January 1, 2020

January 1913 - Chronicles of the Year Before The Great War

Louis Armstrong, who gave us, amongst
many other wonderful pieces
"What a Wonderful World"

Will it be a magical year, where people finally unite to repair wrongs and build a better and brighter future...or will it instead toll the dramatic and painful end to another era (unless we are already in its throes)? 'Another,' for as history demonstrates, though we keep expanding our knowledge, we are still prone to repeating history in never-ending cycles.

It is with this in mind (as well as research for a future book series), that I've been reading about the beginning of the 20th century.

The years leading to 1914, the end of the Belle Epoque, were full of sudden bursts of creativity and scientific/technological advancements, sometimes so quick people couldn't cope with them.

Velocity can be frightening as well as deeply exhilarating, and it is this fear and rejection of change that also echoes across the century. In 1900 the most profound change of all was that in the relationship between men and women, and many indications point towards a deep anxiety on the part of men whose position seemed no longer secure. For the first time in European history women were being educated en masse, earning their own money, demanding the vote and, crucially, suggesting that in an industrial age physical strength and martial virtues were becoming useless. Men reacted with an aggressive restatement of the old values; never before had so many uniforms been seen on the street or so many duels fought, never before had there been so many classified advertisements for treatments allegedly curing 'male maladies' and 'weak nerves'; and never before had so many men complained of exhaustion and nervousness, and found themselves admitted to sanatoriums and even mental hospitals. (The Vertigo Years Introduction by Philipp Blom)

Could anyone have predicted that this deep malaise felt across the Western World would have led to something as horrendous and catastrophic as the first World War, even for those who'd relished the idea of going to war in the first place?
Art by Esra G├╝lmen

Thus we start the year 1913 (or 1912+1), as Florian Illies describes quite charmingly in his book 1913 - The Year Before The Storm, with a gunshot in New Orleans. The shooter? Twelve year old Louis Armstrong. But when he's sent to the Colored Waifs' Home for Boys, where its director hands him a trumpet, and thus the world was gifted with wonderful music for years to come.

January 1913 is also when Stalin arrives in Vienna, engrossed in the writing of his Marxism and the National Question; Sigmund Freud adopts a stray cat who'll witness the end of his relationship with former student Carl G. Jung; Vanity Fair is launched; the bust of Nefertiti is discovered in Egypt to be whisked away to Germany; Austrian figure-skater Alois Lutz comes up with a spinning jump that still bears his name; ecstasy is born; all while the sinking of the Titanic is still a tragedy much talked of.

The world is still spinning on, and yet...