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

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  478 ratings  ·  45 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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Average rating 4.27  · 
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Start your review of Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture
Alessandra
Sep 30, 2011 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 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 wom
...more
Mir
Jun 28, 2010 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.
Catherine
Feb 02, 2009 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.
Herman
What is that book your reading?
It’s about art history.
Is it a college textbook?
Well, I think it might be the author is a college professor.
Why are you reading it?

Good question

Not a simple answer but the best I can say is I like Art History.
Dr. Bram Dijkstra is very observant and speaks about cultural misogyny in a way that I can understand but it takes a good deal of my gray matter working overtime to get through his very thick analysis of th
...more
Marsha Altman
Jul 06, 2013 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
...more
Steve
Sep 19, 2015 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
...more
Macie
Nov 29, 2008 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
Kate
May 31, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rep
...more
Marley
Aug 28, 2010 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
Kira Barnes
Nov 24, 2013 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 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.
Carolyne
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.
Nicole
Sep 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Great book. Really helped me understand the evolution of the female form in 19th century art.
J.
Haven't read in too long a time for accurate review. Will revisit.
Karen Lynn
"When women became increasingly resistant to men’s efforts to teach them, in the name of progress and evolution, how to behave within their appointed station in civilization, men’s cultural campaign to educate their mates, frustrated by women’s “inherently perverse” unwillingness to conform, escalated into what can truthfully be called a war on woman - for to say “women” would contradict a major premise of the period’s anti-feminine thought. If this was a war largely fought on the battlefield of ...more
Gayle Noble
This book may be summed up as follows: Victorian men had some downright strange ideas about female sexuality. Depicted in art and literature as either virginal 'angels', synonymous with purity,
or as lustful nymphs, viragos, maenads, and vampires - women were anything except human beings it seems. (One wonders how much of this mindset lingers today when it comes to the still prevalent sexual double standard, etc.) The author also examines how contemporary science fed into these views, with
...more
Staci Marie
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my most favorite books in the world ever. I've held on to this book for over 20 years. I'm not sure I have keep any other of my books for this long.
My ultimate fantasy is to be in an art gallery with every single one of these original paintings.
Tommy Zoppa
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, queer
Amazing history of how the confluence of popular art magazines and common themes in the fine arts world informed the modern image of women today. A beautiful gift for any art loving feminist in your life.
Lenore .
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
a brilliant examination of the victorian myths about femininity which are still frighteningly prevalent today. a must-read for both feminists and literature students!
Jeri Walker
Feb 22, 2017 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.
Nicole
Dec 25, 2012 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
Georgina
Aug 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fine-art
The three star rating is an average; 5 stars for the illustrations, 1 star for the text.

Bram Dijkstra man-splained this historic and artistic era to me, so now I understand how oppressed women really were. Poor little old me, walking around with this bothersome uterus that prevents me from learning and perceiving on my own. Thanks Bram!

)))))))an aside to the readers of this review; I'm whispering so the author can't hear me: #what a clueless dipshit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
...more
Norman
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 portraye
...more
Kate
Mar 28, 2014 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 literar
...more
Pippa
Sep 16, 2012 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
Elizabeth
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
K.
Apr 22, 2016 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
Peggy N
Feb 08, 2016 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.
francesca
Jul 06, 2008 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.

Delicious.
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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 o
...more