Another outstanding book by Morton, though I didn't find this one as gripping as Thunder at Twilight, in part, I think because he spent too much timeAnother outstanding book by Morton, though I didn't find this one as gripping as Thunder at Twilight, in part, I think because he spent too much time trying to make Crown Prince Rudolf's suicide in 1889 resonate with sense of unease that permeated Viennese society.
Still, a very intriguing book overall. The chief players in this book, whose lives are viewed in intertwined brief episodes, are the Crown Prince, a thwarted liberal who was not permitted any real power, and ultimately sought a twisted escape from his aristocratic straight-jacket by suicide; Sigmund Freud, at that point a struggling "nerve specialist" with financial problems who nonetheless had sufficient courage to challenge the theories that were the bulwark of the medical establishment; a trio of sometimes-at-odds musical giants -- Brahams, Strauss, and Bruckner -- as well as two younger musical titans -- Hugo Wolf and Gustav Mahler; an artist who couldn't be bothered to cultivate favor or fortune, Gustav Klimt; and two men of letters, Arthur Schnitzler and Theodor Herzl, the latter known as the "father of Zionism."
Morton's technique here, as it was in Thunder at Twilight," is to focus on key figures that embody the zeitgeist. His prose is notably engaging and imaginative, yet also oblique and intuitive. It's no surprise, then, that Morton so obviously admires Freud, Klimt, Mahler, and others who drew from inner resources. That such men emerged from a society permeated with frivolity and ossified social forms is an irony that he doesn't even have to spell out explicitly. Always there is the tension in the book between the outward show and inner turmoil. By presenting readers with selected scenes, piquant tidbits, Morton makes distant historical figures come alive once again.
I was especially struck with his insights into the growing antisemitism of the time. It's a naive conceit that these sentiments sprang fully formed from the head of Adolf Hitler. Of course, I knew there had always been pogroms and ghettos and such, but I hadn't ever really understood how those espousing antisemitism became mainstream figures. Morton's account made it more comprehensible to me, and it's no coincidence that the book concludes with "the thin cry of baby" born to Alois and Klara Hitler: "They named their little one Adolf." ...more