France in the 1930s
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 Weber (European History/UCLA; France, Fin de Siäcle, 1986; etc.) skillfully paints a somber portrait of France in decline. War and the threat of war shaped France in the 1930s. Though the nominal victor of WW I, France never recovered from losing over a million dead and over three million wounded. About the inert Depression-era French economy, Weber reflects that ``the spirit of Thomas Malthus ruled over the land.'' With a less dynamic economy and a significantly lower rate of postwar population growth than Germany, Italy, or Britain, France produced a succession of leaders, such as Edouard Daladier and LÇon Blum, who reflected the country itself: conservative, backward-looking, irresolute, and determined to avoid another war with Germany at all costs. Weber notes the familiar diplomatic, economic, and political indicators of France's decline in the 1930s--its fractured politics, its failure to oppose a resurgent Germany, the repudiation of its American debt from WW I, its fatal pacifism in the face of German aggression. But he focuses primarily on social and cultural history. A significant drop in the servant population, greater urbanization of what had been a predominantly agrarian economy, the falling value of the franc, and labor legislation all had transformative effects. Nonetheless, some things changed very slowly. The emancipation of women, Weber notes, was ``slow, patchy, and indirect,'' with women receiving the ability to take legal action without their husbands' consent only in 1938, and the vote in 1945. With France's decline as a great power, people became preoccupied with sports, films, and religion (Weber describes the religious revival of the period as the ``Indian Summer'' of French Catholicism); xenophobia and anti-Semitism became more pronounced as economic conditions worsened. In the end, the hollow years gave way to a war for which France was unprepared, and to years of occupation. An eloquent and thoughtful look at France in the interwar period.

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 1994
ISBN: 0-393-03671-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1994