July 8, 2002 |
SAVAGE REPRISALS Bleak House, Madame Bovary, Buddenbrooks by Peter Gay W.W. Norton 192 pages, $24.95 Hefty, solid, vividly detailed, large as--indeed, larger than--life, the great novels of the 19th century are crammed with riches of all kinds. Who can forget the dark, fog-shrouded London of "Bleak House" and the hapless characters caught in the coils of that tangled legal case Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce? Or the tragic story of the vapid yet poignant middle-class adulteress Emma Bovary?
August 1, 1999 |
No one reading this last of Peter Gay's five volumes on the 19th century middle classes (just now making its appearance in bookstores in paperback) will be inclined to bash the bourgeoisie any longer, at least not much. This superb and exhaustive tableau of the tortured highways and byways that gradually led to modernism--in painting, sculpture, music, architecture and literature--documents the ambiguities and ambivalences of Victorian culture all over Europe.
July 5, 1999 |
Peter Gay's "Mozart," a new installment in the Penguin Lives series of short biographies, incarnates both the virtues and the shortcomings of these generally likable abbreviated books. Summaries can be useful: They can introduce a reader to an unfamiliar subject or reacquaint him with a familiar one; they can lay out the biographical issues and debates and set down a foundation for further inquiry. What they seem unable to do as often is present a fresh or startling take on their subject.
February 21, 1999 |
The cover of the review copy of this book reads: "My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin." On the title page, however, the book's title is different: "A Season in Hell: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin." A publishing glitch, but also an inadvertently profound comment. A season in hell is an absolute experience. Yet Peter Gay has undertaken to investigate its categorical quality by exploring its finer shadings.
December 20, 1998 |
OUTSIDE PASSAGE: A Memoir of an Alaskan Childhood; By Julia Scully; (Random House: 224 pp., $23) Beautifully written, wisely understated, "Outside Passage" is important for how little it tells, for trusting the image and knowing the eloquence of the picture that lives beyond the frame. More than a story of an Alaskan childhood, "Outside Passage" is about something far more difficult to describe--memory and the delicate skein it weaves within us and across the separations of life.
May 4, 1998 |
Thanks to five books by historian Peter Gay, the Victorians don't have many secrets left. The retired Yale professor has just published the fifth and final volume of his series "The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud," a massive reclamation project that has shed new light on the old view of the Victorian middle class as repressed, closed-minded philistines.