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Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture (Oxford Paperbacks) Paperback – 1 Sep 1988

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  • Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture (Oxford Paperbacks)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 470 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (1 Sept. 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195056523
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195056525
  • Product Dimensions: 25.4 x 2.3 x 17.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 161,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

'a fascinating and alarming study ... A staggering number of pictures are reproduced, many of them completely unfamiliar to scholars of the period. The overall thesis of Idols of Perversity is deadly serious, and its relevance for the world we live in is enormous' Review of English Studies

'Dijkstra is exhilarating when he gets down to description and denunciation' Los Angeles Times Book Review

'This is a superb and rewarding book.' Sunday Times

'An astonishing and profusely illustrated encyclopaedia of misogyny, proving once more that men always love the thing they kill.' Observer

'Dijkstra writes with verve and humour ... This is a deeply unsettling book, which no-one interested in the birthright of 20th-century social values should ignore.' Patricia Morison, Sunday Telegraph

'Profusely illustrated' Books

'provocative treasure-house of research' Oxford Times

'Extensive scholarly and pictorial research makes this study of the causes and effects of virulent misogyny in fin-de-siecle art an important contribution to our understanding of modern sexuality and culture. This is a superb and rewarding book.' Sunday Times

'A book of value not just to feminists but to sociologists and those interested in painting ... It is a fount of insight into humanity and art.' Day by Day

''A provocative treasure-house of research' Oxford Times

'a scholarly volume' The Times

About the Author

Professor of Comparative Literature at Univ. of California, San Diego.

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4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 25 April 1998
Format: Paperback
Dijkstra's book is a wonderful dissection of the sexual subtexts of late-Victorian art, a genre packed with very telling and, by our standards, near-pornographic images under the guise of religious or mythological subjects. Analysing art that was designed to titillate - and frankly, still does - is a difficult brief. But in my view, Dijkstra successfully avoids a "Look how disgusting this is!" tone, and provides an insight into the many female stereotypes in Victorian art: temptresses, vampires, victims, invalids, degenerates, and more. My one major criticism is that the text too blatantly pushes Dijkstra's interpretations of the paintings ("Was this woman [looking at a goldfish bowl] ... seeing something more than just the goldfish swiming aimlessly in a circle? ... Wasn't she also a goldfish herself, and wasn't her environment, to a large extent, the goldfish bowl of her own "useless existence"? No wonder, then ... her melancholy expression"). In my view, this polemic tone weakens Dijkstra's point. The pictures, which are well supported by quotes from contemporary fiction and other sources, speak perfectly well about the weirdness of the late-Victorian male psyche.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 Jun. 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book reproduces hundreds of the most beautiful, eccentric, and unique paintings and sculptures ever made, complete with a marvelously entertaining commentary that "reveals" the sinister, patriarchial threat of each.
The greatest surprise is the obscurity yet quality of these works--you won't see them reproduced in any other art book, yet they are too entertaining and (sometimes) just plain daffy to deserve oblivion. Since subject matter is all that interests Mr.Dijkstra, they are unfortunately all in black and white, but the bold expressiveness of the compositions makes this only a minor flaw.
Almost as rich as this aesthetic feast is Mr. Dijkstra's commentary. Are you amused by 19th Century Puritanical screeds, right-wing condemnation of the Arts, or the Nazis' blather about "degenerate art"? If so, this scholar's views will be a revelation: a dour, fanatical, left-wing perspective! He has great insights into 19th Century culture, psychology, and "sexual politics," and these increase tenfold your enjoyment of the art.
But I was most delighted by his hilarious extremism, his intolerance for anything that won't fit within a microscopic window of "political correctness." The self-righteousness, the delusions (he describes a bucolic scene of frolicking cherubs as a harbinger of the Holocaust) and the choking fury he expends at long-dead paupers are a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. Thank you, Mr. Dijkstra! Beyond a doubt, the most memorable art critique I've ever read.
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By Witchywoo on 8 April 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Informative, well-written and exquisitely researched. Can be read for pleasure or for study.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Paul Woodfine on 26 Dec. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this about ten years ago and was impressed first by the depth of research needed to find so many second-rate Victorian paintings and second by the inexhaustible feminist interpretation. Published in 1985, and so prepared between 1980 - 1984, Djikstra was firmly under the spell of extreme academic feminism and it shows. Re-reading it now, I wish Dijkstra had revised it for a post-feminist age, because there are so many real questions about this stuff. Who bought these paintings and for how much? Who sold them? Where in the buyer's house did they hang, if they hung in domestic houses at all? What careers did these artists have? What was their standing in society and the profession of painting? Who were the models? What are the parallels between the art market then and now?

The book isn't just about paintings. Dijkstra discusses a large number of books and tracts, all of them pseudo-scientific codswallop, about women. Again, the really interesting questions are about parallels with our own times: there's just as much tosh talked about men and women now as before (Venus and Mars, anyone?). How significant was all that Victorian twaddle really? Is there any evidence that it affected the thinking of Parliamentarians or that the Suffragettes took up arms against it?

Then there is the central question: aren't all these paintings just Victorian soft-core pornography, the late nineteenth-century version of the Page Three girl? Dijkstra never addresses this question, partly because in the 1980's porn didn't have the academic visibility it does today, and partly because if the answer is "yes", the social and political significance he alleges for these paintings evaporates like the proverbial summer dew.
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0 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 23 Sept. 1997
Format: Paperback
If you are familiar with Max Nordau's -Degeneration-, or Mario Praz's -The Romantic Agony-, this book belongs on the same shelf with them. Only this time, it is 90's political correctness & feminism that supply the moralizing. Preaching makes the pictures more interesting.
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