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The Naked Heart: The Bourgeois Experience Victoria to Freud

The Naked Heart: The Bourgeois Experience Victoria to Freud

by Peter Gay

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In The Naked Heart, Peter Gay explores the bourgeoisie's turn inward.

At the very time that industrialists, inventors, statesmen, and natural scientists were conquering new objective worlds, Gay writes, "the secret life of the self had grown into a favorite and wholly serious indoor sport."

Following the middle class's preoccupation with


In The Naked Heart, Peter Gay explores the bourgeoisie's turn inward.

At the very time that industrialists, inventors, statesmen, and natural scientists were conquering new objective worlds, Gay writes, "the secret life of the self had grown into a favorite and wholly serious indoor sport."

Following the middle class's preoccupation with inwardness through its varied cultural expressions (such as fiction, art, history, and autobiography), Gay turns also to the letters and confessional diaries of both obscure and prominent men and women. These revealing documents help to round out a sparkling portrait of an age. 

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Gay believes that the Victorian bourgeoisie, and 19th-century Europe's middle classes generally, were much more introspective and prone to self-exploration than is commonly assumed. Using the autobiographies or memoirs of John Stuart Mill, George Sand, Goethe, Edmund Gosse and Thomas Carlyle, he charts a passion for self-scrutiny that made public these writers' inner struggles with belief, faith and emotion. His survey of private letters and diaries subverts the notion that Victorians regarded the male as coolly reasoning and the female as an emotional being. Yale history professor emeritus Gay (The Enlightenment) argues that Dickens, Henry James, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy enlarged the inner domain, while Eugene Sue, French serial novelist, and Karl May, German producer of potboilers, also nourished middle-class fantasies and helped shape identities. Among painters, he spotlights individualists such as Van Gogh, Courbet, James Ensor and Caspar David Friedrich, who gave fresh impetus to self-revelation. This fourth volume in Gay's The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud is a scholarly yet engrossing, enormously rich exploration of 19th-century self-discovery. (Sept.)
Library Journal
The fourth volume of Gay's "The Bourgeois Experience" (after Education of the Senses, Oxford Univ. Pr., 1984; The Tender Passion, LJ 2/15/86; and The Cultivation of Hatred, LJ 9/1/93) focuses on the 19th-century bourgeois preoccupation with the self. The author examines "the democratization of romantic love, the fashion for autobiography, biography, history, and imaginative fiction, the claims of art and music as aids to introspection," as well as the explosion of diary keeping and letter writing to explore the century's infatuation with "the more or less naked heart." This he puts into various contexts-reactions against 18th-century rationalism, increasing acceptance of romantic attitudes, the history and ambivalent nature of autobiography and diary keeping, and so on. Although much of this is familiar, Gay's discussions of specifics (especially in German literature and art) individualize and enliven his themes. A book to be read more for the measured unfolding of its magisterial perspectives than for groundbreaking or flashy revaluations; recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Richard Kuczkowski, Dominican Coll., Blauvelt, N.Y.
Gilbert Taylor
This study of middle-class introspection represents the fourth (with a fifth in preparation) volume of Gay's multivolume history of Victorian society. The impulse to connect with deeper, hidden feelings, Gay stresses, extended the Romantic movement into formats of culture the middle classes consumed as the century progressed: music, histories, autobiographies, novels, and painting. In such forms, Gay analyzes the sensibilities of the works that appealed to the buying Victorian. If one adversarial principle unifies the welter of works Gay discusses, it is the contest between the invisible, such as inner human desires, and the visible, say the course of a politician's career. Biographies were a signal locale for stretching this tension, and Gay assesses, for example, how contemporary reviewers reacted to the raft of Napoleon works, which ranged from hagiography to indictment. The same pattern extends to the great and forgotten novelists and painters, and Gay finishes by eavesdropping on the sentiments ordinary bourgeois confided in their letters and diaries. An acutely perceptive work that flows with psychological insights--as readers expect from the biographer of Freud.
David Cline
In this, the third volume of his series The Bourgeois Experience, Gay explores the many manifestations of aggression in the century leading up to World War I. Examining a broad range of historical sources, Gay explores Victorian rationalizations for aggressive behavior, how the search for an "other" to blame exploded into significant racism, and how aggression was channeled into the drive to conquer known as colonialism. Gay also examines the links between sexuality and aggression and that between aggression and humor. Though incredibly comprehensive in his view, Gay delves into fascinating specifics, such as the German Mensur tradition of applying dueling scars--an odd but revealing form of socially licensed aggression. Eventually, the cultural mentality behind colonialism at one end of the scale and practices like these at the other, Gay claims, broke through the cultural contraints and led directly to World War I. As for alibis sought in "nature," these, of course, extended even further into the century. The text here is enhanced by portraits of prominent Victorians from Darwin to Daumier.
Kirkus Reviews
With sweep, erudition, and insight, Gay (History/Yale Reading Freud, 1990, etc.), in this third volume of a projected five-book history of middle-class culture in 19th-century Europe and America (The Tender Passion, 1986; Education of the Senses, 1983), explores aggression as both a constructive and destructive force in Victorian life. The Victorians were so ambivalent toward aggression, Gay says, that they found alibis for it—organizing it in sports or duels; channeling it into economic or political activity; institutionalizing it in a cult of manliness (the courtly ideal of proving oneself through conflict, epitomized in Teddy Roosevelt); and projecting it on "the other" (Dreyfus in France, blacks in America), toward whom aggression was acceptable. The "pathologies" of repressed aggression were acted out in ritualized retribution, with punishment ranging from floggings to public executions; in sadomasochistic eroticism; and in suicide. Aggression also played a central role in the emergence of political culture among the middle classes and in the opposition between democrats and demagogues. Women, the "powerful weaker sex," domesticated aggression and the struggle for power, directing their aggressive energies into prolific writing. Positive contemporary expressions of aggression included varieties of laughter from Dickens to Daumier; varieties of militancy—wars against poverty, ignorance, disease, unbelief; and various manifestations in social service, education, sports, industry, even in the use of statistics. Gay extends the meaning of aggression itself in a discussion of the development of professions, of the division of labor, of the rise of a literature of advice, andof versions of neurosis that reflected a growing belief in the civil wars within the self. The First World War itself appears here as a massive expression of the internalized or repressed aggression of the previous century. An appendix covers theories of aggression. His argument is occasionally untidy, perhaps simplistic, but Gay proves here to be fascinating, original, and humane—a genial guide even when so concerned with conflict.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud
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Meet the Author

Peter Gay (1923—2015) was the author of more than twenty-five books, including the National Book Award winner The Enlightenment, the best-selling Weimar Culture, and the widely translated Freud: A Life for Our Time.

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