The Belle Époque is over, right?
Occurring during the era of the French Third Republic (beginning 1870), it was a period characterized by optimism, regional peace, economic prosperity, an apex of colonial empires, and technological, scientific, and cultural innovations. In the climate of the period, especially in Paris, France, the arts flourished. Many masterpieces of literature, music, theater, and visual art gained recognition. The Belle Époque was named in retrospect when it began to be considered a “Golden Age” in contrast to the horrors of World War I. The Belle Epoque was a period in which, according to historian R.R. Palmer, “European civilization achieved its greatest power in global politics, and also exerted its maximum influence upon peoples outside Europe.”
Yes, that horrible war. The war that was more than just a war. It was the end of the golden era. In art we went from this
But of course, the memories of such a “golden age” live on. And perhaps the images from the Belle ÉEpoque will continue to inspire for as long as humans have memories at all.
If this will be so, I think it will be because of a single word – “elegance”. Elegance is
the quality of being graceful and stylish in appearance or manner.
Graceful and stylish. A nice combination. And a combination that we crave more in our own era because we find them less in evidence than we might like.
Which brings me to the figure of Marcel Proust.
Proust was deeply obsessed by grace and style. And he was sensitive in the extreme. This brief vignette told by a friend y gives you a sense of that
Marcel Proust always managed to astonish me. Towards six in the evening, at sunset, a rattan armchair was brought out onto the terrace of the Grand Hotel of Cabourg. It remained empty for a few minutes. The staff waited. Then Marcel Proust slowly drew near, parasol in hand. He watched inside the glass door for night to fall. When they passed near his chair, the bellboys communicated with signs, like deaf-mutes. Then Proust’s friends approached. At first they spoke of the weather, the temperature. At this period—it was 1913—Marcel Proust feared or seemed to fear the sun. But it was noise that most horrified him.
And his obsessions are accessible to us through his marvelous books. Not only that, we can still get a tangible sense of what it may have been like to live in Paris in his day .- the Belle Epoque.
This article conjures up that sense and offers ideas for you to use on your next trip to Paris. Your next graceful and stylish trip to Paris, that is.