Pleasure Wars: The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud


In uncovering the roots of modernism, a master historian shows us a hidden side of the Victorian era, the role of the bourgeois as reactionaries, revolutionaries, and middle-of-the-roaders in the passage of high culture toward modernism.

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In uncovering the roots of modernism, a master historian shows us a hidden side of the Victorian era, the role of the bourgeois as reactionaries, revolutionaries, and middle-of-the-roaders in the passage of high culture toward modernism.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The fifth and final volume in his acclaimed series, The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, revises our understanding of Victorian high culture and the birth of modernism. In Gay's analysis, "bourgeoisphobes" like Flaubert, Marx, William Morris and Balzac nurtured the myth of a uniformly materialistic Victorian middle classa colorless lot with no inkling of the inner life. A corollary of this partisan myth, asserts the author, is that avant-garde artists fought a dominant, conventional bourgeoisie. On the contrary, argues Gay, who keeps psychoanalytic theory to a minimum in this volume, Victorian middle-class taste, though generally cautious and conservative, often embraced the innovative and experimental; the bourgeois canons detested by artistic rebels were not immutablein fact, the avant-garde survived by changing the taste of the paying public. Gay focuses on the pivotal role of the bourgeois dealers, patrons, critics and collectors who, far from forswearing the unconventional, championed modernist taste. Urban angst, patronage and democratization of culture, he finds, made possible the explosion of modernist styles that led to Rimbaud, Kandinsky, Picasso and Debussy. Gay's magisterial survey challenges and enlightens.
Library Journal
The final installment of Gay's multivolume study of the 19th-century bourgeois experience (e.g., Naked Heart: The Bourgeois Experience, Victoria to Freud, LJ 10/1/95) is a welcome addition to the literature. Current historical stereotypes of the bourgeois are rather flat, regarding them as either extremely confident or extremely insecure, depending on which authority is consulted. Gay's work systematically attempts to determine which is correct through an examination of their attitudes toward art, literature, and the concept we know as modernity. Throughout, Gay maintains that to view the bourgeoisie as stiff-necked and incapable of genuine affection or the enjoyment of pleasure is dangerously simplistic. In fact, the bourgeois experience was multidimensional, as were the bourgeois themselves. They were a revolutionary force, notes the author, whether they engaged in reactionary or modern crusades, and their ideas shaped the 20th century. An insightful and challenging book; recommended for general and specialized libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/97.]Frederic Krome, Northern Kentucky Univ., Highland Heights
NY Times Book Review
The final volume concerning art and the avant-garde of an immense, imaginative, tireless study of the much-abused class that invented everything liberal intellectuals cherish about modern civilization.
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Throughout virtually all of recorded history, the makers of high culture were fully integrated into their society. Painters and sculptors, composers and architects, storytellers, poets and playwrights were the willing servants of power, of state and church alike. They gave beautiful, often memorable expression to shared fundamental values and convictions. Even historic exiles like Dante or Machiavelli retained their loyalty to the larger community from which they had been expelled; even in times of irreparable conflict like the Reformation, when writers and artists lent their talents to the contending parties, they thought of the enemy, of the other, as the outsider. Then, toward the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, this tacit, durable cultural compact was radically subverted. Artists in all genres increasingly made society itself the target of their scorn.

They thought they could do no less. Did not the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie love money and hate art? Was it not so different from the old honorable, public-spirited patriciate as to be in effect a new class? The few bankers or merchants who displayed good taste or supported museums were too exceptional, or their motives too dubious, to discredit this sweeping characterization. Hence creative spirits felt duty-bound to detest the bourgeoisie and to adopt an aggressive stance that gave them pleasure as they mobilized to rescue the sacred cause of honest art, honest music, and honest literature. And so, as the Victorian century went its way, painters, composers, and the rest formed avant-gardes to fight lively and implacable pleasure wars in which they confronted the dominant, hopelessly conventional middle class with all the energy at their command.

This is the modernist myth that has continued to shape our perception of the Victorian middle classes' attitude toward the higher things. To call it a myth is not to denigrate it as a fantasy woven together from fragments of imaginary grievances. There was, as will emerge, a measure of truth in it. But it was none the less self-serving and partisan, greatly oversimplifying a tangled array of cultural interactions. Clarity about matters of taste was the last of the qualities about which the age had any right to boast. Hesitations, mixed motives and mixed feelings, unexpected alliances and tensions, attacks of hubris and anxiety reduce the portrait of Victorian society as permanently split between two adversaries to a caricature.

1. Gustavus Flaubertus

Denunciations of the middle classes were, of course, not new. For all the kind words thrown them across the centuries from the time of Aristotle on, they had long had articulate vilifiers. There had been, and continued to be, open season on middling people--traders, shopkeepers, moneylenders--centuries before there was a well-defined bourgeoisie. Jesus, who, Scriptures report, drove the money changers and pigeon sellers from the temple and pronounced himself doubtful about the chances of a rich man's entering heaven, reinforced a tradition that would prosper through the ages. But none were more strident than nineteenth-century antibourgeois, none more tendentious than Gustave Flaubert.

In late December 1852, Flaubert wrote his closest friend, the poet Louis Bouilhet, a charming note of thanks for some Latin verses. Borrowing the manner of Rabelais and Montaigne, two of his favorite writers, he imitated sixteenth-century spelling in a playful reply at once mocking and erudite. It was as though he were snatching a moment of relaxation from the agony of literary creation, the laborious progress of an ambitious first novel to be titled Madame Bovary. And consistent with the style he had adopted, he signed himself in Latin:"GUSTAVUS FLAUBERTUS, Bourgeoisophobus."

The missives that Flaubert normally sent out from his hideaway, his mother's house at Croisset, near Rouen, to his friends, his beloved sister, Caroline, and his promiscuous mistress the minor poet Louise Colet, were didactic, scatological, dripping with disenchantment. But if his bearish humor in the letter to Bouilhet was uncharacteristic for the adult Flaubert, his hatred of the bourgeoisie was not. A visceral distaste for the safe middle runs like a leitmotiv through his writings published and unpublished. Though couched in an imaginative bouquet of vituperation, the lesson he meant to impart was always the same: one must not become like them! In 1855, with Madame Bovary almost completed, he seconded Bouilhet's cultural pessimism: "Yes! this is on the whole a rotten century! And we are in a shitty mess! What makes me indignant is the bourgeoisisme of our fellow writers! What merchants! What dull imbeciles!" He found nothing more disheartening than middle-class decorousness; looking about, he was horror-stricken to observe how easy it was to slide down the greasy slope to bourgeoisdom, a fate he thought literally worse than death.

Flaubert developed this phobia early in life and never outgrew it. Even as a schoolboy, he had dashed off sarcastic outbursts against "stupid" people and "stupid" ideas. As a perceptive adolescent, he recognized that he was given to provocations and shocking poses, as he peppered his letters with sallies against royalty, the church, and the boring, repellent world in general. A youthful satanist, he cultivated lurid fantasies professing a taste for novels by that"honorable writer" the marquis de Sade, claimed to admire prostitutes, declared himself capable of crime, dreamt of deflowered virgins, and aimed to grow into a destroyer of good morals. But he reserved his utmost spleen for the bourgeoisie. As he told his sister, Caroline, in July 1842--he was twenty--the more he provoked bourgeois, the more content he felt. Decades later he wrote his admired "chere bon Maitre" George Sand, "Axiom: Hatred of Bourgeois is the beginning of all virtue."

There was much scurrility in between, and its ferocity never slackened. In early 1843, a reluctant law student in Paris, Flaubert described to his sister some acquaintances he disliked, their visits to restaurants and their theatergoing, as "provincial bourgeois coming to Paris to amuse themselves. What stupid grocers!" The epithet he used--epiciers--was a supreme sneer. At times Flaubert's antibourgeois nausea grew physical in its intensity. As late as 1872, encountering three or four bourgeois in his native Rouen, he was sickened by "the spectacle of their vulgarity, their frock coats, their hats, what they said and the sound of their voices."They all, he wrote,"made me want to vomit and to cry at the same time. Never since I have been in this world have I been choked by such disgust." He was mourning Theophile Gautier, sure that his friend had died of suffocation caused by his prolonged exposure to "modern stupidity." Three days later, still harping on Gautier, he told his friend the playwright Ernest Feydeau that he was getting ready to burst, he was about to vomit. "It will be copious and bitter."

Flaubert's case against his middle-class contemporaries ran to many, mutually reinforcing counts. Bourgeois are commonplace, cowardly, colorless, censorious, sentimental, devious; their pleasures are abominable, their moments of happiness squalid, their political opinions foolish; they have no inkling of the inner life and are so obsessive in their habits that they fall ill when they go to bed at an unaccustomed hour. They are of course materialistic from head to toe, lacking all sense for the exotic, the adventurous, the extraordinary.

In 1867, Flaubert reported to George Sand from Rouen that he had come upon a camp of Gypsies--Bohemiens--whom he had noticed twice before, "always with new pleasure. It was wonderful to see how they aroused the Hatred of bourgeois, even though they were harmless as sheep. I had the crowd look askance at me by giving them a few sous.--And I heard some pretty Philistine comments." He found it easy to explain this hatred for a handful of innocent vagrants: it "has to do with something deep and complex. We find it among the whole party of order. It's the hatred felt for the Bedouin, the Heretic, the Philosopher, the recluse, the poet.--And there is fear in that hatred. This exasperates me, since I am always for the minorities." Later observers might call that hatred a typical bourgeois defensive maneuver, transforming fear into rage. As cheerleader for a mutinous avant-garde, Flaubert was "driven wild" by these middle-class traits. When in Lui, her transparent roman a clef, Louise Colet coarsely revenged herself on Flaubert for making her unhappy, the most wounding insult she could imagine was to call him a "well-read bourgeois."

In the onslaughts Flaubert launched against fellow Rouennais, he portrayed them as though interchangeable, all of them privates in a vast army of lumpen bourgeois. In truth, as historians studying Flaubert's native city have shown, they were a far more differentiated lot. In the 1850s, the years of Madame Bovary, Rouen was bustling with some 100,000 inhabitants. As capital of its departement, it was home to high government officials and ecclesiastical personages. The urban profile was dominated by a lofty cathedral partly dating back to the fourteenth century, signpost of a lasting, if by now endangered, religious tradition; modern bourgeois lived and worked or enjoyed an idle retirement in-its shadow. It was this cathedral that Monet famously painted in different weathers, and that was William Morris's favorite exemplar of French Gothic; for its sake he visited "Rouen, glorious Rouen" twice.

Certainly Emma Bovary admired the city. On one of her visits to Rouen for an assignation with her lover Leon, she was dazzled by its closely crowded brick houses, ships at anchor, foundries roaring and factory chimneys coughing up trails of brown smoke. A prominent center of trade and diversified manufacturing, its principal industry was cotton, in which Rouennais made, and at times lost, massive fortunes. There were other ways to get rich in the city: in the wine and cattle trade or the export and import business, or comfortably living as a rentier after decades of shrewd investments. Achille Cleophas Flaubert, Gustave's father, an eminent if scientifically conservative surgeon and director of a local hospital, had invested in real estate and proved sufficiently clever (or fortunate) to leave his son enough to embark on a career as a full-time writer.

As in all cities, in Rouen the bourgeoisie was distinctly in a minority. Only a quarter among local households could afford two servants--always a sensitive indicator of wealth and status--and most of these were classic petit bourgeois. Five percent boasted three and only 2 percent four or more in household help; the ladder of affluence, matching those in other Victorian cities, was steep and, with every rung, increasingly vertiginous. Less than roughly one in ten Rouennais could be counted as prosperous bourgeois. Small shopkeepers were lucky if they took in some 2,000 francs a year; many had less and only a few of them more. Rentiers, a substantial population in Rouen, drew on the average some 7,000 to 8,000 francs annually; in tandem with high government functionaries and thriving members of the liberal professions, the caste of landed proprietors could count on about 30,000. The mercantile and industrial elite, men of great fortunes, including a handful of millionaires, clustered at the top.

Although the broadly flowing tidal Seine made Rouen into a port providing daily contacts with the outside world, its culture lived mainly from local resources--classical lycees, professional schools, literary societies. Like most bourgeois, the better-off Rouennais usually kept their diversions domestic, with receptions, charades, evenings of poetry recitals. The well-educated, it seems, spent much of their leisure doing strenuous reading, sampling even advanced, risque authors like Maupassant and Zola, to say nothing of their own celebrity, Flaubert. And in 1880, the year of Flaubert's death, they added an imposing new museum for paintings hitherto inadequately housed and poorly exhibited in the city hall. If connoisseurs derided some of its supposed "old masters" like its vaunted four "Raphaels" as mediocre copies, its large rooms crowded landscapes, nudes, portraits, history paintings together, with contemporary French schools strongly represented and some of its Italian and Dutch masters even authentic.

With touching fidelity, leading citizens--bankers, lawyers, bureaucrats, naval officers--supported a brave literary periodical, the Revue de Rouen. While it repeatedly faded away, it was just as repeatedly revived as though its three hundred subscribers needed it to tell them what they really liked. Reading circles, domestic music making, exhibitions of new paintings, most of them from the region, added color to Rouen's cultural landscape. And it could proudly point to a handful of impassioned collectors, of watches and faience, of china and even pictures.

Probably the most interesting among them was the magnate Francois Depeaux, amateur yachtsman, munificent philanthropist, fervent local patriot anxious to enhance Rouen's name. For well over two decades he had poured substantial profits from trading in cotton and outfitting ships into an odd assortment of relatively inoffensive academic paintings and of Impressionists, an unconventional departure for his conventional city. Although an expensive divorce forced him to dispose of some valued pictures, he never stopped buying. In a touching address to his fellow citizens in 1909, he modestly disclaimed any right to speak as an art critic but eloquently celebrated his holdings as "the modern music of painting. " And he expressed his gratitude to the artists: "Let us thank the Impressionists for having taught us to see Nature better and therefore to love it better."

The occasion for this little speech was Depeaux's donation of fifty-three treasured paintings, about a fifth of his collection, to the city. It was an event worth celebrating by the mayor, the city council, and the local newspapers: modernism finally had found a place in Rouen, however modest. true, six years earlier, goaded by Rouennais of immovable academic tastes, the city had rejected Depeaux's very similar offer--how this would have amused Flaubert! But Depeaux's two overtures and their contrasting fates are of interest to the historian as a fine instance of the complexities besetting bourgeois tastemakers, complexities we shall often encounter throughout these chapters. This much is clear: Rouen's citizens were not all the money-ridden souls who would label the arts, as Flaubert's Dictionary of Accepted Ideas has them do, as "quite useless, since they can be replaced by machines, which manufacture the same things even more quickly."

Flaubert's mock dictionary became an inexhaustible hunting ground for bourgeoisophobes; he drew it from his sottisier, a lovingly gathered bouquet of inane opinions intended to supply material for the second volume of his last, unfinished novel, Bouvard and Pecuchet. The Dictionary exposed middle-class lovers of culture as shamelessly unapologetic for yawning their way through a musical evening: "CONCERT. Well-bred pastime." Their didacticism was unrelieved, untouched by flights of the aesthetic imagination: "NOVELS. Corrupt the masses"; hence "only historical novels can be tolerated because they teach history." Flaubert's bourgeois were the kind of misbegotten creatures who could define "LITERATURE" as "pastime of the idle" or the "BOOK" as being "always too long, whatever it is about." How could one expect a discerning palate from such barbarians?

Undeterred by mere facts, Flaubert imported his phobia into his fiction. Madame Bovary traces, from an impersonal distance laced with crushing irony, the sexual victimization and eventual suicide of the overeducated daughter of a well-to-do farmer. After recording the protagonist's wretched love affairs and dismal end, the book concludes with the triumph of the supreme bourgeois in the novel, the local pharmacist, Monsieur Homais. The smooth progressive slogans that this brazen careerist likes to spout give rationalism a bad name, but the state rewards him for being precisely what he is. "He had just received," the novel closes, "the Cross of the Legion of Honor."

Some twenty years later, Flaubert started on Bouvard and Pecuchet, which focuses on the misadventures, at once hilarious and pathetic, of two ordinary clerks. Having come into money, they devote their free time and ample funds to undergo an invariably disastrous education in agriculture, archaeology, religion, the sciences, the arts, rational housekeeping, and sexual seduction. Flaubert made the very profession of these two friends, copyist, a trade to which they return at the end, an obvious hit at the unproductive bourgeoisie. Bouvard and Pecuchet were the bourgeois who spouted the commonplaces Flaubert had collected in his Dictionary.

That dictionary concentrates Flaubert's loathing for the class that he thought was running, and ruining, his country. But all this mayhem leaves a question: it is all very funny, but is it reportage or slander? No reader of Flaubert's Dictionary, his letters, or his novels can overlook the intemperance of his language. A psychoanalyst would rightly point to all this unrelieved, emotion-ridden bluster as a sign of some inner maladjustment. Yet many interpreters have taken Flaubert's fiery barbs or sarcastic parodies as well-informed, trustworthy bulletins from a front he had scouted with care. That Flaubert was the son of a local celebrity and of the most conformist of doting mothers--he even nicknamed her "la bourgeoise"--lent his denunciations from the inside all the more authority. Since they did capture certain facts of contemporary middle-class life, Flaubert's neurosis has been read as the private correlative of a cultural neurosis, that infectious and dangerous modern malady called bourgeoisdom. Freud would later analyze that middle-class affliction as springing from unwarranted embarrassment before the sexual drive, and Flaubert would no doubt have agreed. But, more interested in denunciation than in diagnosis, he preferred to call it names: mediocrity, mendacity, deadly virtuousness.

Yet our glimpses of the real Rouen suggest that Flaubert's judgments do not deserve all this credit. On occasion he undercut his argument with observations that make his emotions less revealing than at first appears. Bouvard and Pecuchet, those votaries of science and platitudes, acquire a certain stature as Flaubert has them learning from their failures and sucking wisdom from the venality and ingratitude of those they had meant to benefit. As they grow less gullible about human nature and even consider suicide, Flaubert hints that he has grown rather attached to them. Writing to his friend Turgenev, who had closely followed the making of the novel, he called Bouvard and Pecuchet "my two idiots."They were at least his idiots. Their quest had not been simply ludicrous:"A lamentable faculty developed in their minds, that of recognizing stupidity and no longer tolerating it." And so, Bouvard and Pecuchet almost function as Flaubert's surrogates in his campaign against the idiocies of his time.

His uncontrolled hatred could dull Flaubert's social tact and provide moments of involuntary humor. In 1879, near the end of his life, accepting an invitation to the Charpentiers for dinner, he was unable to repress a gratuitous slur: "The absence of bourgeois reassures him on his prospects. For he has now reached a point of such exasperation that when he finds himself with persons of that species he is consistently tempted to strangle them, or rather to hurl them into the cesspool (if one may express oneself thus), an action whose consequences would be embarrassing to the publishing house of Charpentier, which is close to his heart, children and bow-wows included." It apparently had not occurred to him that he was writing to his publisher, who was also publishing Zola, Huysmans, and other noncanonical writers, or that Georges Charpentier and his wife, Marguerite, were friends of Renoir and collectors of Monets. Nor that his hosts, complete with children and dogs, were bourgeois whose avant-garde taste invalidated his gross and rancorous mockery.

This way of using his favorite term of abuse with no regard for sociological rigor throws further doubts on Flaubert's reliability as a witness. His loathsome bourgeoisie was a state of mind rather than a recognizable social class, and "bourgeois" an all-purpose epithet. In the summer of 1861, shortly after completing his strange, sanguinary novel about Carthage, Salammbo, he professed to be looking forward to irritating the archaeologists and being unintelligible to the ladies. He hoped people would call him a pederast and a cannibal. Salammbo, he told Ernest Feydeau, "will annoy the bourgeois, that is to say, everybody."

There is bravado in this pronouncement, but its vagueness robs it of all point. In fact, when Flaubert told George Sand that the hatred of bourgeois is the beginning of virtue, he defined the key word in a way quite useless for social analysis: "I include in the word 'bourgeois' the bourgeois in a smock as much as the bourgeois in a frock coat." As a self-designated cultural aristocrat, he derived his right to malign the bourgeoisie from his membership in a small civilized minority of which his correspondent was also a member: "We, and we alone, are the People, or, to put it better, the tradition of Humanity." He was unalterable in his imprecision. "I put messieurs the working people into the same bag as bourgeois," he told Sand in April 1871, as the upheavals of the Paris Commune were at their most intense."One should chuck them all into the river together."

He had been saying this sort of thing all along. As early as 1852, he had told Louise Colet that nowadays the bourgeois "is all humanity, the 'people' included."This irresponsible usage did not remain hidden from his contemporaries. In 1884, the novelist and shrewd essayist Paul Bourget observed that Flaubert had conducted a "war" against the "'bourgeois" a word that "in his mouth--that of an impenitent romantic--became a synonym for the worst villainies." Flaubert the hater of the bourgeoisie was not doing sociology; he was indulging his pugnacity. Freud coined the suggestive phrase "the narcissism of minor difference" to indicate why neighbors, whether individuals or nations, view the Other with particular distaste to let them give free vent to their aggressions. Surely Flaubert's differences with his fellow Rouennais were drastic enough, but he distorted them far beyond what the facts warranted.

Flaubert's obtuseness about the Charpentiers shows that he was not open to corrections from experience; he had chosen the psychiatric term "phobia" for better reasons than he knew. A phobia is a bleak stratagem designed to avoid greater misery; the mental anguish phobics undergo is less cataclysmic than the anxiety against which this defense insulates them. Their sufferings are their armor. Flaubert was haunted by conflicts deeper than the disharmonies that assail the most fortunate of mortals. His hermit-like devotion to literature coexisted with fantasies, at times realities, of rough sexual experimentation; his stern rejection of public opinion was paired with an extraordinary sensitivity to it; his severe antiromanticism was, as Bourget had already seen, a way of warding off a seductive romantic streak.

Thus Flaubert's disavowal of his own class looks like a response to the fear that he had not really escaped it. He was, it seems, projecting onto his fellow bourgeois qualities he detected in himself, making enough noise to drown out his anxiety. No one embodied the middle-class gospel of work, or the middle-class ideal of sacrificing oneself for one's family, more intensely than Flaubert. No dandy, no bohemian would have tolerated his hopelessly bourgeois conduct for a moment. Even going on strike against the legal career on which he had so reluctantly embarked was like a rebellious bourgeois adolescent braving his family; later, he repudiated any ambition to join the local Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which Dr. Flaubert had been vice-president. Louise Colet's vindictive name for him--well-read bourgeois--was not entirely off the mark.

None of this psychologizing reduces Flaubert's phobia into a mere symptom. However distorted by hidden conflicts, however ill-defined the name "bourgeois" under his pen, the fact that Flaubert fastened on that particular curse word hints that the cultural malaise he saw all around him might really be endemic in the class he so inexactly designated and so furiously denounced. For the historian, particularly the historian favorably disposed to psychoanalysis, perceptions are facts as hard as the most brutal reality; they, too, have consequences in the world. Even though avant-garde attacks on the Victorian bourgeoisie were florid in rhetoric, deficient in evidence, and malicious in intent, it does not follow that they had no objective grounds.

2. Six-Pack Philistines

The history of bourgeoisophobia has never been written. When it is, we have seen, it will have to begin in ancient history. But late in the eighteenth century the prosecutors of merchants and their ilk added new grievances and spoke with new urgency. The roots of Victorian bourgeoisophobia can be traced to the Sturm und Drang, which with humorless intensity trumps Moliere's satire on the bourgeois gentilhomme. Goethe's Werther is probably the first modern alienated soul, probably the first to assert that the uneducable bourgeois, that embodiment of order and mediocrity, will never grasp, let alone share, the passionate commitments of the artist and the lover. And the author of Werther returned to the disagreeable philistine more than once right to the end of his life. In 1830, two years before his death, Goethe told Johann Peter Eckermann (who faithfully took it down) that any worthwhile writer was bound to have society make a martyr of him. Byron, who with his early death had escaped the philistines and their hatred, was, he thought, only the latest instance.

Goethe's inconstant admirers, the German romantics, those gifted ancestors of late-nineteenth-century modernists, widened the split between proper burghers and rebellious creative spirits. The bourgeoisie that these challengers of respectability were battling, they told the world, was obscenely devoted to its pursuit of profit and comfort. Perhaps the most compelling romantic model for other antibourgeois was that versatile and alcoholic genius E. T. A. Hoffmann--painter, composer, judge, teller of haunting, uncanny tales. Generations of the avant-garde would be indebted to him for inventing the character that served them as an emblem for their crusade: Kreisler, the mad musician. This leading man among some of Hoffmann's most accomplished fictions is saner by far than his mundane audiences, who chat their way through sublime compositions and whose cherished mental balance amounts to a pathetic lack of spiritual refinement. This was the figure that Robert Schumann and, later, Johannes Brahms adopted to underscore their contempt for the middle classes' mortal failures of civilized perception.

Later in the century, as antibourgeois propaganda gained wider circulation, other Germans took up the cry. Writing in March 1882 to his patron Conrad Fiedler, an eminent and wealthy art critic, the painter Hans von Marees spoke derisively of "bourgeois narrow-mindedness." A varied array of self-appointed spokesmen for higher cultivation, including the great surgeon and accomplished amateur pianist Theodor Billroth (Brahms's good friend) and the literary historian Rudolf von Gottschall, identified Burger as asleep to the bracing currents of modern art and as people who read nothing but newspapers and take good care to be close to their beer at all times. Detlev von Liliencron, known for his novellas about war and Teutonic virtues, grimly called the phrase "the golden middling road" a "comfortable word for the philistine ... a repellent, cold, cowardly word." And the nationalist historian Heinrich von Treitschke thought it necessary to sneer at prosperous French bourgeois--only at the French of course--as exemplars of cowardice, vanity, greed, coarseness, heartlessness, arrogance, and a total inability to govern. Haunted by social anxiety, he wrote, the dictatorial empire of Napoleon III had saved the bourgeois, as it were, from themselves. Bourgeoisophobia attracted a motley assortment of recruits, chauvinists little less than cosmopolitans.

This was the atmosphere in which Nietzsche invented the devastating name Bildungsphilister--cultivated philistine--a formulation in which he took some pride. It designated what we have learned to call "middlebrow," unpoetic beings for whom thrift meant meanness; delicacy, prudishness; gentility, evasiveness; good taste, defensive aversion to depth and originality in the arts. Nietzsche portrayed the Bildungsphilister as a coward, not moderate as he liked to boast but mediocre to his bones, a pedant who chattered learnedly about history or aesthetics and heartlessly maligned anyone who dared to be an outsider in "healthy" middle-class society--in short, an educated person whose vaunted cultivation was a sham: pseudo-culture.

Other Germans, attempting to emulate Nietzsche's verbal ingenuity, improvised combinations like "six-pack philistine--Weissbierphilister," but none of them could match Nietzsche's ability to think through the implications of his coinage. For in his quest for the heroic man, Nietzsche stigmatized the obedient, passive, supremely uncreative bourgeois as a "herd animal" who had been to the university and occupied positions of leadership in the academy, business, and government. After his death in 1900, Nietzsche, whether soundly interpreted or distorted--his slashing, aphoristic style invited misreadings--who philosophized with the hammer, the thinker everyone quoted and many actually read, was conscripted as a general in the army of bourgeoisophobes.

Aggressive as they sounded, German haters of the bourgeoisie were outdone by the French. Observers of the Orleanist dynasty, which had come to power in 1830, were convinced that the bourgeoisie had taken charge of the country--bad news, they thought, for creative spirits. In 1836, in his energetic, rather depressed autobiographical novel, Confession of a Child of the Century, Alfred de Musset spoke for a generation of wounded and outraged talents. To be a child of the early nineteenth century was to be stricken with its malady, ennui, and crushed by the burden of bourgeois dishonesty. The young "were delivered over to vulgar pedants of all sorts," of cuistres who were beyond a doubt impeccably middle-class.

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