Descripción de editorial
For centuries, France has cast an extraordinary spell on travelers. Harvey Levenstein’s Seductive Journey explains why so many Americans have visited it, and tells, in colorful detail, what they did when they got there. The result is a highly entertaining examination of the transformation of American attitudes toward French food, sex, and culture, as well as an absorbing exploration of changing notions of class, gender, race, and nationality.
Levenstein begins in 1786, when Thomas Jefferson instructed young upper-class American men to travel overseas for self-improvement rather than debauchery. Inspired by these sentiments, many men crossed the Atlantic to develop “taste” and refinement. However, the introduction of the transatlantic steamship in the mid-nineteenth century opened France to people further down the class ladder. As the upper class distanced themselves from the lower-class travelers, tourism in search of culture gave way to the tourism of “conspicuous leisure,” sex, and sensuality. Cultural tourism became identified with social-climbing upper-middle-class women. In the 1920s, prohibition in America and a new middle class intent on “having fun” helped make drunken sprees in Paris more enticing than trudging through the Louvre. Bitter outbursts of French anti-Americanism failed to jolt the American ideal of a sensual, happy-go-lucky France, full of joie de vivre. It remained Americans’ favorite overseas destination.
From Fragonard to foie gras, the delicious details of this story of how American visitors to France responded to changing notions of leisure and blazed the trail for modern mass tourism makes for delightful, thought-provoking reading.
“...a thoroughly readable and highly likable book.”—Deirdre Blair, New York Times Book Review Please note: The digital edition does not include 4 of the 41 images that appear in the physical edition.
Levenstein's whimsical chapter titles convey the primitive nature of early transatlantic travel: "Getting There Was Not Half the Fun" and "Eat, Drink, but Be Wary." For adventurous Americans, though, "Paris offered tourists a cultural feast that was simply unavailable in the United States"--and for libidinous Americans, there were the famed maisons de tolerance. In the 1850s and '60s Baron Haussmann put modern buildings in the center of Paris while restoring old churches and other monuments and opening small plazas in front of them to make their prospect more pleasing to the eye; the result was a modernized city that still retained its Old World charm and thus drew even more visitors. By now, the didactic tourism of Jefferson's day was turning into leisure tourism, with visitors giving the Louvre a quick once-over and then going shopping. Some of the best writing in this engaging book deals with the effect France had on WWI doughboys who, after meeting chic mademoiselles, were no longer satisfied, as one diarist wrote, with "Mamie and Gerty back at home with their passion for gum and ice cream sodas." And having made their way freely through French society, African American troops wanted better treatment in the U.S. Indeed, these final chapters reveal how the title of this excellent study is just slightly misleading: especially in the 20th century, the subject is not merely tourism but the ways in which two countries mutually shape each other.