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Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture (Oxford Paperbacks) Paperback – September 29, 1988

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Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture (Oxford Paperbacks) + Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Masculinity
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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 29, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195056523
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195056525
  • Product Dimensions: 10.1 x 7 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #308,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Excellent study of image of women in 19th century art and general cultural attitudes during that period."--James Doan, Nova University

"An excellent book for an undergraduate seminar--sparks lively interest and discussion."--Edward Dickinson, University of California, Berkeley

"Brilliant analysis, brilliant command of language."--Pauley M. Stein, California State University

"[An] excellent book!"--John Murray, New York Institute of Technology

"Dijkstra's straightforward discussion of misogyny in nineteenth-century art is long overdue. His thematic groupings of subject matter cut across lines of academic versus avant-garde, which is very instructive for students to see."--F. Connelly, University of Missouri

"A provocative and absorbing book."--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"This pioneering, witty, devastating survey breaks new ground in tracing men's hatred toward women and how this fear and loathing has shaped our culture."--Publishers Weekly

"[Dijkstra is] more than equal to the task of analyzing the cultural war waged on women at the turn of the century....[Readers] will not be able to forget [his] message, so applicable to the end of our century--that ideological dualisms, whether about sex or race, are also deadly."--Alessandra Comini, The New York Times Book Review

"A stupendous work--deeply serious, wildly delightful, abounding in new learning and insights."--Rudolph Binion, Journal of Psychohistory

"A ground-breaking, important book....Will clearly be important to art historians and feminist critics of the late nineteenth century."--Susan Gubar, The Washington Times Magazine

About the Author

About the Author: Bram Dijkstra is Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego, and author of several books, including Cubism, Stieglitz and the Early Poetry of William Carlos Williams, A Recognizable Image, and Defoe and Economics.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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I was enormously impressed and recommend it to anyone interested in art or women's studies -- or in having a new world revealed.
I am quoting from Bram Dijkstra's book, IDOLS OF PERVERSITY / FANTASIES OF FEMININE EVIL IN FIN-DE-SIECLE CULTURE, page 252, just under the picture.
Leah Osad
I read this book several years ago and to put it simply, it shook up my perceptions about the imagery used in art during that time.
Maria Aragon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book reproduces hundreds of the most beautiful, eccentric, and unique paintings and sculptures ever made, complete with a marvelously entertaining commentary that "reveals" the sinister, patriarchial threat of each.
The greatest surprise is the obscurity yet quality of these works--you won't see them reproduced in any other art book, yet they are too entertaining and (sometimes) just plain daffy to deserve oblivion. Since subject matter is all that interests Mr.Dijkstra, they are unfortunately all in black and white, but the bold expressiveness of the compositions makes this only a minor flaw.
Almost as rich as this aesthetic feast is Mr. Dijkstra's commentary. Are you amused by 19th Century Puritanical screeds, right-wing condemnation of the Arts, or the Nazis' blather about "degenerate art"? If so, this scholar's views will be a revelation: a dour, fanatical, left-wing perspective! He has great insights into 19th Century culture, psychology, and "sexual politics," and these increase tenfold your enjoyment of the art.
But I was most delighted by his hilarious extremism, his intolerance for anything that won't fit within a microscopic window of "political correctness." The self-righteousness, the delusions (he describes a bucolic scene of frolicking cherubs as a harbinger of the Holocaust) and the choking fury he expends at long-dead paupers are a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. Thank you, Mr. Dijkstra! Beyond a doubt, the most memorable art critique I've ever read.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Ray Girvan (ray.girvan@zetnet.co.uk) on April 25, 1998
Format: Paperback
Dijkstra's book is a wonderful dissection of the sexual subtexts of late-Victorian art, a genre packed with very telling and, by our standards, near-pornographic images under the guise of religious or mythological subjects. Analysing art that was designed to titillate - and frankly, still does - is a difficult brief. But in my view, Dijkstra successfully avoids a "Look how disgusting this is!" tone, and provides an insight into the many female stereotypes in Victorian art: temptresses, vampires, victims, invalids, degenerates, and more. My one major criticism is that the text too blatantly pushes Dijkstra's interpretations of the paintings ("Was this woman [looking at a goldfish bowl] ... seeing something more than just the goldfish swiming aimlessly in a circle? ... Wasn't she also a goldfish herself, and wasn't her environment, to a large extent, the goldfish bowl of her own "useless existence"? No wonder, then ... her melancholy expression"). In my view, this polemic tone weakens Dijkstra's point. The pictures, which are well supported by quotes from contemporary fiction and other sources, speak perfectly well about the weirdness of the late-Victorian male psyche.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful By S. Gustafson on December 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you have read Nordau's -Degeneration-, you will find that the most appealing part of that tome to the present day reader will be the fact that it serves as admirable Baedeker to the highlights of late 19th century (mostly French) literature. It does so in the form of a moralistic tract, founded in the public-healthism of Nordau's era, and specifically Cesare Lombroso's attempt to create a "science" of what might be best termed as forensic phrenology. [Lombroso maintained that criminals displayed hereditary "atavistic" traits, and that therefore by looking for facial features he deemed "atavistic," criminal tendencies could be weeded out of the population. Nordau then applied Lombroso's criteria to identify many literary titans as atavistic moral degenerates.]

More people may be familiar with Mario Praz's -The Romantic Agony-, again a tract tinged with moral hostility against the stasis and cruelty of "decadence," that once again serves as a lovely field guide to Symbolist and late Romantic poetry. Praz, perhaps fortunately for his present reputation, sticks with non-falsifiable and purely artistic criticisms.

The point here is that Nordau's and Praz's books in fact add relish and anticipation to the literary works they describe despite their moralistic thunders against them. It's applying reverse psychology to the Paglia/Spenser effect --- for Camille Paglia's -Sexual Personae-, whatever other merits or demerits it may have, has won more readers for Spenser's -Faerie Queene- these past several years than the poem probably had over the past century.
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26 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Prelati on September 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
As a few of the other reviewers have observed, this is a visual treat served up by a crusading cretin. Well, he's obviously not a cretin, but after the scattergun insults he's hurled at so many of his subjects, it seems only right to answer for these unjustly damned dead folk in kind. Sorry, but the author of this hasn't earnt the right to start patronising past masters, at least certainly not judging by this.

This is feminism as conspiracy theory, the portrayal of culture as sex war, and it's joyless nonsense. The imagery in question is often exotic and edgy - but that's what interesting art does. If Dijkstra understood the art he castigates so energetically - chiefly Decadence - then he might begin to see the argument that perhaps beauty and pleasure are legitimate ends in their own right. Which is surely better than this ideological axe-grinding.

I'm afraid I have to disagree with those who praise the quality of the research in 'Idols of Perversity'. The author leans heavily on a couple of slender sources which are clearly pretty radical for their day as if they show the misogynist character of an entire era. We could use the SCUM Manifesto to portray all women as homicidal loons. But most of us are a little more grown up than that and just laugh at it, as I did with this. Women portrayed powerfully are 'demonised', women not portrayed powerfully are being repressed. Apparently. If any of his subjects fail to provide visuals or commentary to support his screed, Bram happily 'knows' what they were thinking anyhow.

I reluctantly recommend this. Five stars for the lavish - and frequently rare - imagery. One for the politically-correct propagandising - an average of three with one on top for giggles. If you enjoy Symbolist or Decadent art, do buy it, but also look out for the out-of-print 'Dreamers of Decadence' which covers the same area and with more appreciation and less sanctimonious baggage.
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