La Belle Époque is the name commonly given to the time period between 1890 and World War One. It had many different names in different countries, such as The Gilded Age in the USA, etc. La Belle Époque was a time when people thought there "would never be another war," where everyone was having a good time, and extravagant self-indulgence eventually led to political upheaval. The upper class lived in unimaginable luxury while the poor were ignored, shut outside the fairytale land of the rich, who wore "exquisite blindfolds" to the reality surrounding their utopia. There were only two classes in this time period: the Elite, and everyone else.

Paris was the "upper class playground of the world," where fashion and other irrelevant topics were the most important issues. When the President of France died in the arms of his mistress, songwriters were inspired instead of the people mourning for their lost leader. Power was glorified above anything else in France during this time. The Sixth Earl of Carnarvon was said to have ruled a quarter of the globe. Barbara Cartland said England was pushing its nose into everyone else’s business. Twenty-four descendents of the Queen Victoria were sitting on their own thrones in different parts of the world. Everyone "played by her rules."

In the United States, making money became the most important goal in every life. The only problem with the United States was that it did not really have its own set of aristocrats. In order to create one, the richest families sold their daughters to the highest available title in Europe. Manners were more important than emotion; love was not considered important next to being polite.

Oscar Wilde horrified his entire country when he publicly admitted his sexual preferences. He was said to be a smart guy, but his social deviance cost him both his happiness and the respect of his peers. One man said he was a "brilliant man, but he was a queer."

Another important event during these years was when the Empress Elizabeth was assassinated in Austria. Attacks on the privileged and on those in power were unheard of. This encouraged several intellectuals and artists to try to "reveal the true face of man," while most of the population sought to hide from the truth.

There was a burst of inventions and new technology, which led to the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. The famous Russian fashion designer, Erte, was there when he was just seven years old. It was a celebration of new technology; electricity, wireless communication, and the newest weapons were on display.

Loïe Fuller, a dancer, was said to be the "incarnation of Art Nouveau," which was a search for simplicity and everything natural. Jacques-Henri Latrigue took his first picture in 1902, and went on to photograph everything he "found to be marvelous." As he put it, he only photographed the flowers, not the weeds.

A woman’s importance was based on the effect she had on the men in her life or those she came into contact with. Women and children were ornaments, to be seen and not heard. Woman began to believe they deserved to have the rights the same as men, and that was when the Women’s Movement began. Not everyone agreed with it, including other women. One lady said she hated the Women’s Movement, hated all the fuss and confrontation. Women’s clothing became softer and more comfortable during this time, and the corset disappeared. One man was heard complaining that without their corsets on, you could "almost see the shape of their bodies" beneath their clothes.

Art became very controversial during La Belle Époque. There were plays being performed that the public just wasn’t ready to see, such as The Rite of Spring, which dealt with man’s fear of the unknown, and The Afternoon of the Fawn, which dealt with such unmentionable things as sexual frustration. Artists revealed that the future was unstable, that a "catastrophe was near."

In 1913, H.G. Wells wrote a book called Little Wars, which expressed his idea that war was just the most expensive game in the world. He addressed the possibility of simply making a game out of war, with lead soldiers instead of real men doing the fighting. When Austria’s Ferdinand was assassinated, people from all over the world came to his funeral. A few weeks later, everyone was at war. This was the end of La Belle Époque. Men would leave for war in the morning and expect to be home in time for a formal dinner that evening. But technology had revolutionized war. Almost fifteen million people died in WWI; the secure world was gone forever.

This was written based on
the information provided
in an extremely old video
called La Belle Époque,
which was shown in the
Granberg Room
at Hope College
a short time ago.

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