The French in Love and War: Popular Culture in the Era of the World Wars

Charles Rearick, Author Yale University Press $60 (332p) ISBN 978-0-300-06433-9
Americans prone to think of the French as arty and cerebral will emerge with a warmly human perspective in this overview of French popular culture between 1914 and 1945. This is not the world of Braque, Sartre and Satie but of the local dance hall and movie house and the three decades of popular idiom they reflected. Rearick focuses on the ""little people,"" beginning with the poilus, the long-suffering foot soldiers of WWI, and expanding to the faubouriens, the men and women of the working-class neighborhoods outside Paris, including la pegre, the raffish lowlifes. There is a wealth of detail here, woven repetitively but with subtle changes throughout the narrative. Rearick shows how ""Quand Madelon,"" an old music hall song about a flirtatious barmaid, becomes a soldier's anthem and spawns dozens of ""Madelon"" variations. Making repeat appearances are Mistinguett and Maurice Chevalier as well as Jean Gabin and less famous performers such as the street-savvy Georgius. This is a more lighthearted look at a period often viewed in light of subsequent collaboration, but Rearick (a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts) still offers insights into the larger trends and political shifts from vacations and street demonstration to the Popular Front to Vichy. 129 illustrations. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/23/1997
Release date: 06/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
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