Pleasure Wars by Peter Gay
Peter Gay's inquiry into the ideas and sensibilities dominating nineteenth- century culture is one of the great achievements of modern historical writing. This is the fifth and final volume, now published in paperback for the first time.
Peter Gay's The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud has revolutionized our thinking about the nineteenth century as a whole and particularly about its dynamo - the middle classes. Gay's achievement is to summarize the interior life, the mentality of the nineteenth century. In uncovering the roots of modernism, he shows us a hidden side of the Victorian era.
The Victorians we meet in this volume are not the stodgy, complacent characters of drawing room comedy. They are instead a varied crowd, from the capitalists in the top tier of the bourgeoisie eager to be recognized as gentlemen or, better yet, dubbed as nobility, to those at the bottom of the pile, the clerks and craftsmen mortally afraid of sinking into the mass of the proletariat. What they share is an anxiety, driven by their concern to advance up the social pyramid or at least to maintain the status they have achieved.
The stage is thus set for the explosion of modernism accompanied by an inevitable reaction against the subversive avant-garde of artists, composers, and writers as varied as Cezanne, Picasso, Stravinsky, Shaw, Ibsen, and Zola. No one reading this concluding volume of Peter Gay's magnificent re-evaluation of the nineteenth century will ever again use the term `Victorian' as a synonym for dull.