by Andrew Jones
France in the 1920’s was an interesting time. The country had just emerged from World War Ι, and was trying to put itself back together. The French had suffered some of the war’s largest casualties and had an economic recession immediately afterwards, but the country was determined to recover. F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in Paris, dating from 1924 to 1931 with a return to the United States in December of 1926. During this period, France was undergoing dramatic changes both socially and culturally. The Summer Olympic Games in Paris in 1924 and the significant growth of the French economy in the late 1920’s changed Paris during Fitzgerald’s stay.
One sign of Paris’s recovery was the hosting of the 1924 Summer Olympics. In hindsight, these games are better known as “the Olympic Games of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell,” the athletes who inspired the story behind the feature film Chariots of Fire (Paris 1924 Summer Olympics). Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who ran for the glory of God, and Abrahams, an English Jew who ran to overcome prejudice, captivated audiences around the world with their dedication to principals and respect for both the Games and their personal beliefs. It is important to note that the Summer Olympics of 1924 were the first broadcasted Games in history; according to the Olympics’ history webpage, the number of National Olympic Committees “jumped from 29 to 44, signaling the advent of the Olympic Games as a major event with widespread appeal” (Paris 1924 Summer Olympics). However, the most important contribution of the Games to the French people was the realization that the country was finally climbing out of its recession and into the world spotlight once again.
Its war debts had dropped greatly, and it was beginning to regain its former glory. This led to an increase in tourism and travelers passing through Paris and other major cities, many of whom were expatriates from the United States. But what did these Americans hope to find in Paris that they couldn’t have back on the home front? Cheap living may have been one of the biggest factors. Ernest Hemingway, an American author who spent a great deal of time in Paris and its many cafes, once wrote that Paris “was one long binge, all the more delightful because it was so inexpensive” (Higonnet 321). After the war and the recession that followed, France began to pay off all of the war debts that it owed other countries. The period between 1926 and 1931 later became known as the golden era of the “Franc Poincare”, named after the Finance Minister during this time (Eichengreen and Wyplosz). During this time, the economy prospered and goods became cheaper due to low rates of exchange. For example, Higonnet states that the franc fell “from 5.45 to the dollar in January 1919 to 50 to the dollar in July 1926” (338). Fitzgerald came to Paris with only $7,000 to his name and asked, “Might it not be enough to live rather well in Paris?” (Higonnet 339).
Expatriates were drawn to Paris due to its wonder and mystique that came at a very low price. Many were not successful in America, or were not making profits off of their literary, artistic, or musical works; this only increased their desire to move to Paris. It was to move in search of a freedom to live and think as one pleased, without the financial restraints that were common elsewhere. Fitzgerald left Paris in January of 1931, just before an economic depression began to affect France’s economy. While he may have avoided a financial disaster in Paris, he came back to the United States during the worst part of the Great Depression.
After the war, the Olympics’ publicity and media coverage showed that Paris remained a culturally and historically significant place in society, and the blossoming economy helped to facilitate the inflow of tourists and expatriates that flocked to the city. Once there, the American artists and writers produced some of the most quintessential works of the 20th century and made the transition from realism to modernism.
“Paris 1924 Summer Olympics.” Olympic.org. n.d. Web. 23 October 2010.
Higonnet, Patrice. Paris: Capital of the World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002. Print.
Eichengreen, Barry and Wyplosz, Charles. “The Economic Consequences of the Franc Poincare.” Centre for Economic Policy Research, October 1986. Web. 22 October 2010.