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American Expatriates

From Women in European History

Though imagining the life of a stereotypical American expatriate in Paris brings forth a picture worthy of Boz Lurhmann—trips to the red light district, artistic attempts, and absinthe—this was far from the life that Paul and Julia Child led there. Paul, who had visited Paris in the 1920s, perhaps had such an experience at that time, but, when he arrived in the 1950s, he was sent there by his government to work. Examining the experiences of certain famous and more stereotypical American expatriates from this earlier age, their reasons for emigrating and their attitudes towards France, might shed some light on the conceptual differences and similarities between these two generations of expatriates and the cultural impressions which came through in their art.


The 1920s are the years most associated with American expatriates in Paris, as the so-called “Lost Generation” fled the United States in search of “liberation and artistic freedom”. In fact, the Childs did come into contact with some of these expatriates who remained in France in the 50s, most notably Alice B. Toklas, the life partner of Gertrude Stein, and Hadley Richardson, the ex-wife of Ernest Hemingway[1]. Indeed, Hemingway is seen as one of the quintessential members of the Lost Generation, and is used by Joseph H. McMahon to typify American expatriates in France. Indeed, many of Hemingway's characters were, like him, American expatriates in France who no longer felt connected to the United States (often after a WWI experience), and lived a disconnected life in Europe. Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, on the other hand, seemed to have an experience much more like most Marshall Plan-related Americans living in Paris in the 1950s. They were “transplanted Americans living among other transplanted Americans,” [2] and never really connected with the French people at all. Hemingway was seen as a far more active participant in French literary circles, and was famed for being both artistically productive there (unlike many others who fell under “the city's indigenous and imported distractions” [3]). Even so, as McMahon notes, Hemingway's observations within his literature are devoid of complexity and “a mirror of […] avarice: the concierge becomes human only when money touches her palm; French prostitutes warm up most quickly to proferred cash.” [4] McMahon cites the examples of Hemingway, Henry Miller, and Ezra Pound when making the point that such expatriates, who were distancing themselves both physically and metaphorically from the United States, found it more important not to be in the US than to be in Paris; the power of the culture and state against which they were rebelling was stronger than the pull of Paris, and they could have created similar works in any city, so long as it was outside of the US and showcased the writers' disconnect with American culture.


The main benefit of this American literary culture in France being exported back into the United States was that cross-cultural communication flourished between American and French intellectuals. As McMahon writes, “avant-garde in both places [New York and Paris] began to share ideas and shape arguments” and any “cultural time-lag […] was overcome.” [5]. At this stage, however, the main cultural contact between France and the United States occurred on a quite limited and elite level. The few examples of famous writers above are, according to McMahon and Ernest, considered to generally typify the attitudes and impact of this generation of American expatriates [6]


Julia Child came to the United States at a different time and for a different purpose. The Marshall Plan was causing cultural strife[7], and it is conceptually different for a person to leave his country to pursue his own work that it is to be sent there by his government in order to promote international relations. Thus, the attitude of the French towards the Marshall Plan-funded Foreign Service workers was not the same as their attitude towards the literary and artistic expatriates of the 1920s. Paul and Julia's experiences in France had an impact unlike what was brought about by the expatriates of the 1920s. As mentioned in the critical biography, the Childs integrated themselves more into French culture than most of their peers, but, more importantly, Julia's contribution to the cultural exchange moved beyond the intelligentsia and literary class. The cultural contact of the 1920s had far less impact upon the middle classes.

Endnotes

  1. Child, Julia; Prud'homme, Alex. (2006). My Life in France. Random House: New York.
  2. McMahon, Joseph H. (1964). City for Expatriates. Yale French Studies, No. 32: pp. 144-158.
  3. McMahon, Joseph H. (1964). City for Expatriates. Yale French Studies, No. 32: pp. 144-158.
  4. McMahon, Joseph H. (1964). City for Expatriates. Yale French Studies, No. 32: pp. 144-158.
  5. McMahon, Joseph H. (1964). City for Expatriates. Yale French Studies, No. 32: pp. 144-158.
  6. Thorpe, Willard. (1969). Untitled Review of Expatriates and Patriots: American Artists, Scholars, and Writers in Europe, by Ernest Earnest. American Literature, Vol. 41, No. 2: pp. 305-307.
  7. Child, Julia; Prud'homme, Alex. (2006). My Life in France. Random House: New York.

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