Culture Of Love / Edition 1

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Overview

The Culture of Love interprets the sweeping change in loving that spanned a period when scientific discoveries reduced the terrors and dangers of sex, when new laws gave married women control over their earnings and their bodies, when bold novelists and artists shook off the prudishness and hypocrisy that so paralyzed the Victorians. As public opinion, family pressure, and religious conviction loosened, men and women took charge of their love. Stephen Kern argues that, in contrast to modern sex, Victorian sex was anatomically constricted, spatially confined, morally suspect, deadly serious, and abruptly over.

Kern divides love into its elements and traces profound changes in each: from waiting for love to ending it. Most revealing are the daring ways moderns began to talk about their current lovemaking as well as past lovers. While Victorians viewed jealousy as a "foreign devil," moderns began to acknowledge responsibility for it. Desire lost its close tie with mortal sin and became the engine of artistic creation; women's response to the marriage proposal shifted from mere consent to active choice. There were even new possibilities of kissing, beyond the sudden, blind, disembodied, and censored Victorian meeting of lips.

Kern's evidence is mainly literature and art, including classic novels by the Brontës, Flaubert, Hugo, Eliot, Hardy, Forster, Colette, Proust, Mann, Joyce, Woolf, Lawrence, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Musil as well as the paintings and sculptures of Millais, Courbet, Gérôme, Rodin, Munch, Klimt, Schiele, Valadon, Chagall, Kandinsky, Kokoschka, Picasso, Matisse, and Brancusi. The book's conceptual foundation comes from Heidegger's existential philosophy, in particular his authentic-inauthentic distinction, which Kern adapts to make his overall interpretation and concluding affirmation of the value of authenticity: "The moderns may have lost some of the Victorians' delicacy and poignancy, perhaps even some of their heroism, but in exchange became more reflective of what it means to be a human being in love and hence better able to make that loving more their very own."

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Using Heidegger's concept of authentic and inauthentic lives, Kern examines selected novels and artworks from the era 1847-1934 to show that the Victorians were inauthentic in their love relationships and the Moderns were authentic. ``Victorian'' seems to apply to all Europe and the United States during the 19th century, and the different attitudes toward love, sex, and marriage that existed in the countries whose writers and artists are cited are not described. Such sloppy thinking characterizes the entire book. Kern quotes novels out of context, distorts their meanings to fit his theory, and sometimes even gets the facts wrong. One had hoped this kind of careless, xenophobic cultural criticism was no longer being practiced. Not recommended.-- Judy Mimken, Saginaw Valley State Univ., Mich.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674179592
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 7/15/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 472
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Kern is Professor of History at Ohio State University.
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Table of Contents

1. Waiting

2. Meeting

3. Encounter

4. Embodiment

5. Desire

6. Language

7. Disclosure

8. Kissing

9. Gender

10. Power

11. Others

12. Jealousy

13. Selfhood

14. Proposal

15. Wedding

16. Sex

17. Marriage

18. Ending

Conclusion

Appendix. Ages of Fictional Characters

Primary Works Cited

Notes

List of Illustrations

List of Fictional Characters

Index

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