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Europe and America Criss-Crossing Perspectives, 1788-1848

Jacques Portes


Jacques Portes

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1The Workshop, Europe viewing America, America viewing Europe, was quite a success in the EAAS Conference held in Budapest (March 1986). It gathered scholars coming from many countries and from different fields of research. For the first time our East European colleagues could attend a conference in significant number. All these reasons explain why it seemed useful and fruitful to publish a large part of its proceedings.

2This book is not the full publication of all the papers presented in the workshop. One of these has already been published elsewhere (Gabor Boritt’s paper on European Images of Lincoln); another participant prefered to exclude himself from the proceedings. So we thought advisable to include Josef Grmela’s paper, which fits perfectly well in the topic. And, unfortunately, another paper that we did hope till the last moment has not been sent.

3Papers selected are from various countries; they are written by historians, as well as by specialists of literature and civilization. It would have been possible to divide the book exactly into two sections, but we saw that in matter of opinion and perception it is more fruitful to work together. Historians are somewhat suspicious when using fiction, but a careful presentation of a novel can be quite enriching for them; vice versa a historical perspective does enhance the value of any artistic or literary work.

4That’s why we chose to keep a distinction between American views of Europe and the European view of America: to confront two sorts of experiences.

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5In the first part, John Blair shows how disestablishment of the churches in the States was due, in part, to a rejection of Europe and provides us with a proof of the American will to get rid of Old Countries habits. Jean Heffer, using presidential papers of the time, finds out that Europe was not very present in America as a political issue; and except for a few episodes, the Presidents were assertive about American moral superiority.

6At the cultural level, things were rather different. Gabriella Micks shows the importance of the discovery of Italy, especially of Rome, for a pioneer American painter and poet as Washington Allston, even though he had been previously inspired by the typical "American wilderness". The reception of Shakespeare in America, as presented by Raoul Granqvist, is not a simple theme- On the one hand, American audiences look at Shakespeare as nearly an American, on the other hand they benefit from his British origins, which can in turn be rejected by a few people.

7Jozef Gellen and Jozef Grmela tell us how important the United States could be for the Hungarians, and the Czechs. Contacts between that part of Europe and America were rather weak in the first half of the nineteenth century, and the American experiment could be used in different ways. In reform-age Hungary, American federalism, popularized by Tocqueville and the first Hungarian travelogues, attracted many people as a model for the country. Finally centralization was preferred by Kossuth, but the American example played an important role in the Hungarian awakening. Things were quite similar for Czechs, whose elite looked at America, as a stimulus to promote reform and modernization.

8Attraction and repulsion can be found, in the travel notes of a typical English lady, Ms Trollope; Alberta F. Grube gives us a new and refreshing reading of them, and shows the very ambivalence of a woman appalled by Americans manners, but who spents a part of her life in the States, becoming famous through her description of American society.

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9 At first glance, no apparent coherence is to be found in these eight points of view; but their richness soon appears. This book is a story of remoteness and closeness. Europe and the United States were as far from each other as they were very close, especially at a time when the latter still culturally depended on the former, and yet tried to enhance its own personality. It was then that Europe began to acquire a strong fascination in the New World, in spite of some setbacks.

10The links between Europe and the United States are, even nowadays, a matter of strangeness and closeness. It is important to learn about the roots of the present attitude. Let the readers discover them.

© Éditions de la Sorbonne, 1988

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