There are a great many references to Freud in The Naked Heart and the other volumes of The Bourgeois Experience but for all that, Gay wields psychoanalytic terminology with a rather light hand. As he has written elsewhere, all historians are psychologists, though not all the time. There are a few observations on the psychological dynamics of trashy popular (sometimes immensely popular) fiction, and another few on the psychological functions of diaries and autobiographies. There is a plausible reading of David Copperfield as an Oedipal drama; and other, scattered comments. But for the most part, Freud hovers rather than presides.
One might have supposed that Peter Gay’s splendid two-volume The Enlightenment: An Interpretation would be the high point of his career. It is a pleasure to be proved mistaken and to salute The Bourgeois Experience as a historical masterpiece, a triumph of energy, craft, judgment, and style.
Education of the Senses, the first volume of Peter Gay's The Bourgeois Experience, was published in 1984 to enormous critical acclaim--and controversy. Now, in The Tender Passion, Gay continues his eloquent, psychoanalytically informed exploration of the Victorian era and its middle classes.
Whereas Education of the Senses focused on the sexual attitudes and practices of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie, The Tender Passion concentrates on their notions of love. No less revisionist than he was in his first volume, Gay argues here that the Victorians were able not only to enjoy their sexulaity but to know love in its most exalted sense. The realities of love for the Victorians, he shows, came much closer to their ideals than many have thought. Gay delves into a huge body of material, from philosophical treatises to medical texts, from letters and diaries to works of fiction. The book is replete with fascinating insights into the lives and works of individual Victorians--Dickens, Stendhal, Wagner, Oscar Wilde, Beatrice Potter and Sydney Webb, among them--and his discussions range from the "discovery" of homosexuality to the ways love was diverted or disguised in music and religion.
Particularly compelling is the opening section in whch Gay analyzes in depth the separate love stories of two young men, one English and one German--stories which, in Gay's view, "dramatize some of the careers in love open to the middle class in the decades of Victoria and beyond."
A work of remarkable learning, analytical sophistication, and stylistic verve, The Tender Passion is an impressive addition to a monumental historical enterprise.
About the Author:
Peter Gay, Sterling Professor of History at Yale University, is the author, most recently, of Freud for Historians.
The latest volume in the acclaimed historian's mounumental series
·Focuses on the Vioctorians' notions of love
·Ffilled with fascinating glimpses of individuals
·Draws on huge body of letters, diaries, and other original sources
Peter Gay's multi-volume inquiry into the ideas and sensibilities which dominated nineteenth-century culture, 'The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud' (described by George Steiner as a 'work on the grand scale, both informative and penetrating'), is one of the great achievements in modern historical writing. It has revolutionized our thinking about the nineteenth century as a whole, and particularly about its dynamo – the middle class. In 'The Naked Heart', the fourth volume of 'The Bourgeois Experience', Gay examines that class's intense preoccupation with the self. At the very time that industrial and mercantile buccaneers, inventors, statesmen and natural scientists conquered new worlds through their mastery of objective facts, much of the bourgeoisie looked inward. 'The secret life of the self,' he writes, 'had grown into a favourite and wholly serious indoor sport.' 'The Naked Heart' crosses seemingly impenetrable divides. Gay moves across gulfs separating business magnates from petty clerks, professional men from small merchants, academics from those without university education; he touches the lives of housewives and of women who acted boldly, beyond domesticity, by entering harshly competitive fields as professional authors and by making themselves into indefatigable gadflies of a male-dominated world. He follows the middle classes' preoccupation with inwardness through self-portraits and autobiographies, fiction both elevated and popular, and works of history – all more widespread in the nineteenth century than ever before – and through the intimate confessions so characteristic of middle-class men and women. 'The Naked Heart' does not confine itself to the famous; it explores how the makers of international best-sellers approached – or evaded – the inner lives of their characters in works now little remembered. And in its broad sweep, it counterpoises a painter like Caspar David Friedrich, forgotten for decades, who wanted his landscapes to convey a profound religious experience, with Jean Francois Millet whose 'Angelus' would become a household favourite, endlessly reproduced, with the original fought over by collectors until the Louvre finally bought it for more than 800,000 francs. In investigating the inner life of the whole Victorian bourgeoisie, 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. 'The Naked Heart' is a work that will be widely read, praised, debated and re-read. Peter Gay is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University. In addition to the 'Bourgeois Experience' series, he is the author of the best-selling 'Freud: A Life for Our Time', and a two-volume study of the Enlightenment, of which the first, 'The Rise of Modern Paganism', won a National Book Award. He lives in Hamden, Connecticut.