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Britain ignores a continent in crisis

Europe on the brink

An isolationist Britain turns her back on a continent descending into chaos

An isolationist Britain turns her back on a continent descending into chaos

Adam Green | March 15th 2016

This satirical map from 1870 shows a Europe in crisis, bristling with tensions which would, come July that year, erupt into the Franco-Prussian war. The conflict’s political fall-out – French humiliation at the loss of Alsace-Lorraine and British fears about a now unified and much more powerful Germany – would play a major role in the outbreak of world war one more than 40 years later. For all its serious subject matter the map manages to lend a little humour to the affair, with each nation anthropomorphised as a comical caricature. Prussia is depicted as the enormous walrus-like figure of the “Iron Chancellor” himself, Otto von Bismarck. France, kitted out as a Zouave soldier from French north Africa, is seen heroically repelling the Prussian sprawl (it is worth pointing out that the map was first published in France).

Pictured as an old woman, Britain is “isolated and fuming with rage”, turning away decidedly from events on the mainland, almost forgetting, as the caption tells us, about Ireland, the rather cute dog she keeps on a leash. The degrees of longitude are marked out in rifle lengths, a nice touch alluding to the explosiveness of the situation. The map is the work of French illustrator and caricaturist Paul Hadol (1835-1875), who on occasion also went by the rather enigmatic pseudonym of “White”. Although caricature maps existed in Europe from the 14th century, this is one of the first in which the forms of the countries themselves were rendered accurately as actual characters, a style that was to be repeated throughout the rest of the 19th century and on into the 20th. Indeed, this version of the 1870 map shown here is actually a German reprinting from 1914, which seems to have been produced to accompany a new anthropomorphised map of Europe illustrating the tensions preceding world war one.

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chinpiaolee - March 16th 2016

A fine personified mapterature.