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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A slice of life, a foreshadowing of death.
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...
Published on March 29, 2001 by Mary Whipple

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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Readable but shallow and bends the facts
I'm not an expert in this field, but in the areas where I do have expertise, this book consistently warps the facts or reports selectively to make its somewhat simplistic point. For example, we have Breuer avoiding discussion of the role of sex in hysteria years after he and Freud had discussed the case of Anna O. We have Brahms scorning Bruckner and dining with Hanslick,...
Published on September 12, 2010 by Killersax


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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A slice of life, a foreshadowing of death., March 29, 2001
This review is from: A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 (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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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The birth of "angst", April 14, 2001
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This review is from: A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, gossipy cultural history, January 22, 2001
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This review is from: A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 (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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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time travel does exist..., December 30, 2003
By 
Robert G. Barksdale (Alexandria, VA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 (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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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An engrossing, enticing snapshot, October 28, 2003
This review is from: A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 (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. Frederic Morton's interesting and insightful portrait of a key moment in that city's history illuminates both that era and ours in a fascinating new way. It's a book that will reward more than one reading.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Readable but shallow and bends the facts, September 12, 2010
By 
Killersax (Chevy Chase, MD USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 (Paperback)
I'm not an expert in this field, but in the areas where I do have expertise, this book consistently warps the facts or reports selectively to make its somewhat simplistic point. For example, we have Breuer avoiding discussion of the role of sex in hysteria years after he and Freud had discussed the case of Anna O. We have Brahms scorning Bruckner and dining with Hanslick, but no discussion of the great Brahms-Wagner division, and no real recognition that neither Brahms nor Bruckner was Viennese. Further, Morton can't resist inflating the importance of the people he follows. Wolf is not the equal of Schubert, nor is Schnitzler an important writer except in the context of Austria, which has produced few, if any, great writers. Finally, Archduke Rudolph's death was a psychological blow to the Habsburgs, but nothing like the Austro-Prussian War, and Rudolph was not the reformer and modernizer who was going to get the empire back on its feet.

This book is OK if you want some gossip about high life in a decadent capital, but I don't trust it as history.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hypnotic Portrayal, September 15, 2004
By 
Sarah Granger (Portland, OR United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 (Paperback)
Vienna poised at the end of the 19th century. A striking mix of political ferment, intellectual creativity, gaiety and despair. Resident are an astonishing collection of people whose work would later touch not only Vienna, but resound world-wide: Freud in psychiatry, Mahler in music, Hertzl with the Zionist movement and Klimt in art. And at the center of political and social life of the city is its bright hope for the coming new century - Crown Prince Rudolf. Through 1888 the pace in the city builds to a fever pitch as Vienna begins its season of Carnival.

The other side of Vienna - hopeless poverty. A repressive regime. Catholic Vienna is rich in suicides - more per capita than other European cities. And not just simple suicides, but bizarre suicides staged with flair... The tightrope walker who leapt from a window with a rope attached to his neck, his note explaining "The rope was my life and the rope is my death." Morton tells us "he left a diary which consisted of paper scraps artfully tied together by a miniature rope."

On January 30th, Vienna's bright hope faded when the Crown Prince Rudolf capped the suicide season by killing his mistress, Mary Vetsera, and then himself at his hunting lodge, Mayerling. The hopes for the new century were gone. And then, just four months later, on April 20th, 1889 the harbinger of the new century, Adolf Hitler, was born. And none of us were the same again
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Morton captures essence of fin de siecle Vienna, June 17, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 (Paperback)
Part narrative, part drama/adventure, and part history lesson, Morton keeps the reader interested with vivid accounts of everyday life at the end of the Hapsburg reign. One receives a glimpse into the lives of the working class and elite, as they struggle with everything from the rising price of sugar to keeping up with the latest fashions. Most interesting was the exploration into the lives of famous Vienese such as Franz Joseph, Prince Rudolph, Klimt, Freud, Bruckner, and Wolf.s
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History That Reads Like a Novel, February 9, 2003
By 
mwreview "mwreview" (Northern California, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 (Paperback)
With the use of a wide range of source materials, including newspapers, periodicals, memoirs, and unpublished diaries, Frederic Morton presents an intriguing account of a short, yet important, period in Vienna's history. Morton chooses July 1888 through April 1889 as a watershed period because these years marked the time when "the western dream started to go wrong." Morton paints the Austrian Empire of the late 1880s as backward (many still used gas lanterns) and stagnant, still obsessed with protocol, tradition, and keeping up appearances. The Habsburgs still hung on to their monarchy and modern classes. The industrialists, for example, had little to no access to the court. Morton looks at the elite of society in a number of areas like science (Freud), music (Brahams, Strauss, Buckner), and theatre (Herzl, Schnitzler). As another reviewer noted, it is a very "gossipy" history written with a novelists' flair. Through private diary entries, Morton is able to keep a running total of how many times Author Schnitzler (who inspired the Kubrik film Eyes Wide Shut) and his girlfriend "commit acts of love." The rise in prophylactic sales during carnival season is described as is the pursuit of the Crown Prince's affections by the girls of the fashion crowd.
What I found to be the most interesting is the chapters on the Crown Prince Rudolf: the liberal-minded heir to the Austrian throne. The progressive Crown Prince was stifled by the traditions of the court. He was forced to entertain guests he did not like (such as Kaiser Wilhelm II) and was only able to voice his ideas through unsigned articles in a newspaper. His choice of the Mayerling incident to solve his problems still seems odd for an intelligent, 30 year-old prince. His choice of taking Mary Vetsera with him seems more for convenience than for some love tragedy as she was willing to go along with his plan whereas his regular mistress laughed it off. For an alternative view on the Crown Prince's demise, I recommend a book entitled The Mayerling Murder.
Morton's account of the aftermath of Mayerling was very interesting (the rise in the stock market and the foreign gossip pages lent out by cab drivers). The real impact of Mayerling may not have had as much impact on history as one might expect, especially since Franz Joseph lived until the midpoint of World War I. Considering the years and the nation covered, the ending is very predictable (I guessed it before I started reading the book).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Cast of Characters, December 23, 2000
By 
Ricky Hunter (New York City, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 (Paperback)
Frederic Morton's A Nervous Splendor is a wonderfully entertaining read about Vienna in 1888/89. It ends with the suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf but before that event this book of a city captures the personalities of such people as Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitler, Gustav Mahler and Theodor Herzl. It was an amazing time in this city and the author brings together all of these highs and lows of politics, art, culture, and society into a delightful tapestry. The reader truly gets a feel for this city and these people and part of the joy, for the reader, is knowing what the future will hold for many of these characters, such as the struggling Freud. This is not a work of anaylitical history. One does not understand why this time and this city but the reader can sit back and enjoy the ride through this slice of history.
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A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889
A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 by Frederic Morton (Paperback - October 30, 1980)
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