La Belle ?poque (means Beautiful Era in french), when I see these three words combined together I immediately think of fun and joy, parties and cabaret dancers of the iconic Parisian Moulin Rouge, or geniuses like Gustave Eiffel, Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi and Sigmund Freud, who changed the perception of life in an increasingly globalized society.
It was certainly a time for technological economical and social progress, where faith in science was absolute, it was a time for some great transformations, particularly in France, Belgium, England, Germany (known back then as Prussia), Russia, Austria, Hungary and Italy.
The term Belle ?poque was the french name that was given to this determined time in the history of Europe which takes place from the year 1871 (the end of the Franco-Prussian War) to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. It was not one of the longest stages in contemporary history, but it did mark a before and after in it.
This period of time is known by peace between most European countries and political stability. Two destructive world wars and their afterwards consequences turned the Belle ?poque to be the joy of living, but not everyone had the chance to experience this, because France had a large economic underclass (the proletariat) who were actually not at all involved in the wanders that the period had to offer. Only the bourgeoisie class enjoyed the entertainments and experienced the social anxieties that came along with modernity.
The imperialist expansion, a new economic system such as capitalism, great advances in science and the emergence of new technologies, changed both the mentality and the values of European society. The idea of modernity is often referred to positivism, which is the form of empiricism that bases all the knowledge on perceptual experience, the belief that knowledge should be derived from scientific observation.
The first war that Europe lived after Napoleon was the Franco-Prussian War, won by Prussia, giving rise to the German Empire, responsible in 1914 for the disaster of the First World War. The Franco-Prussian War, meant the fall of the Third French Republic. Economically London was the Financial Center of the world, while artistically Paris was the capital of Art. After the partition of Africa the European empires were perfectly delimited, reaching their maximum power and influence at all levels. Imperialism was understood as a state policy perfectly valid both at the political level and at the social level.
The colonies provided valuable raw materials, materials that were necessary for technological development of which Europe lacked. With cheap raw materials and technological improvements in the industry, European production saturated domestic markets and they needed new markets for the growing industrial production and found it thanks to imperialism.
The Trade Unions appear all over Europe, they were groups of organized workers, coming to found political parties, like the European socialist parties that in a short time would become extremely influential in European politics. New ideological currents appeared such as conservatism or liberalism, currents that were put into practice both in the political and economic sphere.
Parallel that, the Belle ?poque took place in Europe, meanwhile in the rest of the world China and Japan went through their own revolutions, foreign invasions and internal revolts that would end an imperial tyranny, they were not in economic, social or technological conditions.
On the other hand, the USA already had a fairly developed industry, but it could not yet compete with technology developed countries like Great Britain and France. South America was still living its process of disintegration because of Spain and Africa as I already mentioned, was taking part of European Imperialism.
Returning to the Belle ?poque, the cities begin to develop, boulevards appear in the European capitals, which were spaces for walking and socializing, the creation of caf?s, art galleries, concert halls, places frequented by a new social class that was beginning to acquire a large notoriety the bourgeoisie and with them the middle class.
The society of that period of time trusts only scientific progress and sees in science the solution of all hatred, moving away more and more from that blind faith in God as a remedy to all evils. People believed in something that could be seen and verified, that also had to do with the theory of biological evolution by Charles Darwin. Psychology started to get more popular and the psychoanalysis was established by Sigmund Freud in the way of treating problems of the human mind. It was also the time when the flourishing philosophers Nietzsche and Freud approached and debated sexuality.
During this time, science and technology made rapid advancement in practically every field, these improvements included transport (also public transport like the underground railway sistem), the emergence of electricity, discoveries in health (the first ever X-ray by Wilhem R?ntgen) and urban life (the first ever traffic light in the world created in Berlin). The progress of medical and chemical science lead to an increasing in life expectancy. Also the official landmark of Paris was builded (the Eiffel Tower) in 1889 by the the french engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel and the architect Stephen Sauvestre, originally builded for the Exposition Universelle during that same year.
This was the Golden Age of Modern Europe because of discoveries such as the telegraph, the electric motor, electric light, electric streetcar, the periodic table on the chemical elements, the first plane, the use of antiseptics, and the telephone. The introduction of the cinematographic changed visual media, that lead to the interest of films and cinema.
Cities begin to fill up with services, to cover the new needs of the people, soon they needed doctors, lawyers, professors, merchants, engineers, employees, etc. All of them were considered middle class.
With the technological expansion, education became necessary at all levels, people were needed to work and that supposed a literacy. Life was divided, the wealthiest classes moved in very small circles such as clubs, operas, casinos, etc. Life was no longer revolved around the church. Mass consciousness was noticeable in streets and squares, demanding new cultural forms, like the music hall, the cinema, the popular press and the sports. The parks and cinemas became mass entertainment, because the entrance was cheap and that caused a temporary separations of the daily reality of the people.
The society not only moved forward as a result of the scientific discoveries, but also because of art, theatre, fashion, literature, architecture and culture, three pictorial currents that appeared and marked the twentieth century: Expressionism and Fovism and also Modernism and Symbolism developed. Parisian fashion among the middle and upper classes was extravagant and sophisticated. The music reflected a moment of splendor with the operas of Giuseppe Verdi Richard Wagner and Chaikovski. Architecture progressed with the rise of the artistic movements which lead to producing many revolutionary works.
Unfortunately, all of this blew up in 1914, when the First World War was declared, where airplanes had a romantic and exploratory image and now a destructive one.
Fin de si?cle is a French term which means end of a century, it makes a reference to the closing of one era and the beginning of another. This french term is usually used to point out the last years of the 19th century. It is sometimes associated with the decay and the degeneration of La Belle ?poque, but at the same time it was also a period of hope for a new onset.
Actually, I think the social anxieties in that period were happening because of four reasons, the first one is the Franco-Prussian War, the anxiety remained mostly in France, because Prussia won. I do not think that the population was expecting the glorious times that were awaiting.
The second reason, was because of all this new technology that was introduced way too fast for people to get used to it. They did not know how to use a telephone or how to drive a car, so at first it was difficult for them, as obvious.
The third reason is because of Fin de si?cle, which is the ending of the century with the start of another world war, thing that many people were not expecting, because of how well everything was going. But some of them were actually expectant as a result of Germany actually succeeding in so many aspects.
Lastly the final reason is the end of the positivism, the anxieties of the late 19th century ruined the positivist agreement that science only came with progress and that societies only advanced properly, people also feared over the loss of control of the conservative classes who rejected rationality and logic.
Nevertheless, it was an amazing era that was lived in Europe, but it ended up triggering a never seen war, a brutal escalation, where those new technologies turned against the human being, with the use of planes and chemical products to kill.