By the Beautiful Sea: The Rise and High Times of That Great American Resort, Atlantic City

By the Beautiful Sea: The Rise and High Times of That Great American Resort, Atlantic City

By the Beautiful Sea: The Rise and High Times of That Great American Resort, Atlantic City

By the Beautiful Sea: The Rise and High Times of That Great American Resort, Atlantic City

Excerpt

One fine summer day, while pursuing a brief acquaintance with a charming if somewhat loony young lady whose taste ran to sleazy resorts, I found myself in Atlantic City. I was immediately taken with the gaudy whirl, the energetic vulgarity, the brazenly cheerful tastelessness of the place. Like all Americans, I assume in my viscera that the world began with Howard Johnson's, but a newspaper clipping in a taffy-shop window enlightened me. Atlantic City, it said, was some hundred and twenty years old, as old as the pyramids for American purposes. Suddenly, I scented mysteries on the Boardwalk. Some months later, having grudgingly taken a responsible and dull dissertation topic to wife, I happened to be at a party for graduate student historians. My consciousness elevated by a quantity of those cheaper wines to which graduate students are forced to resort, Atlantic City suddenly popped to the surface. Next day I drafted a new proposal; this book is the result.

By the Beautiful Sea attempts to construct a pattern of social history for the greatest popular Victorian American resort, using the themes of the Machine and the City, Nature, Morality, and Pleasure. I admit to some embarrassment for rendering these as proper nouns, but they occupied such a prominent place in the public mind at the end of the nineteenth century that I believe I am justified. The themes arrange themselves into two major alignments--namely, the Machine and the City versus Nature, and Morality versus Pleasure. The less tangible relationship between the two alignments emerges near the conclusion of the book. By the Beautiful Sea focuses on the 1890's, and nearly all of its data come from the years 1890 to 1908. This is the fin de siècle period, which witnessed the waning of Victorian society and its peculiar ambiance of social problems, moral values, and political and economic phenomena.

The term "Victorian" is not meant to be an idle borrowing. Queen Victoria, who ruled England for the immensely long time of sixty-five years, gave her name to the age. "Victorian" has many associations for English culture, but I will mention only those which impel me to apply it to American culture as displayed at Atlantic City in the 1890's.

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