June 01, 2004

*French History: Culture Before WWII

This series is by no means a comprehensive history of France, but may put WWII in some context.

Brief Introduction.

France was the most populous country in Europe until the early 1800s. Before World War I, they enjoyed cultural dominance in the arts, and their cinema was more important than America's. French was the language of diplomacy.

Between 1871 and 1911, the population of France grew only 8.6% compared to Great Britain's 54% growth and Germany's 60% growth. The government encouraged people to have large families in an attempt to increase birth rates. In the midst of this concern with population came WWI--and severe French casualties. No other power suffered a higher percentage of losses. The French began to fear their country would be lost simply because there wouldn't be any French people left. Anti-abortion laws were passed, monetary prizes were given to fathers of ten or more children, and government programs encouraged reproduction.

Before WWI, French artists had been moving towards modernism. The French cinema was dominant. After WWI, the American cinema displaced French cinema. France had shut down movie production during the war, and American movies filled the void. Threatened by American values and spurred by French nationalism, French art and literature moved away from modernism and back to classical French. In 1928, France placed a quota on imported films meant to limit access to American films. Several French books in the 1920s and 1930s examined the changing roles of America versus Europe. After the Depression, America seemed less threatening, but was still highly criticized by nationalistic writers and intellectuals in France.

At the Paris conference following WWI, English was recognized as a diplomatic language equal to French for the first time. This came as a bit of a blow to the French, who had viewed America with vague condescension before the war. English's inclusion was an indicator of America's growing stature in world affairs.

France saw nationalism grow after 1918. This resulted from the war and fears of lessening importance. Immigrants were less welcome, and anti-Semitism was becoming more open. The Dreyfus affair had already brought some of that out, but writers such as Morand and Celine became flagrantly anti-Semitic in the 1930s.

Politics Before WWII, Part One.

Posted by Jennifer at June 1, 2004 11:00 AM


Good stuff, Jen. Keep it coming. :)

Posted by: Jim at June 1, 2004 12:08 PM