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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

4.27  ·  Rating Details ·  404 Ratings  ·  37 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 29th 1988 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1986)
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Sep 30, 2011 Alessandra rated it really liked it
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
Jan 15, 2013 Lisa Mason rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 28, 2010 Miriam rated it liked it
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.
Feb 02, 2009 Catherine rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-nonfiction
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.
Sep 19, 2015 Steve rated it really liked it
The chief merit of this book is that it collects hundreds of obscure fantasy paintings from the latter half of the nineteenth century. Academic artists here rub shoulders with Symbolists, Pre-Raphaelites, and Art Nouveau figures. Some of the artists like Klimt and Moreau will be familiar, but for every artist you've heard of you'll meet five you won't recognize.

Unfortunately, the author is only interested in passing moral judgments on the subject matter of these paintings, so all of the illustr
Marsha Altman
Jul 06, 2013 Marsha Altman rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
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
Nov 29, 2008 Macie rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 28, 2010 Marley rated it it was amazing
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
May 31, 2012 Kate rated it liked it
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
Kira Barnes
Nov 24, 2013 Kira Barnes rated it did not like it
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.
Wendy Buonaventura
Jun 22, 2012 Wendy Buonaventura rated it it was amazing
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 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.
Sep 30, 2011 Nicole rated it really liked it
Great book. Really helped me understand the evolution of the female form in 19th century art.
Haven't read in too long a time for accurate review. Will revisit.
Jeri Walker
Feb 22, 2017 Jeri Walker rated it really liked it
Amazing information and critical analysis of art and the projection of women in society. I was horrified and intrigued all at the same time. As with anything important, this has changed the way I view part of the world.
Dec 25, 2012 Nicole rated it liked it
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
very interesting read for a man. There are loads of nudes in the text to illustrate the points made and that adds to the dilemma of being a man and reading this book! The points raised are excellent and very scholarly. The author deliberately illustrates her points by restricting her pictures from the exact period she is investigating.

I found that I became aware of my discomfort in reading how women have been presented as objects. The author does not duck the issues in women portrayed as 'ill',
Sep 16, 2012 Pippa rated it liked it
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
Mar 28, 2014 Kate rated it liked it
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Peggy N
Feb 08, 2016 Peggy N rated it it was amazing
Hands-down this my favorite art-history book. Modernism, Vienna, Freud, and feminists - and why Frankenstein is so much better than Dracula. Has a more gossipy than dry academic tone, yet it's carefully documented, and presents a compelling thesis. Great pictures.
Apr 22, 2016 K. rated it it was amazing
Completely bonkers - reminded me of those Subliminal Seduction books from the 70s except instead of "SEX" written on the backs of Ritz crackers it's "misogyny! misogyny!" in every example of French Symbolist art ever
José Antonio
El trabajo de Dijkstra es soberbio. La forma en la que va desarrollando su tesis y el análisis que hace de cada pieza de arte expuesta a lo largo del texto es impecable. Una obra imprescindible para entender los modernos orígenes de la misoginia occidental
Dec 10, 2008 Meg marked it as to-read-gender
I just read the first page of this and all I can say is: awesome!
Dec 06, 2007 Phaedra rated it it was amazing
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 really liked it
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.

Jul 28, 2015 Terri added it
Shelves: art, history, feminism
Pretty certain I used the last chapter of this book for a paper I wrote in England in 1995. I loved it.
Jun 27, 2010 Liz rated it it was amazing
Aug 27, 2011 Dfordoom rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, art
Dreary feminist tract. Apparently all western art is a patriarchal plot.
Susan Wands
Sep 09, 2007 Susan Wands rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
One of my all time favorite research books!
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  • Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle
  • City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London
  • Dreamers of Decadence
  • History of the Breast
  • Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic
  • Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England
  • Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism
  • Victorian People and Ideas
  • The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England
  • The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film
  • A Brief History of Misogyny: The World's Oldest Prejudice
  • Women, Art, And Power And Other Essays
  • Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America
  • Women of the Left Bank
  • Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood
  • Pre-Raphaelites in Love
  • Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present
  • A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis
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...

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