JAMES AND JOHN STUART MILL: Father and Son in the Nineteenth Century by Bruce Mazlish

JAMES AND JOHN STUART MILL: Father and Son in the Nineteenth Century

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Whatever one may think of Mazlish's startling assertion that in the middle of the 19th century ""generational conflict"" became at least as important a class conflict as ""a mechanism of social change,"" there is no denying that this study of what the author calls the ""epic"" father-son relationship between James and John Stuart Mill is a major work of psychohistory -- a better, richer book than the author's popular In Search of Nixon (1972). Mill, as everyone who has read the famous Autobiography knows, was reared and educated in strict accordance with the principles of Utilitarianism. It was a joyless, loveless upbringing which caused the child prodigy who read Greek and Latin at age five to have one of the best documented nervous breakdowns in history when he was twenty. Mazlish shows how this rebellion rooted in a powerful oedipal struggle against his father's authority became the genesis of classical 19th century liberalism -- of which John Stuart Mill was perhaps the foremost exponent. For the rest of his life Mill devoted himself to reconciling his father's quantified, superrationalist world view with the subjective, experiential truths of Coleridge, Carlyle and Saint-Simon. Behind this intellectual development lie the women in the Mills' life -- Harriet, the mother never mentioned by her son, to the point where Mazlish can rightly say of the Autobiography that it ""invokes a new version of immaculate conception, in which the mother is entirely missing,"" and Harriet Taylor, beautiful and talented, with whom Mill lived for nineteen years in a scandalous, if chaste, menage a trois. For Mill, Harriet Taylor was the final reconciliation of the awful schism between intellect and feeling which was the source of both Mill's frightening alienation and his creativity. And it was the long relationship with this beloved woman (which quickly became ""a parody"" of the patriarchal Victorian household ""with Harriet commanding and Mill obeying"") that led to the famous essay The Subjection of Women -- the most eloquent feminist piece ever written by a man. Anti-Freudians will have a field day, but this is a remarkable book.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1974
Publisher: Basic Books