A cultural historian tries to make sense of modernism.
An eminent intellectual historian leads the reader on a pleasant ramble through Modernist art and literature.November 21, 2007
Jean Strouse is named director of Dorothy and Lewis B Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library; succeeds founder Peter GayMay 9, 2003
David S Reynolds reviews book Savage Reprisals: Bleak House, Madame Bovary, Buddenbrooks by Peter GayAugust 4, 2002
Don't Get Mad, Write Novels
By David S. Reynolds
Published: August 4, 2002
Bleak House, Madame Bovary, Buddenbrooks.
By Peter Gay.
192 pp. New York:
W. W. Norton & Company. $24.95.
Peter Gay, the prominent cultural historian, here does a skillful turn as a literary critic. Highlighting three landmark novels of the 1850-1910 period -- ''Bleak House,'' ''Madame Bovary'' and ''Buddenbrooks'' -- Gay explores fiction as ''a mirror held up to its world,'' albeit a mirror that throws ''imperfect reflections.'' This broad premise gives him plenty of room to ruminate about literature in relation to history and biography. Reading ''Savage Reprisals,'' one of the Norton Lecture Series books, is like sitting in a college lecture hall and listening to a seasoned professor perform scintillating riffs on masterworks and their contexts.
The book's title refers to the vindictiveness that drives these novels. Some of Gay's most provocative insights relate to the revenge motif. He points out that Charles Dickens, infuriated by a botched lawsuit that wasted his time in 1844, gets ''reprisal for injuries suffered -- and injuries imagined'' in ''Bleak House'' (1853), where he satirizes the British court system as vicious and stupid. Gay shows that Dickens's flawless heroines, like Esther Summerson in ''Bleak House'' or Agnes Wickfield in ''David Copperfield,'' are not to be dismissed as cloying paragons. Instead, they can be viewed as the imaginative creations of an author who had ''problematic relationships with women, starting with his mother.'' Dickens was scarred in childhood when his mother refused to allow him to quit a warehouse job and resume his education, a refusal, he later said, ''I never can forget.'' Devastated also by the death of his beloved sister-in-law Mary Hogarth, Dickens assuaged his grief by fashioning idealized mother figures in his fiction.
Gustave Flaubert, too, used the novel to exorcise social and personal demons. The self-appointed scourge of middle-class mediocrity, he lamented to a friend, ''I feel against the stupidity of my epoch waves of hatred that choke me.'' His most memorable attack on bourgeois culture came in ''Madame Bovary'' (1857), his classic portrait of a bored housewife whose failure to find happiness in two adulterous affairs leads to her suicide. Here Gay navigates adroitly between history, biography and close reading. He notes that since divorce was banned in France during the period ''Madame Bovary'' was written, adultery was a ''perhaps necessary recourse for a restless husband or a neglected wife.'' He analyzes Emma Bovary with admirable subtlety. On the one hand, she embodies the provincial culture Flaubert detested. She is, in Gay's words, ''an instructive instance of the general inauthenticity, a small replica of her society at large.'' Still, as Gay shows, Flaubert deeply sympathized with her. Fleshing out the novelist's famous statement ''Madame Bovary, c'est moi,'' Gay informs us that Flaubert felt so close to his tortured heroine that he wept when writing and that he suffered two attacks of indigestion as he composed the scene in which she poisons herself.
Also hostile to bourgeois society, according to Gay, was Thomas Mann. Describing ''Buddenbrooks'' (1901), his novel about a family's decline over four generations, Mann spoke of ''the artist's sublime revenge on his experience.'' Gay demonstrates that in the novel Mann wreaks revenge on his well-heeled father, a senator and grain merchant, by excoriating capitalism. On a deeper level, Gay suggests, Mann in his fiction sought reprisal against repressive sexual conventions. Although married and the father of six, Mann wrestled with homosexual yearnings that surfaced most notably in ''Death in Venice,'' in which he portrays an aging man taken with a beautiful Polish boy. ''Buddenbrooks,'' Gay points out, is short on heterosexual love scenes and rife with homoerotic suggestions. For instance, the piano playing of the 8-year-old Hanno Buddenbrook is an orgy of sensual sound. Mann seems captivated not only by the music, which Gay calls the novel's ''harbinger and . . . agent of Eros,'' but also by the young musician, swept to orgasmic heights by his own playing.
Gay frames his readings with provocative theorizing about literature in its relation to human life and society. Well armed with solid biographical and historical facts, he is in a strong position to challenge the recently fashionable critical approach known as deconstruction or postmodernism. Assaulting the postmodern notion that ''there is no such thing as truth to begin with,'' that ''everything, a work of history as much as a novel, is only a text with its subtexts,'' he insists that novels reflect reality, though sometimes obliquely, and history represents a collective search for truth on the part of scholars who, despite disagreements, hope to establish ''a thoroughly well-informed accord on the past'': ''To put it bluntly, there may be history in fiction, but there should be no fiction in history.''
This argument is sound, though one has to consider the entire range of Gay's other books -- not just this slim one -- to find full support for it. In particular, his work on the Enlightenment and his multivolume study of the bourgeois experience stand as monuments of scrupulous scholarship. They lend credence to the notion that history, far from being merely a text or a subjective fabrication, is, at its best, a credible record of past people and events.
Because ''Savage Reprisals'' is literary criticism rather than history, it treads on more ambiguous territory than does Gay's previous work. Although Gay convincingly argues that his three authors ''have much to say to historians'' since they anchor their fiction in actual people and events, he also acknowledges that that they distort facts according to their passions and beliefs. His past books have revealed that bourgeois society was in many ways cultured and progressive. He balks, therefore, at his novelists' savage portraits of the bourgeois experience. For instance, he says ''Madame Bovary'' does ''a considerable injustice'' by caricaturing the French middle class as stupidly philistine; the novel is ''not a disinterested presentation of the evidence,'' and so its ''uses to the historian as historian are severely limited.'' Simultaneously fascinated and repelled by his authors' efforts as social commentators, he coins notably ambivalent epithets for them -- Dickens is an ''Angry Anarchist,'' Flaubert a ''Phobic Anatomist'' and Mann a ''Mutinous Patrician.''
A tapestry of contrasting shades, ''Savage Reprisals'' shares the complexity of its subjects. It reminds us that novels are written by real people with real feelings in real time, often about real events. To some, this may seem obvious. To those appalled by trendy dismissals of historical scholarship, it is a bracing return to common sense.cts. It reminds us that novels are written by real people with real feelings in
Alan Riding reviews book Schnitzler's Century: The Making of Middle-Class Culture, 1815-1914, by Peter Gay; photoDecember 28, 2001
Phyllis Rose reviews book Schnitzler's Century: The Making of Middle-Class Culture, 1815-1914 by Peter GayNovember 11, 2001
By Phyllis Rose
Published: November 11, 2001
The Making of Middle-Class Culture, 1815-1914.
By Peter Gay.
Illustrated. 334 pp. New York:
W. W.+Norton & Company. $27.95.
In a breathtakingly conceived series of five books published over some 15 years and called, collectively, ''The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud,'' Peter Gay established that at least some members of the European, American and British bourgeoisie enjoyed sex, had successful marriages, channeled aggression, cultivated self-awareness and supported the arts. Who said they didn't? You have to reach back to the historical platitudes of the 1950's and early 60's, in which the term ''Victorian'' is equivalent to prudish, philistine and materialistic, to find the picture Gay has worked so long, so inventively and so successfully to correct. Few students of the 19th century have read as widely and as imaginatively as Gay. Few deploy erudition as elegantly as he does. His research has added new ''data'' to the historic record: William Gladstone's massages of his wife's breasts so she could nurse, suggesting Victorians were not so prudish as we may have thought; Mrs. Beeton's instructions to Victorian housewives on how to kill a turtle, suggesting they were not so squeamish. Familiar to readers of Gay's earlier volumes, the stories are reprised in ''Schnitzler's Century,'' which Gay calls a ''synthesis.''
In a gesture meant to be as witty and naughty as assuredly it is tin-eared, Gay dedicates the century he has so long studied to a relatively obscure Austrian writer of plays, short stories and novels. Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) has consistently found a small but appreciative audience for his sophisticated stories of sexual intrigue. An early trifle called ''Reigen,'' 10 linked dialogues between a man and a woman, each a prelude to sex, inspired Max Ophuls's 1950 film, ''La Ronde,'' and David Hare's 1998 play, ''The Blue Room.'' Schnitzler's ''Dream Novella'' inspired Stanley Kubrick's last film, ''Eyes Wide Shut.''
Schnitzler's Vienna is a world of sexual adventure and artistic ambition; much of the talent was Jewish and much of the political passion anti-Semitic. Of his many extraordinary novels and novellas, I recommend ''The Road Into the Open'' (1908), in which Georg, a gifted but dilettantish composer, begins a love affair with a gentle, lovely singing teacher, Anna Rosner. Georg is a minor aristocrat; Anna is bourgeois. She becomes pregnant. Georg never seriously entertains marriage, though he knows he should. He dithers until the moment of the baby's birth, as he has dithered about his music, putting more emotional energy into avoiding commitment than he has ever devoted to accomplishment. Anna never reproaches him and accepts the end of her personal hopes with dignity and calm. The reader is struck by the total absence of humbug in their portraits, and by the emotional clarity with which Schnitzler treats autobiographical material, for the callous, philandering Georg is an aristocratic, de-Semiticized version of himself.
Although much of Schnitzler's writing concerns philanderers, and he himself comes across in Gay's account as an unlikable roué, his three novellas about women, ''Beatrice,''+ ''Fr* ulein Else'' and ''Thérèse,'' show him going out of his way to depict women sympathetically and their mental states, especially in extreme erotic circumstances, with complexity. Beatrice is tempted by a lover her son's age, and Else, a teenager, is forced to beg for a loan on her father's behalf from an older man who asks a sexual favor in return. These tight stories remind us both in scope and in the protagonists' socioeconomic background of Freud's case studies. It's not hard to see why Gay, who prides himself on writing ''cultural history informed by psychoanalysis,'' would be interested in Schnitzler, a writer whom Freud himself considered his literary double. Unfortunately, there isn't very much about Schnitzler here, and few readers will be led to associate the bourgeois ascendancy with his name.
Gay focuses on one episode, which took place when Schnitzler was 16. His father read the young man's diary, including an account of visits to a prostitute. The father, a well-known physician, hauled his son into his consulting room and showed an illustrated treatise on sexually transmitted diseases. The two were furious at each other, the young man at the invasion of his privacy, the father at the son's stupidity. Gay tries to turn this incident into the kind of emblematic episode that has served some of the new historicists so well. He opens with it and comes back to it at the start of succeeding chapters, as evidence variously of Victorian sexuality, anxiety, aggression and expectations of privacy. But the unmemorable vignette is not so much rich as it is forced to yield up meaning.
In the past, Gay has been a master at treading the ground between the particular and the abstract, finding new particulars and revising prized abstractions. He is a skilled biographer (of Freud) and memoirist, who nonetheless understands the danger of reducing all truth to the truths of the individual life. He wrote this book in the conviction, he says, ''that while it may be hard to live with generalizations, it is inconceivable to live without them.'' But while he is still bashing the bourgeoisophobes with unabated energy and playfulness, some of his favorite facts have gotten shopworn. The whole book takes too much for granted, reminding me of the convicts in the joke who know each other's stories so well they can merely call out, ''No. 14,'' to produce tears, and ''32'' to produce laughter.
As goalie defending the bourgeois enterprise, Gay fends off corner kicks even from Freud, who, in presenting neurosis as a product of sexual repression, criticizes the bourgeoisie too much for Gay's taste. Perhaps he has begun to mistake his own puckish corrections and saves for well-proven theoretical positions, and in the process come full circle back to something resembling the silliest of the old generalizations about Victorian culture, which his scholarship helped do away with. Or perhaps there is an Olympian kind of wisdom here I do not follow.
So we get: ''Everyone but a fanatical devotee of the new somewhere got off the train racing toward modernism.'' And in conclusion: ''It almost seems as though the Victorians left all that was best about them to the ungrateful generations that followed them, and that the evils of our times are our own invention.''
Generalizations like this will send many of us back to biographies and novels, and if some of the novels now are Schnitzler's, we should be grateful to Peter Gay
Peter Gay, emeritus professor of histor at Yale, discusses latest book, Schnitzler's Century, which examines sexual mores and anxieties of Victorian era as seen through life and work of Arthur Schnitzler; photosNovember 10, 2001
Katherine Gregg disputes Peggy Constantine's June 20 review of Peter Gay book MozartAugust 22, 1999
Eric Bentley letter on Peter Gay's July 11 Bookend essay about Viennese playwright Arthur Schnitzler and his views on sexAugust 1, 1999
Erna Schwerin letter on Peggy Constantine June 20 review of Mozart by Peter GayJuly 11, 1999
Peggy Constantine reviews book Mozart by Peter GayJune 20, 1999
Richard Bernstein comments on Penguin Lives, new series of short biographies created by James Atlas; focuses on Peter Gay's Mozart and Garrry Wills's St Augustine; photo; drawingMay 5, 1999
Belinda Cooper letter on Peter Gay article (Jan 10) on Joseph Vilsmaier's film on Comedian HarmonistsJanuary 31, 1999
Richard Mazer letter on Peter Gay Nov 22 review of Victor Klemperer book I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years 1933-1941December 20, 1998
Frank Kermode reviews book My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin by Peter Gay; drawingOctober 25, 1998
New York Public Library appoints historian Peter J Gay as founding director of $15-million humanities center that is being established to foster 'innovative thinking about society'; his photo; library hopes that Dorothy and Lewis B Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, in renovated space at main library, will be hub of humanities scholarship and discourse; library president Paul LeClerc discusses plansJuly 30, 1997
To the Editor: With all due respect to Caryn James ("Amy Had Golden Curls; Jo Had a Rat. Who Would You Rather Be?" Dec. 25) and Peter Gay ("The 'Legless Angel' of 'David Copperfield': There's More to Her Than Victorian Piety," Jan. 22), the most misunderstood figure in literature is neither Amy March nor Agnes Wickfield. That honor goes, of course, to Sid Sawyer.February 26, 1995
To the Editor: As a psychotherapist who is also deeply connected to literature, I was delighted to read Peter Gay's insightful essay. His understanding of Agnes Wickfield gives due credit to a wrongly maligned young woman. I have always found Agnes pretty wonderful myself, and understood her "monitory gesture" to have very specific meanings.February 19, 1995
To the Editor: I appreciated Peter Gay's essay on Agnes Wickfield, as it brought back and validated memories of my own love affair with her.February 19, 1995
LEAD: Peter Gay, Don DeLillo and J. F. Powers are among the 10 authors nominated for the 1988 National Book Awards. The nominations were announced yesterday by Barbara Prete, the executive director of the sponsoring organization, National Book Awards Inc.October 11, 1988
LEAD: To the Editor:May 29, 1988
LEAD: Freud A Life for Our Time By Peter Gay 810 pages. W. W. Norton & Company. $25.April 20, 1988
Books of The Times; Biography Relates Freud's Theories to His Life
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Published: April 20, 1988
Freud A Life for Our Time By Peter Gay 810 pages. W. W. Norton & Company. $25.
It has been nearly 50 years since Freud's death, nearly a century since he began to formulate the underpinnings of psychoanalysis, and it is clear, in retrospect, just how accurately he predicted his fate - as he once put it, to ''agitate the sleep of mankind.'' The picture of man that Freud bequeathed to the 20th century, after all, was a peculiarly modern and disturbing one, a picture of man as a conflicted creature, torn by his dual yearnings for love and death and besieged by unconscious impulses only barely held in check by the blandishments of civilization.
The Freud who emerges from Peter Gay's intelligent and wholly absorbing new biography is himself a contradictory figure: ''an unreconstructed nineteenth-century gentleman in his social, ethical, and sartorial style'' whose revelations about sexuality would shock his contemporaries and indelibly shape the next century's intellectual discourse; ''the nemesis of self-deception and illusions'' who fearlessly used himself as a guinea pig yet fiercely guarded his own privacy; a map maker of the mind who redefined the limits of reason and yet made his own life a model of self-control.
Thanks to his own writings and a vast body of secondary literature, Freud already boasts a minutely annotated life. Mr. Gay, a cultural historian who has written several shorter studies of Freud, has obviously drawn on earlier sources (as well as such new material as Freud's highly revealing correspondence with his friend Wilhelm Fliess, which was published in its entirety for the first time in 1985), but he has produced a judicious, original biography, scrupulously grounded in close readings of his subject's work.
The book is neither reverential, like Ernest Jones's famous life of his mentor, nor as judgmental as other more recent studies. Instead, Mr. Gay situates Freud's theories within a cultural and historical context while tracing their relationship to the psychoanalyst's own life. As a result, we become privy to the fascinating dialogue Freud maintained in his mind between ''private feelings and scientific generalizations,'' and we are made to see that ''beneath the surface of his rational argumentation, there lurks Freud the disappointed father, the concerned mentor, the anxious son.''
Like such biographers as Paul Roazen, Mr. Gay contends that Freud's controversial views of women (as a kind of castrated man, lacking a strong superego, etc.) grew out of his ''larger cultural loyalties, his Victorian style'' and his reluctance to come to terms fully with his own mother. Mr. Gay also argues that Freud's frustrating four-year-long engagement to Martha Bernays left its mark on his theories about the sexual nature of neurosis, and he notes that the death of Freud's daughter Sophie in 1920 (combined with several other losses) could have contributed to the development of ''his late psychoanalytic system, with its stress on aggression and death.''
After sketching in Freud's family background (the weak father, the strong-willed mother, the proliferation of siblings), Mr. Gay quickly moves on to look at just how Freud assembled the rudiments of psychoanalytic theory and how the fledging psychoanalytic movement slowly accrued international recognition even as it was riven by internal dissent. Some of these scenes, drawn with novelistic care by Mr. Gay, verge on low comedy, what with the psychoanalysts wildly coining self-serving analyses of one another. Freud dubbed Alfred Adler's actions ''the revolt of an abnormal individual driven mad by ambition''; he described Jung as ''all out of his wits,'' and he characterized Otto Rank as ''an impostor by nature.''
In describing these battles, Mr. Gay is careful not only to delineate the Oedipal clash of personalities that was exacerbated by Freud's need for enemies as well as friends but also to communicate the underlying conflict of ideas. He characterizes ''Totem and Taboo'' as Freud's attempt ''to anticipate, and to outdo, his 'heir' and rival'' Jung and ''Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety'' as a response of sorts to Rank's defection.
For the lay reader, in fact, one of the virtues of this biography is Mr. Gay's lucid and succinct analysis of Freud's essential texts and his assessment of their relationship to one another: from ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' (1899) and ''Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality'' (1905), which articulated the basic principles of psychoanalysis, through the reformulations laid out, after the war, in ''Beyond the Pleasure Principle'' (1920) and ''The Ego and the Id'' (1923) - works that helped define, as Mr. Gay puts it, ''a general psychology'' that reached beyond the world of neuroses to that of ''normal mental activity.''
With such subsequent books as ''The Future of an Illusion'' (1927) and ''Civilization and Its Discontents'' (1929), we see Freud moving even further into the realm of speculation as he formulates a psychoanalytic theory of religion, politics and culture. Although there had always been a dark streak of determinism in his work, these two late works were to be his most somber and pessimistic. ''Life, as it is imposed upon us,'' he wrote, ''is too hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointments, insoluble tasks.'' It is as though, he added, ''the intention that man should be 'happy' is not contained in the plan of 'Creation.' ''
No doubt these sentiments mirrored Freud's own fears of aging and death as well as his growing anxiety about the events overtaking Europe. In March 1938, the Nazis marched into Austria; in June, Freud and his family left Vienna for London. The following year, suffering from terminal cancer, he died after asking his doctor for a fatal dose of morphine
LEAD: To the Editor:March 6, 1988
LEAD: A GODLESS JEW Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis.October 11, 1987
THE BOURGEOIS EXPERIENCE Victoria to Freud. Volume Two: The Tender Passion. By Peter Gay. Illustrated. 490 pp. New York: Oxford University Press. $24.95. THE second volume of Peter Gay's projected five-volume survey of middle-class culture in the 19th century is a less tidy affair than its predecessor. In ''The Education of the Senses,'' (1984), the first volume of ''The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud,'' Mr. Gay took issue with received wisdom about Victorian sexuality. Despite their e...March 16, 1986
THE TENDER PASSION: The Bourgeois Experience, Victoria to Freud. By Peter Gay. 490 pages. Oxford University Press. $24.95. In the first volume of his massive examination of bourgeois life during the 19th century, the historian Peter Gay took it upon himself to re-examine the sexual behavior and attitudes of the Victorians, both here and in Western Europe. ''Education of the Senses'' (1984), as that volume was called, proved to be a witty, erudite and controversial study that challenged many of ...March 1, 1986
BOOKS OF THE TIMES
BOOKS OF THE TIMES; VICTORIANS IN LOVE
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Published: March 1, 1986
THE TENDER PASSION: The Bourgeois Experience, Victoria to Freud. By Peter Gay. 490 pages. Oxford University Press. $24.95. In the first volume of his massive examination of bourgeois life during the 19th century, the historian Peter Gay took it upon himself to re-examine the sexual behavior and attitudes of the Victorians, both here and in Western Europe. ''Education of the Senses'' (1984), as that volume was called, proved to be a witty, erudite and controversial study that challenged many of the stereotypes commonly held about that not so distant era - besides arguing that the middle classes of that period were considerably more interested in sex than its genteel manners suggested, the book presented a thoroughgoing reassessment of the role and nature of Victorian women, persuasively arguing that the old image of them as repressed, frigid, anesthetic creatures was as inadequate as it was demeaning.
Now, in ''The Tender Passion,'' a sequel of sorts to that earlier volume, Mr. Gay proposes to take a detailed look at Victorian notions of love -love as an ideal of bourgeois life and love as a day-to-day reality, realized by actual couples. Almost immediately, however, Mr. Gay runs into problems. For one thing, given the contiguous nature of love and sex, he often has difficulty confining himself to a discussion of the issue at hand and hence strays into material familiar from ''Education of the Senses'' (i.e. repression and its consequences) or material more appropriately discussed in that previous work (i.e. prostitution and homosexuality).
Secondly, he has an irritating tendency to impose strict Freudian interpretations on all his subject matter (trains are always taken as erotic symbols, as are gardens, banquets and department stores), combined with a tendency to manipulate his data - even the most obdurate - to serve his own didactic ends. For example, in arguing that love was the ''governing preoccupation'' of 19th-century novelists, he writes that even ''a novelist like Gogol who, from desperate psychological conflicts of his own, sought to excise any intimations of deep erotic involvements in his fictions, paid indirect tribute to love by his energetic exertions to evade it.''
To make matters worse, many of the points Mr. Gay seems to want to make in this book end up striking the reader as obvious: his observation, for instance, that Victorian marriages were ''not just the source of conflicts, but also a means for their resolution''; or for that matter, his assertion that generalizations are difficult to make, that ''idiosyncratic intimate histories and the divergent pressures exerted by religious allegiances, social distinctions, and national habits must make any description of characteristic middle-class styles in love and sex richly polychromatic.'' Of course, the reader's inclined to say, who was ever foolish enough to suggest that Victorian couples were all unhappy, or that a single sweeping generalization could sum up the temper of the times?
Largely as a result of these problems, ''The Tender Passion'' reads less as a spirited, original inquiry into social history, than as a fluently written compendium of Victorian love stories, anecdotes and quotes. As such, however, the book is informative, occasionally illuminating and often entertaining, offering the reader a variety of Victorian definitions of love, ranging from Novalis' romantic conception of love as a kind of applied religion (''love is the final purpose of world history - the amen of the universe'') to Diderot's cyncial assessment of love as no more than ''the voluptuous rubbing of two intestines'' to Freud's dictum that love requires the uniting of ''two currents,'' ''the tender and the sensual.'' The volume's discussion of love as portrayed in the fiction of Trollope, James, George Eliot, Proust, Dickens and Flaubert attests to both an enormous amount of reading and a mind well versed in the use of psychoanalysis as an interpretative technique. And the chapter titled ''Stratagems of Sensuality'' provides the reader with a lively, if somewhat arbitrary, sampling of the ways in which Victorians found ''displacements'' for their erotic desire. Wagner's operas, Mr. Gay observes, ''manifestly embodied, and boldly staged, sexual longings and fulfillments that ordinary mortals keep to themselves''; while the 19th-century ''love of nature'' cult ''held the most profitable possibilities for the sensual,'' locating all manner of erotic metaphors and analogies in such natural phenomenon as ''the delicious shiver'' of aspen leaves and the rhythmic waves of the ''fiery sea.''
As in ''Education of the Senses,'' Mr. Gay has culled an enormous amount of material from diaries, letters, novels, medical texts and philosophical treatises, and he again attempts to extrapolate readings about society and class from individual case studies. His overall conclusions, too, echo those of his earlier book -namely that the Victorian era was essentially a century of transition, a time of change, during which those two contradictory impulses - toward freedom and toward control - came clashing noisily together, creating in their wake nervousness and confusion.
In the arena of love and sex, this meant that fiercely felt passions were often cloaked beneath decorous facades; that privacy and reticence -those twin gods of the good bourgeois household - frequently concealed a high measure of tolerance and liberality. ''Their defensiveness was a tribute to passion,'' Mr. Gay writes, ''displaying a wry respect for its powers. It invites the paradoxical speculation that the century of Victoria was at heart more profoundly erotic than ages more casual about their carnal desires and consummations.''
As Mr. Gay adds, that very guardedness on the part of the Victorians also creates difficulties for the historian intent on deciphering their lives. And that, in the end, may in part, explain the sketchiness of ''The Tender Passion.''
Photo of Peter Gay
THE BOURGEOIS EXPERIENCE Victoria to Freud. Volume One: Education of the Senses. By Peter Gay. Illustrated. 534 pp. New York: Oxford University Press. $25. THIS is the first volume in what promises to be an immensely ambitious work. (It will, we are told, ''eventually comprise at least five volumes.'') Peter Gay proposes to investigate and explain the inner world of the European and American middle classes from the 1820's to the outbreak of World War I. His work, he says, is ''history informed ...January 8, 1984
To the Editor: In response to Peter Gay's essay "The 'Legless Angel' of 'David Copperfield': There's More to Her Than Victorian Piety" (Jan. 22), there is further evidence of Agnes Wickfield's sexuality when we remember her as Uriah Heep's anticipated prize. While David Copperfield, temporarily distracted (and sexually attracted) by the childish Dora's curls and giggles, might have seen Agnes as a domestic sister-friend-guardian angel, "pointing upward," Uriah gloats over Agnes with lip-smackin...February 19, 1995
THE CULTIVATION OF HATRED The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud. Volume 3. By Peter Gay. Illustrated. 685 pp: New York: W. W. Norton & Company. $30.September 5, 1993
LEAD: To the Editor:July 15, 1990
LEAD: Reading Freud Explorations and Entertainments By Peter Gay 204 pages. Yale University Press. $24.95.March 23, 1990
Books of The Times; Of Freud and His Obsession With the Enigmatic
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Published: March 23, 1990
Explorations and Entertainments
By Peter Gay
204 pages. Yale University Press. $24.95.
In his monumental biography of Freud that appeared in 1988, the historian Peter Gay created a rich and compelling portrait of the father of psychoanalysis - a portrait that situated Freud's theories within a cultural and historical context and that explored the relationship of those theories to his own life. The reader came to know Freud ''the disappointed father, the concerned mentor, the anxious son,'' as well as Freud the fearless researcher - a man shaped by 19th-century values and ideals, and yet at the same time committed to the articulation of theories that would indelibly transform the 20th century.
Though the very thoroughness and erudition of that volume would seem to preclude any immediate follow-ups, Mr. Gay points out that ''as Freud has taught us, there is always more to know about people, even fully documented ones.'' He has accordingly produced this fascinating new collection of essays, which attempts to ''reduce the blank spots'' remaining on the map of Freud's mind - to ''appproach, and partly resolve, the mystery that is Freud.''
In the opening essay of this book, Mr. Gay notes that Freud himself was obsessed with unsolved mysteries and riddles: ''They troubled him as an unresolved chord troubles a musician. Conundrums did not just fascinate him; they tortured him.'' This ''compulsion to tackle engimas'' led him, toward the end, into two of the ''most eccentric commitments of his life, both revisionist in the extreme'' - his identification of Moses as an Egyptian and Shakespeare as the Earl of Oxford.
Why would Freud develop such an ardent interest in J. Thomas Looney's controversial book ''Shakespeare Identified'' (which laid out a detailed argument for Shakespeare's identity as the 17th Earl of Oxford)? In raising this question, Mr. Gay discounts Ernest Jones's well-known view that ''something in Freud's mentality led him to take a special interest in people not being what they seemed to be'' - that the idea of Shakespeare not being Shakespeare meshed with his childhood wish that he might have been the son of someone other than his impecunious father.
Instead, Mr. Gay identifies shared attitudes that would have made Freud receptive to Looney's ideas; and he discusses how Freud's preoccupation with the ''Shakespeare problem'' reflected his insatiable ''greed for knowledge'' - an ''urge to know'' that was, at least in part, erotic. As Mr. Gay sees it, this urge developed early on in Freud's life: in a large family (five sisters and two brothers), intellectual achievement was a means for young Sigmund to obtain his parents' attention. Figuring out the answers to important riddles -like the question of Shakespeare's identity - was an exercise ''through which he could reiterate his claim to paternal and, even more, maternal love.''
Similar applications of Freudian theory to Freud's own life are made in the essay titled ''Six Names in Search of an Interpretation,'' in which Mr. Gay attempts to analyze the signficance of Freud's choice of names for his children. Pointing out that Freud changed his own name from Sigismund to Sigmund, Mr. Gay argues that ''the bestowal of a name is an exercise of power.''
He goes on to note that Freud named his children after significant individuals in his own life. Mathilde was named after the wife of the Viennese internist Josef Breuer, who had assisted a young and poverty-stricken Freud. Jean Martin was named after the French neuropathologist Jean-Martin Charcot, whom Freud worked closely with in the 1880's. Oliver was named after his boyhood hero, Oliver Cromwell. Ernst was named after Ernst Brucke, in whose laboratory Freud worked for six happy years. Sophie was named after the niece of his former teacher and friend Samuel Hammerschlag, and Anna after one of Hammerschlag's daughters.
As Mr. Gay notes, these choices indicated a deviation from the Jewish tradition, popular in Central Europe, of naming children after deceased relatives: in this respect, he argues, they reflected Freud's irreligiosity, his tendency to see himself as a Jew within ''a larger mental world: that of the European scientific, most specifically the materialist, positivist mind.'' In addition, Mr. Gay suggests, Freud's decision to name so many of his children after father figures or members of their families underscored Freud's continuing struggle to come to terms with his own father; they served as a record of his own ''heroic and historic bid for inner freedom, a freedom that was the essential condition for his discoveries.''
The other essays in this book tend to be less detailed and somewhat less provocative than the two just mentioned. ''Freud and Freedom'' rehashes the idea of determinism in Freud's work - a subject previously addressed by Mr. Gay's biography, as well as other scholarly works, while ''Serious Jests'' rehashes many of Freud's thoughts on humor laid down by the master himself in ''Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious.''
The essay on Freud's relationship with his sister-in-law Minna Bernays comes to the hedged conclusion that they probably did not have an affair; and the one on Freud's reading habits comes to the hardly earth-shattering conclusion that the psychoanalyst had a penchant for seemingly conservative works with ''an undertone of rebelliousness'' (asked to assemble a list of 10 ''good'' books, he listed such volumes as Mark Twain's ''Sketches,'' Kipling's ''Jungle Book'' and Macaulay's ''Essays'').
As usual, Mr. Gay combines his authoritative knowledge of Freud's life and works with crisp, engaging prose. If some of the essays in this volume seem somewhat familiar, that is only because we already know so much about Freud from Mr. Gay's own previous biography. All in all, this is a delightful coda to that volume, and a lively and entertaining book on its own.
Photo: Peter Gay (Yale University)
LEAD: To the Editor:June 7, 1989
LEAD: To the Editor:April 9, 1989
LEAD: In a case more reminiscent of Pirandello than of Freud, scholars of psychoanalysis are in a furor over an article by an eminent historian.January 22, 1989
A Freudian Spoof Is Slipped Past Many Scholars
By DANIEL GOLEMAN
Published: January 22, 1989
In a case more reminiscent of Pirandello than of Freud, scholars of psychoanalysis are in a furor over an article by an eminent historian.
Some say the historian, perhaps in league with a magazine editor, perpetrated a scholarly fraud. Others say a group of scholars mistook a spoof for an authentic historical document.
The article, by Peter Gay, a historian at Yale University who is the author of a recent biography of Freud, was published in Harper's magazine in 1981. It was ostensibly a review of Freud's book ''The Interpretation of Dreams'' by an anonymous contemporary of Freud. And it was written by Dr. Gay rather than translated by him, as the introductory remarks misleadingly stated.
In those remarks, Dr. Gay wrote that the article was a recent discovery from an obscure Austrian medical journal, adding, ''As far as I can discover, it has been wholly overlooked in the voluminous literature on Freud and appears here in English, in my translation and with my annotations, for the first time.'' The Scholars Jump In
Some Freud scholars seized upon the article as a new discovery. Since 1981 it has been cited in at least one scholarly article and photocopies have been pored over by the circle of scholars who specialize in Freud.
''A false document is like a computer virus - it gets into the literature and replicates,'' said Frank Sulloway, an intellectual historian who is author of a biography of Freud. ''If someone published a false review of Newton's Principia that sounded like it had been written by Leibnitz, it would be an outrage.''
The article was considered important because it appeared to reveal that a peer had given Freud's major opus a sympathetic reading at a time when the psychoanalyst himself was complaining that his book was being ignored. The Importance of Silence
Dr. Gay drew fire for not trying to set the record straight once he knew his article was being misread. ''The most important thing is his silence,'' said Peter Swales, a Freud historian who is Dr. Gay's chief accuser. ''When he realized scholars were taking it seriously, he should have made a pubic statement at once.''
''It never occurred to me to make a public statement about the article,'' Dr. Gay said. ''The whole thing was lighthearted - nothing but a joke.''
Some scholars disagree. ''A spoof is immediately recognizable as such,'' said Frederick Crews, a professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley. ''It abounds in signals allowing the reader to perceive it as a joke. A hoax contains no such signals; it becomes identifiable after the fact, when the perpetrator gets his laugh.
''This incident lacks an essential ingredient for a hoax, making it an apparent fraud. Nearly seven and a half years have passed since the ostensible review was published, and Gay has yet to make a public statement about it.'' Not Meant Seriously, He Says
Mr. Swales may be the only scholar who has actually cited the Harper's article in a scholarly work. Dr. Gay said he was aware that Mr. Swales had done so, but at the time ''it didn't occur to me to be a big thing.'' He also said that when he wrote the article ''it never occurred to me that anyone would take it seriously.''
Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's, invited Dr. Gay to write the article for the magazine's ''Revisions'' series, in which modern writers reconsidered classics.
''One was I. F. Stone reviewing Plato as though it had just come out,'' said Mr. Lapham. ''But Gay took it a step further. He took on the persona of an earnest contemporary critic at the time - but it was just an elaboration of a device we had used before.''
Because Dr. Gay's article followed all the conventions of the scholarly translation it purported to be, the only direct clue to its true status was ''Revisions'' at the top of the page. That clue seems to have been missed or disregarded by the scholars who took the article seriously.
''It was written as a spoof, accepted as a spoof, and published as one,'' said Dr. Gay. ''But if you do parodies, you have to make it a little obvious it's a parody so people know, which I didn't do. But the context - it being in the series - makes it perfectly clear that I didn't discover the article.'' Hints? Winks? A New Debate
There was nothing in the article telling the reader that it was not the translation it purported to be. ''There are absolutely no winks to the reader that let you know this is a spoof, which seems recklessness or sheer imprudence on Harper's part,'' said Mr. Swales. ''Not everyone knows the subtleties of the magazine.''
Professor Crews said: ''Harper's as well as Professor Gay has some explaining to do. If he was having a bit of fun, the question is why Gay did not feel the most elementary obligation of a scholar to help his readers distinguish between truth and pretense.''
Mr. Lapham said no further signs had been necessary. ''Harper's has traditionally been more literary than scholarly,'' he said. ''We deal in irony and many other literary devices, and experiment with literary forms. Had this been in a magazine not geared to a literary audience accustomed to such devices, we would have been obliged to make it more obvious.''
Besides, he said, there were hints in the article itself that it was not authentic: ''For instance, the reviewer calls Freud 'the last romantic.' That would never have been said in a medical journal, and certainly not at the time. There are many anachronisms like that one, and an unbelievable prescience.'' Inspired to Look Closer
It was just those anachronisms and that prescience that finally made Mr. Swales question the article. He looked for the original article only within the last year when he felt a need to check the accuracy of part of the supposed translation. He wrote to Dr. Gay last October and received no reply.
Dr. Gay and Mr. Swales acknowledge that ''we are not exctly pen pals,'' as Dr. Gay put it. He said Mr. Swales' letter to him was ''nasty'' in tone and undeserving of a reply.
Dr. Gay said he had received only one or two other letters from scholars asking for a copy of the original article. He wrote them explaining that the article was a fabrication.
One who wrote Dr. Gay soon after the article was published was David James Fischer, a psychoanalyst who was then a historian at the University of Southern California. He congratulated Dr. Gay on his discovery and asked if he would send him a copy of the German original.
''He wrote back saying it was a joke and that I should have known better,'' Mr. Fischer said. ''But as a psychoanalyst, I know jokes have meanings. I have to ask, what's the meaning of the joke? That's something only Gay -and maybe his psychoanalyst -knows.''
Photo of Peter Gay, a historian.