Summary: Caught between the memory of a brutal war won at frightful cost and fear of another cataclysm, France in the 1930s suffered a failure of nerve. Brilliantly chronicled here by a master historian, this fateful era could neither solve insoluble problems nor escape from them.
It was not all bad. The First World War had paved the way for millions, men and women alike, out of farm or domestic service into more satisfying employment, and more stores now catered t ...show moreo middling and working folk. There were fewer servants but more labor-saving devices; social legislation, modern conveniences, greater leisure made life a little better. Yet when depression struck a brittle economy, new claimants to jobs outside the home as well as other workers saw meager wages dwindle; some turned to prostitution to make ends meet. The French grumbled, tightened belts, struck, rioted, and when all else failed, turned against foreigners: "unwanted strangers, intruders, parasites, speaking in strange accents and cooking with strange smells." Artists and intellectuals, raging at the bourgeoisie, tore at the hands that fed them. Distractions, such as films, and sports which found new professionals and spectators failed to dispel the sense of imminent catastrophe, exasperated by political unrest. Though living in a house full of children and servants, Edmee Renaudin, one of many people crowding Weber's pages, felt herself "alone, tired, afraid of death, given to sudden wakings and long insomnia. It was fear of war." When the war came in 1939, her country was still unprepared. After nine months of "phony war," Hitler's forces struck defenses once considered impregnable and, in a few weeks, the hollow years gave way to harrowing years of occupation.