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Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture
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Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture

4.23 of 5 stars 4.23  ·  rating details  ·  283 ratings  ·  29 reviews
At the turn of the century, an unprecedented attack on women erupted in virtually every aspect of culture: literary, artistic, scientific, and philosophic. Throughout Europe and America, artists and intellectuals banded together to portray women as static and unindividuated beings who functioned solely in a sexual and reproductive capacity, thus formulating many of the ant ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published September 1st 1988 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1986)
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Community Reviews

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A survey of misogyny in late-Victorian art. Extremely creepy. The evidence may be a bit wobbly in places, but the sheer number of appalling examples is extremely telling. One of those important, eye-opening books worth reading, but ugh.
Lisa Mason
Did you know that in 1896 an anorexic actress made a small fortune posing nude for portraits which were called “The Dead Lady Look” because tuberculosis (consumption in common parlance) was considered a glamorous way to die?

One of the most mind-blowing treatises on women in society and culture I have ever read. Picked this one up when I was researching my fin de siècle book, The Gilded Age (originally titled The Golden Age). You will never again look at our society’s depiction of women in the me
This is an ambitious book, one of the most well-researched I've encountered, that very methodically lays out the snowball effect that stereotypes about women created in fin-de-siecle culture. While visual art plays the starring role, literature, philosophy, and scientific theories are each analyzed in turn. It's not perfect; the author sometimes overreaches, gets repetitive (I never want to read the phrase "nymph with a broken back" again), and occasionally goes on tangents that made no sense at ...more
A friend of mine found this in the remainder stack and got it realy cheap and sent it to me We both love the Pr-Raphaelites. We're both perverse. The language is a bit flowery and the casual reader needs to know a bit of art history, but the plethora of pictures makes up for it. I recommend this book not only for those who enjoy art, but for historians, to. How depressing to learn your favorite art is woman-hating. or rather so many Victorian artists were afraid of women. Really, though, this is ...more
Often fascinating analysis of depictions of women as symbolic of evil, real and metaphorical. Dijkstra covers art and literature primarily. I found the book quite thought-provoking when I read it a few years back and am still talking about years later. Highly recommended.
Wendy Buonaventura
This book charts ways in which women, notably in the Victorian era, were viewed as naturally sick and physically badly designed, and how Western art and literature reflected this in its portrayal of the female sex. A fascinating book, well researched and food for thought.
An interesting study, although Dijkstra commits the all-too-common scholarly sin of ignoring masses of evidence that don't fit his thesis. He also erroneously treats this instantiation as unique, rather than as part of a recurring pattern of shifting attitudes toward women.
An excellent book on how the view of woman in art transitioned from positive to negative as women in society looked to expand their roles in the world i.e. out of the house and into the world.
Great book. Really helped me understand the evolution of the female form in 19th century art.
Marsha Altman
This book is insane. If you see it in a discount bin, totally pick it up and attempt to read it.

From what I can gather, various intellectual circles at the 19th century in continental Europe didn't care too much for women and used theories from the early eugenics movement to justify for their misogyny. Then they made a lot of art, some of now surprisingly popular classic art. Bram Dijkstra collected this art and put it in a book with the widest margins I have ever seen. He has a lot of theories
A bit hysterical, but hysterical men write a lot of fun stuff. It is, of course, important to note the current of misogyny in fin-de-siécle art and literature, but this is hardly unique to the period. I don't buy Dijkstra's suggestion that fin-de-siécle art led to the rise of fascism in Europe and WWII. That's a bit simplistic, and also seems to be an effort to shift the blame to a source that is easily identifiable and easily chastised. Also, his conclusions are a bit depressing, that the only ...more
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I've actually abandoned this one--it's just too dense. (And after reading Foucault's History of Madness, that's saying something.) The theories in here are interesting enough, and I definitely appreciate the copious illustrations, particularly when Dijkstra is referencing art. But I just couldn't get through the last quarter or so--the writing style is so heavy, and I feel like the points are being reiterated without adding anything new.

On the bright side, there was plenty of literary reference
May 31, 2012 Kate rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: books
A very interesting timeline of sociocultural changes in attitude toward women in the West--primarily Europe, with some U.S.--from the mid-1800s through the Industrial Revolution and into the disbursement of evolutionary theory and its subsequent influence into World War I, as reflected in the popular, praised art of the time.

Dijkstra takes a pretty strong anti-men tone in some places, to the point that I'd almost say it kills the message--except the message is so meticulously and repetitively do
Haven't read in too long a time for accurate review. Will revisit.
Sep 16, 2012 Pippa rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: art
I wasn't convinced by a lot of the examples in this, and there were some things which may have been ignored because they didn't fit with the theme. One example of how this didn't gel with me... Herbert Draper's 'The Gates of Dawn' is surely a picture of a woman looking out at all the possibilities open to her! Yes, she is reflecting moonlight, but she is beautiful and at the gates of a new world. I find this inspiring. (Am I just ignorant?) This is certainly a book which would be useful to provo ...more
Kira Barnes
Buy this book only for the beautiful pictures. This man doesn't know what he's talking about and pretends to be a feminist. Well, I as a woman am insulted by what he says about some of my favorite artists ever.

I think I read this book about 25 years ago. My opinion still stands. If you like this book I will hunt you down and hit you with a wet noodle.
Attitudes about women as expressed in the art and culture of turn-of-the century Victorian England, and elsewhere; attitudes which prevail to this day.
Most fabulous book ever!!!... if you want to understand the Femme Fatale culture of Europe during the late 19th century then this is your bible!
Jul 06, 2008 francesca rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: artist, writers, dreamers
A fabulous reference of artistic allusions to mythology and folklore, with a wealth of images from both renowned and obscure works.

Dreary feminist tract. Apparently all western art is a patriarchal plot.
Eric K.
A richly researched hybrid of art history/intellectual history.
May 23, 2009 Meg marked it as to-read-gender
I just read the first page of this and all I can say is: awesome!
Susan Wands
One of my all time favorite research books!
looks super interesting....
Lissa Jensen
one of my favorites.
A lot of fun.
Loved this.
Apr 22, 2009 Zero is currently reading it
Ellie marked it as to-read
Dec 24, 2014
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  • City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London
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  • The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination
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Bram Dijkstra is a professor of English literature. He joined the faculty of the University of California, San Diego in 1966, and taught there until he retired and became an emeritus in 2000.

He is the author of seven books on literary and artistic subjects. These include:
Cubism, Stieglitz and the Early Poetry of William Carlos Williams (1969);
Georgia O'Keeffe and the Eros of Place (1998);
More about Bram Dijkstra...
Evil Sisters: The Threat of Female Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Culture Cubism, Stieglitz, and the Early Poetry of William Carlos Williams Naked: The Nude in America American Expressionism: Art and Social Change 1920-1950 Georgia O'Keeffe and the Eros of Place

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