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Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends
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Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends

(Belle Epoque Paris #1)

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  448 ratings  ·  66 reviews
A humiliating military defeat by Bismarck's Germany, a brutal siege, and a bloody uprising Paris in 1871 was a shambles, and the question loomed, "Could this extraordinary city even survive?" Mary McAuliffe takes the reader back to these perilous years following the abrupt collapse of the Second Empire and France's uncertain venture into the Third Republic.

By 1900, Paris
Hardcover, 387 pages
Published June 16th 2011 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (first published January 1st 2011)
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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 ·  448 ratings  ·  66 reviews

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Start your review of Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends
Oct 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Dawn of the Belle Époque has a cast of hundreds, but because many of them are well known, including Zola, Monet, Marie Curie, Gustave Eiffel, Debussy, and Sarah Bernhardt, it’s not hard to keep track of them. Details of individual lives are reported, I learned for instance that Degas was petulant, conservative and stubborn, but the book also has a broader scope. Almost every year from 1870 to 1900 has its own chapter, covering the politics, personalities, mood and culture of Paris as it moved to ...more
Rebecca Grace
May 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
First, let me say that I agree with the negative reviews from other readers, yet I loved it anyway. I do think that the author achieved an "Impressionistic effect" by telling the history of Paris from 1871 through 1900 in chronological order, with each chapter recounted in a smattering of many anecdotes in the lives of the prominent artists, writers and musicians who shaped the era. I can understand how those unfamiliar with the historical cast of characters would find this confusing, but those ...more
The Belle Epoque, an age from roughly the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 to the onset of WWI in 1914. McAuliffe examines the earliest phase of the period, up to the turn of the century. As the term indicates, this was an era of wonderful cultural flowering. In literature, giants like Zola and Hugo were active. The list of painters and sculptors who emerged seems endless, including Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet, Monet, and Rodin.

"To tell this incredibly complicated story, Ms. McAuliffe uses an
Mar 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, music, cities
Sadly, I couldn’t bring myself to finish this book. After about a third I threw in the towel as I was getting bored and nervous at the same time. The chief problem has already been flagged by a number of other reviewers. The narrative is built around a timeline stretching from 1870 to 1900, with a year-by-year sequence of chapters. Each chapter is then conceived as a mosaic in which a more less fixed roster of luminaries makes its appearance. The effect is, on the one hand, highly disorienting. ...more
Feb 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, france, art
A delightful, easily read overview of Paris from the close of the Franco-Prussian war through the fin-du-siècle. McAuliffe embraces and investigates the artists, writers, musicians, engineers, architects, scientists, and a few political figures (Georges Clemenceau, Louise Michel) of this fascinating era to show a world in change. How marvelous, to spend time in what was then Baron Haussman's new city, a place where art and letters mattered.

I came away with a feeling that, as much as I admire De
Feb 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mary McAuliffe has produced a well-researched, well-organized, and delightfully readable book that covers the cultural history of Paris from the Commune to the death of Zola. In this period that saw the rise of Impressionism and Symbolism; the musical beginnings of Debussy, Ravel, and Satie; the construction of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty; the opening of the Ritz paired with the innovative cuisine of Escoffier; the dominating stage presence of Bernhardt; the beginning of the polit ...more
Nov 18, 2014 marked it as to-read
I mean, yeah, right? And Susanna really liked the sequel.
Noah Goats
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. Belle Epoque France is a fascinating time and place, packed with brilliant and important people in every field of human expression from the arts through the sciences: Monet, Clemenceau, Hugo, Bernhardt, Curie, Debussy, Zola, Eiffel, Satie... the list goes on and on. Mary McAuliffe relates the history of the Belle Epoque by weaving together the stories of these people’s lives, and the result is a highly readable book.

McAuliffe begins with the catastrophes that were the Franco Pru
❂ Jennifer
Oct 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An excellent encapsulated history of Paris and France from the events of the commune until 1900, focussing on the lives of the Impressionists, authors, actors, and musicians of the time. It's a great book for those that are interested in history without the academic analysis and statistics - it read like a novel.

Full review:
A lively, largely anecdotal ‘history’ of the cultural scene — presented year by year (1870-1900) — in the Paris of the Belle Epoque. The treatment is largely effective for those already familiar with the cast of characters. She includes a nice summary discussion of the Commune and of the Dreyfus Affair, and excellent character studies especially of Berthe and Julie Manet, of Zola, Rodin, Debussy, and others.
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Superb. Thoroughly enjoyed the way the author wove the stories of so many prominent artists, musicians, engineers, authors, politicians, actors et al, into a fascinating, entertaining, and coherent whole. Will be jumping right into the 'Twilight of the Belle Epoque'.
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
A bit scattered, but full of great tidbits and anecdotes about all of Paris' luminaries
Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.
Dec 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Much time has passed since I finished reading this enjoyable book, which, from a review perspective is bad and good.

It's bad because I quickly forget details, especially after I start reading another book; it is very possible I'd mix the details of the previous read with details from my current read. How unfortunate and embarrassing would it be to be describing the beauty, the innovations, the influences, and even the ugliness of Paris and its surrounds and characters during the late 1800s and
Aug 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
This book deals with an interesting topic and is well-written. I liked the photographs.
However, I think there were a lot of problems. First of all, the author talks about many famous artists, but never really explained who they are in detail. It was not an issue for me as I already know a lot about this topic, but I feel it could be difficult for someone who is not familiar with this period of history. I found that Ms McAuliffe just started describing events without much of an introduction. It w
Nov 25, 2011 rated it liked it
McAuliffe's research and obvious love for Paris comes through loud and clear. She struggles a bit to tie the lives of her subjects together in tidy knots. Sometimes I felt like I was unravelling a skein of yarn which the cat undid in a frenzied moment.
Bev Simpson
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
As a Europhile, and being so fortunate to have visited so many of the places discussed, I enjoyed this read. Kudos to the author for the effort it took to put all these known (at least somewhat) characters together in a time frame and an historical context, and develop a fascinating storyline.
Mar 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
Full of interesting information about Paris and some of its famous citizens. If you are a Francophile and a history buff, you'll enjoy this book.
Elisabeth Davis
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reminds me of a Seurat painting: little stories that make up a larger picture.
McAuliffe intertwines the political, military, social, engineering, literary, and art history of France from the period of the Commune, 1870, to the Paris exposition of 1900. You don't find many books that discuss all those topics together, so if you've read about the political history of France and have read about the Impressionist artists, and you know that the Statue of Liberty was a gift of the French to the Americans, you may well enjoy seeing how they, as well as the Eiffel Tower all fit t ...more
Jul 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Monet. Manet. Hugo. Zola. Debussey. Eiffel. Degas. Rodin. Sarah Bernhardt. Morisot. Satie. The Commune. The Dreyfus Affair. This is just a sampling of the people and events that characterized Paris from 1870 to the end of the century. DAWN OF THE BELLE EPOQUE, therefore, is a bit of a Francophile dream, offering a light, entertaining survey of the time.

The book hops around a lot, and while comprehensive in its way, its aims are broad, and not especially deep. With so many personages to track, I
Jun 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The heart and soul of this incredibly rich period of French history and culture always seems to be the Impressionist painters, and author Mary McAuliffe describes with many facts and anecdotes the faith, determination, setbacks, and heartbreaks of these daring, innovative artists on the long, hard road to respectability and acceptance into the Salon. But there was so very much more going on in France during the Belle Epoque (1871-1914) beginning with the end of the Franco-Prussian war and ending ...more
Oct 29, 2017 rated it liked it
After I finished "Luncheon of the Boating Party" this came through my hands at the library and I saw a golden opportunity. This book covers the 20 years from the Commune to the turn of the century. With a year for each chapter, the stories of all the historical figures, mainly in Paris are told in parallel. It's easy to read and follow that way (though not a page turner) and it gave me context for a lot of facts and people I know about but couldn't connect before.
Andrea Engle
Jul 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-read-2019
Fun and gossipy, this history of Paris during the end of the 19th century weaves the strands of Art, Architecture, Feminism, Literature, Music, Politics, and Theater, year by year, into a coherent whole ... drops names like a crazy quilt: Monet, Debussy, Ravel, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Clemenceau,etc., etc. ... especially clever and informative about the Dreyfus Affair ...
Luca Campobasso
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arts
Nicely organised history of Paris in those days. Definitely more political than the second book (Twilight of the Belle Epoque, by the same author), but more interesting. I especially remember the part about the Dreyfus affair, which was quite well written, there are all the important details and the ramifications explained.
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating people in a fascinating era. Mary McAuliffe's research is impeccable and this social history/biography moves through the timeline from 1870-1900 at a lively pace. Never a dull moment!
Oct 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Great resource material for a novel I've written set in 1870s Paris. Might even do another one set in the time period!
Diane Lester
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
if you are a bit of a "Francophile" you will enjoy this well researched and well written book.
Michelle Atno-hall
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating, sweeping, and succinct overview of the rich history of the first thirty years of France’s Third Republic.
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Being a long-time fangirl of Zola I've bought this book mostly because of his name in the title, haven’t read the annotation, and was sure that the book is about everyday Paris life and people’s habits during his time. Well, it isn’t. It is a description of life events of famous writers, artists, politicians and musicians during the Belle Epoque. And that’s pretty much it.
I appreciated overall atmosphere of the book which gives you an opportunity to see great artists from museum as alive people,
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, 2017
This book took me a while to get through. It is a very detailed account of the years between 1871 and 1900. The book mostly covers artists, writers, and sculptors which I found boring. I really enjoyed the bits about politics, the Paris Commune, the Franco-Prussian war, and the Dreyfus affair. By the end of the book, I skipped most of the material on artists, writers, and sculptors so I could read the Dreyfus affair story straight-through. That part of the book was gripping. I did appreciate get ...more
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Mary McAuliffe holds a PhD in history from the University of Maryland, has taught at several universities, and lectured at the Smithsonian Institution. She has traveled extensively in France, and for many years she was a regular contributor to Paris Notes. Her books include Dawn of the Belle Epoque, Twilight of the Belle Epoque, When Paris Sizzled, Paris on the Brink, Clash of Crowns, and Paris Di ...more

Other books in the series

Belle Epoque Paris (2 books)
  • Twilight of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Picasso, Stravinsky, Proust, Renault, Marie Curie, Gertrude Stein, and Their Friends Through the Great War

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“Manet, however, was enthralled; he proceeded to give the title Nana to his painting of the courtesan Henriette Hauser, naming it after the daughter of the alcoholic laundress Gervaise Lantier in L’assommoir. Zola had not yet even begun to write his novel Nana, but the references in Manet’s painting were clear. When the Salon (presumably scandalized) rejected it, he brashly showed it in the window of a shop on the Boulevard des Capucines, virtually on the doorstep of the Opéra Garnier, where it created a succès de scandale. Zola, of course, appreciated the value of scandal in promoting his novels and was adept at creating it.” 1 likes
“In the meantime, he anxiously awaited visitors, and on occasion even attempted some visits of his own—including one to his nearby Bellevue neighbor, the charming and notorious courtesan Valtesse de la Bigne. Red-haired and beautiful, Valtesse de la Bigne had brought several rich and titled men to financial ruin. She had also captivated some of the most sophisticated men in town, including Manet, who referred to her as “la belle Valtesse” and had painted her the year before. Born Louise Emilie Delabigne, Valtesse de la Bigne was sufficiently intelligent and charming to draw an entourage of admiring writers and artists such as Manet. Zola also paid court to Valtesse—although in his case from a desire to get the characters and setting right for his upcoming novel Nana. Flattered by his journalistic interest, Valtesse even agreed to show him her bedroom—until then off-limits to all but her most highly paying patrons. Zola (who seems to have limited his visit to note taking) used her over-the-top boudoir as the model for Nana’s bedroom. Even if the fictional Nana was nowhere near the sophisticated creature that Valtesse had become, the bed said it all. It was “a bed such as had never existed before,” Zola wrote, “a throne, an altar, to which Paris would come in order to worship her sovereign nudity.” 1 likes
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