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.
Though distinguished historian Gay declares in the preface that his new work is not "merely a Reader's Digest condensation of the bulky texts that preceded it," readers of his five-volume study, The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, will find most of the material decidedly familiar. As in the series' first book, Education of the Senses, he argues here that the Victorian middle classes were much less inhibited about sex than modern stereotypes suggest. As in the last, Pleasure Wars, he finds that bourgeois philistinism has been vastly overstated and that there were plenty of respectable patrons for avant-garde art and music. Indeed, as Gay admits, some of the actual examples here are drawn from his former work. So what's new? Interweaving incidents from the life of Austrian playwright and novelist Arthur Schnitzler, "sometimes briefly as an impetus to broader investigations, sometimes as a participant," Gay begins his main text with Schnitzler's father breaking into the 16-year-old's locked desk to find, and vehemently reproach Arthur for, a diary indiscreetly recording the boy's erotic exploits; he closes with the diary's August 5, 1914, entry about the "dreadful and monstrous news" of WWI's outbreak. In between, the incident with Schnitzler's diary turns up several more times: as a demonstration of conflicted bourgeois notions about privacy, as an illustration of more lenient treatment of children (Dr. Schnitzler lectured his son, but didn't beat him). As is always the case with Gay, the prose is graceful, the insights solid, the specific examples vivid and illuminating. Fellow historians and longtime readers will feel (correctly) that the author really isn't saying anything he hasn't said before; for those who lack the stamina for The Bourgeois Experience, this is an agreeable one-volume summary with some additional nuance. Illus. (Nov. 12) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
"Through Gay's eyes we can get a warmer, more vivid and more accurate sense of the 'bourgeois experience' than has ever been available before." Sunday Telegraph "Schnitzler's Century is really a love story. [Gay's] latest book allows him to show off in a field he has made his own. [He] takes his chance elegantly and always interestingly." Andrew Lycett, Literary Review "Gay's own psychoanalytical approach is shown to brilliant and convincing effect... Schnitzler's Century [is] told with wisdom, wit and sensitivity." Financial Times
The author of The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, Freud: A Life for Our Time, and many other works, Gay takes a fresh look at the 19th century and challenges long-held assumptions about the Victorian age. In this sweeping and provocative survey, Gay uses Viennese playwright Arthur Schnitzler as his guide to exploring the erotic and unconventional currents of bourgeois life in Europe and the United States. He weaves together strands of philosophy, psychology, literature, science, religion, and domestic practices, and the narrative frequently spins off into unexpected territory. For example, Gay offers a delightful discourse on Victorian anxiety, its causes, and its cures. The book can be seen as a distillation of and companion to Gay's five-volume series, "The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud," but it clearly stands alone as a vital contribution to modern history. Recommended for academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/01.]-Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib, Lancaster, PA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.