1900 by: Rebecca West
In 1900 Rebecca West was an eight-year-old girl living on the outskirts of London. Of that year, she remembers the aged Queen Victoria--a little bundle of black clothes propped up in an open horse-drawn carriage--and the ragged march down her suburban street that celebrated the relief of Mafeking in the far-off Boer War. This was a time when European empires covered much of the world, when North America was seen as a land of innocence and vast, untainted spaces, when imperialist dreams and confidence in the old social order were outwardly barely shaken. A certain order and style seemed to distinguish the period: the Boxer Rebellion in China was quickly suppressed; the Great Exhibition in Paris displayed the West's wild exuberance; fashionable society was dazzling; and the worlds of literature and art, music and drama, science and philosophy, were all flourishing. Henry James, Conrad, Chekhov, Sargent, Klimt, Munch, Elgar, Mahler, and Bergson were but a few of those who were producing masterpieces in 1900. However, alongside the great establishment figures and the glamour there were signs of a new, less certain era. This was the year that the British Labour Party was founded, the zeppelin made its first flight, Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams, and Max Planck elaborated the quantum theory. It was the year that Picasso, Einstein, and Lenin were just beginning their careers. It was indeed the threshold of a new world, and the atmosphere of that year is vividly evoked here in a wide range of fascinating contemporary illustrations and in Rebecca West's lively, sharp, and witty insights into the social, political, and cultural events of the turn of the century.