Europe and European Civilisation as Seen from its Margins and by the Rest of the World, in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
Edited By Michael Wintle
PART IV. FROM OUTSIDE EUROPE 121
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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