the deflowering of Paris

Eiffel TowerThink of this next time our eminent intellectuals decide to band together to protest something:

The Eiffel Tower wasn’t just the largest thing that anyone had ever proposed to build, it was the largest completely useless thing. It wasn’t a palace or burial chamber or place of worship. It didn’t even commemorate a fallen hero. Eiffel gamely insisted that his tower would have many practical applications — that it would make a terrific military lookout and that one could do useful aeronautical and meteorological experiments from its upper reaches — but eventually even he admitted that mostly he wished to build it simply for the slightly strange pleasure of making something really quite enormous.

Many people loathed it, especially artists and intellectuals. A group of notables that included Alexandre Dumas, Émile Zola, Paul Verlaine, and Guy de Maupassant submitted a long, rather overexcited letter protesting at “the deflowering of Paris” and arguing that “when foreigners come to see our exhibition they will cry out in astonishment, ‘What! This is the atrocity which the French have created to give us an idea of their boasted taste!’ ” The Eiffel Tower, they continued, was “the grotesque, mercenary invention of a machine builder.” Eiffel accepted the insults with cheerful equanimity and merely pointed out that one of the outraged signatories of the petition, the architect Charles Garnier, was in fact a member of the commission that had approved the tower in the first place.

Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life

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