Belle Époque
   The term belle époque refers to the period between 1880 and the start of World War I in 1914 in Europe, and above all in France. The period defined a cultural revolution characterized by a sense of optimism and creative enthusiasm. Paris flourished as a center of art, literature, and fashion. The artistic scene flourished, and the pleasures of life were pursued with conspicuous vigor . The era also witnessed the spectacular popularity of café-concerts and music halls, as well as expositions. The restaurants and cabarets of the Montmartre neighborhood in Paris attracted intellectuals and avant-garde artists converged; the music halls and café-concerts exhibited a new form of theatre free of conventional artistic constraints, not subject to strict social control, and thus accessible to many different social classes. Bourgeois norms were shed. The arts had been “democratized” and were no longer the privilege of the wealthy. Mass production and new technologies were also on the rise, catering to a larger consuming public of various social strata. Featured in the contemporary novels of Émile Zola, such as Le Bonheur des Dames, departmental stores were filled with a huge variety items on display for sale and managed to attract throngs of people through innovative displays of products. The use of new technology was nowhere more prominent than in the development of the underground metropolitan network. The Paris Metro revolutionized urban travel, symbolized progress, and contributed to social optimism. Expositions, too, added to the aura of luxury and abundance. In 1900, the Great Universal Exposition attracted 51 million visitors to Paris to products using new technologies and to marvel at structures such as the Eiffel Tower and the Gare D’Orsay. There were also exhibits from overseas colonies considered exotic by the people of the metropole, including a human zoo.
   FURTHER READING:
    Rearick, Charles. Pleasures of the Belle Epoque. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985;
    Sternau, Susan A. Art Nouveau: Spirit of the Belle Epoque. New York: Smithmark, 2005;
    Tuchman, Barbara. The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914. New York: Ballantine, 1996.
   NURFADZILAH YAHAYA

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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