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A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 Paperback – October 30, 1980

54 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Trade Paperback Edition edition (October 30, 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014005667X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140056679
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 65 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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28 of 28 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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25 of 25 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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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Robert G. Barksdale on December 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
...and it takes the form of Frederic Morton's "A Nervous Splendor." Morton takes the reader on a trip through a long-vanished Vienna -- the Carnival season and the drudgery of day-to-day life in the city's slums; the glory of sun-splashed and colorful parades and the spiritual desperation manifested in a municipal epidemic of suicides; the stullifying atmosphere of the Habsburg court and the creativity of the intellectual/artistic community.
The book is a snapshot of a year in the life of an imperial city as lived by disparate Viennese (including Freud, Klimt, Bruckner, Brahms, as well as Mary Vestera, "The Bird King," and the disturbed Crown Prince Rudolph).
Morton focuses heavily on Rudolph's frustrated life and its bizarre end in the murder/suicide pact with the beautiful socialite, Mary Vestera. Rudolph is a frustrated liberal confined to carrying out increasingly meaningless imperial functions -- making the rounds at receptions, smiling for official portraits, and otherwise participating in the empty pageantry that is life in the Habsburg Court and aristocratic Vienna. His democratic leanings are thwarted by his father, the omnipresent Emperor Franz Joseph, and his father's retinue. To make matters worse, Rudolph is trapped in a loveless marriage. Enter Mary Vestera, the beautiful Baronness who has set her sights on Rudolph. Her slavish devotion to the Crown Prince, and his desperate frustration with life, culminated in a gruesome(and scandalous) end at Rudolph's hunting lodge, Mayerling. The author portrays this sad story as a reflection of the malaise that infected the imperial city as the Austro-Hungarian Empire moved unknowingly toward its own demise.
"A Nervous Splendor" is one of those histories that reads like a novel. Frederic Morton utilizes firsthand accounts, anecdotal stories and wonderfully descriptive writing to bring to life a society long gone.
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