Kirkus Reviews QR Code


France in the 1930s

by Eugen Weber

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 1994
ISBN: 0-393-03671-5
Publisher: Norton

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.