Paris during Eliot's Residence in 1910-1911: A Practical Guide to the City

By Hargrove, Nancy | Yeats Eliot Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Paris during Eliot's Residence in 1910-1911: A Practical Guide to the City


Hargrove, Nancy, Yeats Eliot Review


WHEN T. S. ELIOT HAD WHAT HE CALLED "THE EXCEPTIONAL GOOD FORTUNE" ("WHAT FRANCE" 44) TO SPEND THE ACADEMIC YEAR 1910-1911 IN PAPAS, TAKING COURSES FROM THE FAMED PHILOSOPHER HENRI BERGSON AT LE COLLEGE DE FRANCE AND SEARCHING FOR ms POETIC VOICE, HE ENCOUNTERED A CITY OF ENORMOUS COMPLEXITY WHICH, ACCORDING TO BAEDEKER'S 1907 EDITION OF HIS GUIDEBOOK PARIS ET SEE ENVIRONS, HAD HAD A REPUTATION SINCE THE MIDDLE AGES OF BEING THE PREMIERE CITY OF SCIENCE, ART, INDUSTRY, AND PLEASURE IN EUROPE (XXIII), BALANCING BOTH GREAT REVERENCE FOR THE PAST AND EXCITEMENT ABOUT THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE REPRESENTED BY NEW ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY. WHILE IN OTHER ESSAYS I HAVE FOCUSED ON THE CULTURAL MILIEU, IN THIS ESSAY I WILL RECONSTRUCT WHAT I CALL THE PRACTICAL ASPECTS OF THE CITY TO CONVEY AN IMPRESSION OF WHAT IT WAS LIKE WHEN ELIOT LIVED THERE. TO THAT END, AFTER GIVING A BRIEF HISTORY OF PARIS FROM 1848 TO 1911 TO SET THE STAGE, I WILL EXPLORE A WIDE VARIETY OF TOPICS INCLUDING DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL POLITICS; ECONOMIC ASPECTS; BUILDINGS AND LANDMARKS; TRANSPORTATION; COMMUNICATIONS; ELECTRICITY; SANITATION; ENTERTAINMENT; MEDICINE AND SCIENCE; EDUCATION; MEN, WOMEN, AND FASHIONS; AND SPORTS. (1)

History of Paris from 1848-1911

In order to understand the Paris of 1910-1911, we must go back to the mid-nineteenth century in France and the beginning of the Second Republic. After the Revolution of 1848, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who was the nephew of Napoleon I, was elected President of the Second Republic and in 1852 was proclaimed Emperor with the title Napoleon III. As Barbara Stern Shapiro points out, "The Second Empire was his creation, with his political imprint as the first modern dictator and with his social stamp, whereby festivities and the active pursuit of pleasure were the order of the day" (11). During this period France enjoyed tremendous power and prosperity, with the arts as an important feature, with elegance and gaiety as dominant traits, and with the bourgeoisie as an increasingly significant political, economic, and social force. One of the most important and far-reaching accomplishments was Georges-Eugene Haussmann's massive renovation and modernization of Paris that included broad boulevards, parks, squares, public buildings, transportation facilities, a central marketplace (Les Halles), and a sewer system.

However, the Second Empire came to a catastrophic and humiliating end with the Prussians' defeat of Napoleon III's army of 80,000 men at Sedan in September of 1870. Two days later, the Third Republic was created with Adolphe Thiers as its first president, and it attempted unsuccessfully to hold off the invading Prussian army, which besieged Paris until surrender was declared in January 1871. The French lost Alsace and Lorraine to the German Empire and had to pay huge reparations, "grievous losses which.., caused permanent repercussions" (Shapiro 11); further, Prussian troops occupied Paris, yet another powerful blow to national pride (Evenson 8). Close on the heels of these devastating events came the debacle of the Paris Commune, a revolutionary municipal government which in March 1871 set itself against the new Third Republic seated at Versailles. After two months of bitter fighting, the Communards were defeated by the army of the National Assembly, but not before they destroyed a number of Parisian monuments, most notably the column at Place Vendome, and set fires which raged throughout the city. As retaliation, mass executions of Communards took place so that the Seine ran red with their blood (Evenson 9).

Amazingly, Paris and the nation recovered quickly, rebuilding not only the portions of the city which had been destroyed but also, and more importantly, their strength, stability, and confidence. Despite an unstable internal political situation which saw sixty different governments between 1870 and 1914 (Jones 221), the French embarked on a period of enormous financial prosperity, technological progress, and intellectual and artistic prestige. …

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