Eugen Weber

Eugen Weber is the author of Action Française, Varieties of Fascism and Peasants into Frenchmen.

In June 1934, a young Romanian Jew published a book about being a Jew in Romania. Mihail Sebastian’s De Doua mii de ani (‘For 2000 Years’) was not an autobiography or a novel or a diary, although a bit of each. The hero, who is never named, lives the tragicomedy of assimilation in a land and a culture that both invite and repel. A rich country full of ragged people, Romania...


Eugen Weber, 10 March 1994

Good Americans go to Paris when they die, but good Americans have always been few in number, so for a long time their impact on France was slight even when they were dead. ‘Who reads an American book, or goes to an American play, or looks at an American picture …?’ asked Baudelaire, perhaps echoing Tocqueville, with his premonition that the wonders and vulgarities of democracy in America were what awaited Europe. Tocqueville’s observations were to be quoted, misquoted, reiterated and rehashed in France for a century and a half. But the vulgarities caught the attention more than the wonders, and attracted especially the notice of those who, like most French until recently, preferred to take their exoticism at a distance. For Stendhal, American life was a bore without even opera to relieve it, and all passions there came down to dollars in the end. For Baudelaire, long before Henry Miller’s air-conditioned nightmare, the United States were a gaslit wasteland. The universal exhibitions held in Paris, with their monstrous displays of American machines and technological knowhow, added to the portentous image. Civilisation was clearly in peril and ‘Americanisation’ became a verb before it had time to become a reality. Pierre Larousse defined américanisme, Edmond de Goncourt deplored the Americanisation of France. Before typewriters, telephones and tin lizzies, mankind (meaning the French) was sliding down the honeyed slopes of philistinism and technical materialism. Before the 19th century ended, a professor of commercial studies was casting his stone at Le Péril américain.…

Hitting and running

Eugen Weber, 10 June 1993

After the Second World War was over, 220,000 cards were distributed among French citizens to attest that their bearers had been Voluntary Resistance Fighters. Yet André Malraux, talking to Sanche de Gramont in 1970, asserted that ‘we’ Resistants were 17,000, while ‘they’ – French members of the Waffen SS – were 40,000. That begs a question to which I know no answer, though Malraux’s own story may provide some clues.’’

Male Fantasies

Eugen Weber, 10 January 1983

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie is probably the cleverest and certainly the most versatile French historian of our day. Beginning with his thèse on the peasants of Languedoc in Early Modern times, he has ranged back to the everyday life of 14th-century heretics and forward to computers studies of 19th-century conscripts. His secondary thesis dealt with the weather since the year 1000. He has worked on land records and political archives, the registers of the Inquisition and the novels of Restif de la Bretonne. Now, in a fresh tour de force, he enters the lists of folklore by way of an 18th-century dialect story: the tale of ‘Jean-l’ont-pris’ (henceforth ‘JLP’), the story of a villager from the Vaunage plain not far from Nîmes, whose cobbler father turned to thieving to improve his condition and that of his family. With the father soon arrested and executed (hence the lad’s nickname, ‘They took him’), the mother goes off with a knife-grinder, leaving JLP to be brought up by his grandmother and to turn into a juvenile delinquent. His pilferings and tricks lead to an encounter with a peasant landowner, Master Sestier, through whose local influence the erstwhile poacher literally turns gamekeeper, and on whose plump pretty daughter, Babeau, he begins to cast covetous eyes.

Tick-Tock: Three Cheers for Apocalypse

Malcolm Bull, 9 December 1999

It was in 1982 that the artist then still known as Prince first invited us to ‘party like it’s 1999’, and in those days everyone quickly grasped what he meant. The Cold War made...

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Beyond Paris

Richard Cobb, 27 June 1991

Eugen Weber is the leading American historian of the French Right in the period 1890 to 1914. He is also the author of a brilliant study of the growth of a national identity among the rural...

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Bonnie Smith, 21 May 1987

Jacques-Louis Ménétra was an 18th-century glazier who worked for abbesses, for aristocrats, and for Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s landlord. Like Rousseau, but unlike any other artisan...

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