.34