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Imagining Europe

Europe and European Civilisation as Seen from its Margins and by the Rest of the World, in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

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Edited By Michael Wintle

What do people think ‘Europe’ means? What are its values, what are its borders, and what does it stand for? An important topic, without doubt. But the authors of this research collection are not so much interested in what Europe thinks of itself, but rather in what others think of it. They take a number of scenarios from recent history, and examine how Europe has appeared to people in other parts of the globe: America, China, the Arab world, for example. But they go further, and pose the question for some parts of the world which are ‘inside’ Europe, but which for one reason or another hover on the margins, like the Balkans, and Turkey. Furthermore they include the views about Europe held in parts of the continent which have without any doubt whatsoever belonged to Europe’s core, but which much of the rest of Europe, later, would like to forget about, or marginalise: Stalin’s Russia, and Hitler’s Germany. Most of the elements investigated here are central to the imagining of Europe, and despite many Europeans’ wish to distance themselves, such views should be recognised and taken up as an important and indispensable contribution to the debate about ‘What is Europe?’

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PART IV. FROM OUTSIDE EUROPE 121

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PART IV FROM OUTSIDE EUROPE 123 CHAPTER 6 “I Would Rather Go to Europe than Go to Heaven” Images of Europe in the United States1 Ruud JANSSENS Americans have been fascinated by European culture throughout their history. Before the American Impressionist painter William Merritt Chase ever went to Europe, he already had exclaimed, “My God, I would rather go to Europe than go to Heaven”.2 In contrast to Chase’s overly optimistic image of Europe there was an opposing notion about the old continent, as expressed by Mark Twain in Innocents Abroad, his ironic travel account of a group of Americans visiting Europe and the Middle East. In Paris, Twain wrote, “We went to see the Cathedral of Notre Dame. – We had heard of it before. It surprises me, sometimes, to think how much we do know, and how intelligent we are. We recog- nised the brown old Gothic pile in a moment; it was like the pictures”.3 Chase and Twain exemplify the complex nature of the relationship between America and Europe. Twain wanted to show how naïve Ameri- cans could be about Europe and yet how superior they could feel, while also having a need to go to Europe to admire higher culture – in fact expressing a notion of inferiority. In a way, Twain and Chase were stating the same ideas about Europe: Chase’s optimism was only possi- ble because of the one-dimensional view of Europe which Twain em- phasised. He also emphasised that American images of...

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