978-0-393-04570-3 / 9780393045703

Pleasure Wars (Bourgeois Experience, Victoria to Freud, Vol V)


Publisher:W. W. Norton & Company



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About the book:

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. "In the Victorian decades, the name bourgeois was at once a term of reproach and a source of self-respect." So Peter Gay opens his newest and perhaps most surprising work. For the Victorians we meet in this volume are not the stodgy, complacent characters of drawing-room comedy. They are instead a varied crowd, from the capitalists in the top tier of the bourgeoisie eager to be recognized as gentlemen or, better yet, dubbed as nobility to those at the bottom of the pile, the clerks and craftsmen mortally afraid of sinking into the mass of the proletariat. What they share is an anxiety, driven by their concern to advance up the social pyramid or at least to maintain the status they have achieved. Some of the individuals in this richly peopled narrative turn on their own class, none more bitterly than Gustave Flaubert; others celebrate their success, whether in Manchester or in Munich, by sponsoring symphony orchestras or establishing museums; still others become cultural hunters and gatherers, turning their newly acquired fortunes to the private accumulation of art, ranging from the "safe" works of the old masters to the daring innovations of the Impressionists. The stage is thus set for the explosion of modernism accompanied by an inevitable reaction against the subversive avant-garde of artists, composers, and writers as varied as Cezanne, Picasso, Stravinsky, Shaw, Ibsen, and Zola. No one reading this concluding volume of Peter Gay's magnificent revaluation of the nineteenth century will ever again use the term Victorian as a synonym for dull.

Pleasure Wars is the fifth and final volume in The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, Peter Gay's searching inquiry into the ideas and sensibilities that dominated nineteenth-century culture. Richard Sennett, referring to the series as a whole, wrote that Peter Gay's "magisterial portrait of the Victorian bourgeoisie makes the past make emotional sense."

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