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A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (October 30, 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014005667X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140056679
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #363,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A remarkable and unusual slice of history."
—Robert Kirsch, Los Angeles Times

"As lush, beguiling, and charming as an emperor's waltz"
Publisher's Weekly

"1888/1889 is my favorite year in the life of 'the imperial City,' and Frederic Morton's A Nervous Splendor is my favorite book about Vienna."
—John Irving, author of The World According to Garp

About the Author

Frederic Morton was born in Vienna. Author of The Rothschilds, which became a hit Broadway musical, Mr. Morton has also written several novels. His short fiction has appeared in Esquire, The Atlantic, Playboy, and Hudson Review, as well as in Martha Foley's Best American Short Stories and other anthologies. He lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 33 customer reviews
"A Nervous Splendor" is one of those histories that reads like a novel.
Robert G. Barksdale
Overall: An extraordinary historical book, especially for lovers of the history of 19th century Europe, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or of Vienna.
Lambros Psomas
I've purchased several copies of this book in the past and given it away to those who plan to travel to Vienna.
Terry D. Mahon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
Concentrating on just ten months of Viennese history between July, 1888, and May, 1889, Morton dissects the life of Vienna vertically, revealing its brilliance and its contrasts--its magnificence but ineffable sadness, its political gamesmanship but resistance to social change, its "correctness" of behavior but its anti-Semitism, and its patronage of the arts and sciences but its refusal to acknowledge true originality. He carefully selects details with which the modern reader can identify to create a full picture, both of the historical characters and the constricted settings in which they try to live and breathe.

Focusing on Crown Prince Rudolf as romantic hero, liberal thinker, and sensitive social reformer, Morton selects details which show Rudolf's resentment of his figurehead position, his lack of power to effect change, and his fears for the future of the monarchy. He is presented as a modern man trying to live within a fusty and stultifying environment. Also chafing against limitations on their creativity are artist Gustave Klimt, writers Arthur Schnitzler and Theodor Herzl, musicians Arnold Schonberg, Gustav Mahler, and Anton Bruckner, and psychiatrist Dr. Sigmund Freud, whose detailed stories of frustration run parallel with that of the Crown Prince and enhance it. Only Baroness Mary Vetsera, age 17 and full of life, is able to escape the bonds of Viennese "correctness," attracting Rudolf, having a brief affair with him, and eventually succumbing with him in a suicide pact at Mayerling.

Morton's scholarship and care for detail are obvious throughout, but he goes far beyond most other historians in his ability to involve the reader and make him empathize with the long-dead people in his book. In his hands the events at Mayerling become understandable--though no less sad. One can only wonder how history might have changed if Rudolf had been a partner with his father, Emperor Franz Joseph, rather than a powerless figurehead. Mary Whipple
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Peter S. Roland on April 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
Morton finds the earliest cultural roots of twentieth century "angst" in early Fin-de-Siecle Vienna. He transects a single 9 month period which offers a cross sectional view of the nascent stems of an organism which will grow into liberalism & communism and which will leaf out as the artistic "revolutions" of german expressionim, atonal music (the "second" Vienesse school), the architectural theories of Loos and the Bauhaus, the theater of Beckett & Brecht, and the philosophy of Wittgenstein and Mach.
Morton focuses his analysis around the death by suicide pact of Kronprinz Rudolph, heir to the Hapsburg empire. The event is intrinsically intriging; Rudolph's suicide and it's aftermath cover an emotional landscape that ranges from the tragic to the bizarre and goulish.
Vignettes in the life of important cultural figures, including Freud, Herzl, Klimt, Brahms, Bruckner, Schnitzler and Mahler, dramatize the trend toward the dissolution of conservatism and the collapse of upper classs domination.
A NERVOUS SPLENDOR is entertaining, informative and well written. Morton's style of writting is sophisticated, elegant and, yet, in a sense that is hard to define, unusual and piquant.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jay Dickson VINE VOICE on January 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is an extremely readable and enjoyable account of one of the most portentous years in Austrian history: its central story concerns the murder/suicide of the Crown Prince Rudolf and Mary Vetsera at the prince's Mayerling hunting lodge, while orbiting around this are mini-narratives concerning Freud, Klimt, Herzl, Schnitzler, Bruckner, etc.
This is highly recommended for people who have enjoyed similar works such as Roger Shattuck's THE BANQUET YEARS. While Morton's narrative genuinely suffers from the perfect 20/20 hindsight take on history (not only, in his account, is the Empire doomed, but even the Emperor knows at the back of his mind that the Empire is doomed, which seems highly unlikely), and his overwillingness to tell us exactly what famous people were thinking at given moments (when there is no way he could know), the book is informative, exciting, and intelligent.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on October 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
The history of Austria from 1848 to about 1945 is an almost endlessly fascinating topic. As Frederic Morton makes clear, many of the strains that wove together to create the modern world -- in science, medicine, politics, and art -- have their roots in this time and place. In choosing just a few months in the period 1888-1889, Morton isolates a time when the cracks in the Habsburg edifice are beginning to show. It's a fascinating portrait that, in the clichéd reviewer's phrase, reads like a novel.
Morton's narrative does require the reader to have a bit of context about Austrian, and broader European, history. But even for the reader without this grounding, there's much here to appreciate. While he does seem to take author's liberties sometimes -- how can we really know all Crown Prince Rudolf was thinking in his final days? -- the image he paints of a crumbling society held together by gilt and glitter is remarkable. So too are the individual portraits: Rudolf, his father the Emperor, Freud, Klimt, Mahler, Brahms, and many more. There were many strains of genius at work in Vienna in 1889, building a new world under the looming threat of the old world's collapse, and Frederic Morton captures them.
The late Austrian author Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn once noted that World Wars I and II could properly be termed the second War of Austrian Succession, and that the most important long-term consequence of the First World War was the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Churchill, too, argued that it was the collapse of the Central European thrones that allowed the "Hitlerite monster" -- an Austrian monster Morton foreshadows in this book -- to crawl to power in the 1930s. In more ways than most of us appreciate, we still live in a world with deep roots in Old Vienna.
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