THE MAKING OF VICTORIAN SEXUALITY

Of the many books since the 1960s that claim to overturn the clichÇ of Victorian prudery, this is surely the least interesting, persuasive, and readable. Mason (English/Univ. College, London) broadly defines the Victorian era as starting with the 1790s—the Romantic, Regency, or Georgian period—and petering out well before 1900, his cut-off date. He's certainly done resourceful and intensive research (check out the mammoth bibliography); his text considers such varied sources as working-class papers, medical reports, popular culture, and religious writing. Missing, however, is analysis of the major cultural landmarks that Peter Gay illuminates so brilliantly in his still uncompleted series on ``the bourgeois experience.'' Using imperfectly assimilated sociological jargon, Mason argues that a crisis in confidence in courtship and marriage for the first two or three decades of the 19th century encouraged prostitution and casual sex; that interest in marriage and concubinage was renewed at mid-century; and that the introduction of artificial contraception revived sexuality after 1860. The moral ``recalibration'' that began in the lower classes with a rise in sexual ``moralism,'' he asserts, became a sign of political progress throughout the period, touching the middle classes as well. Considering popular entertainments, housing, class orientation, and medical attitudes, he finds a discrepancy between sexual attitudes and behavior—in brief, Victorian hypocrisy—a discrepancy he criticizes Foucault for overlooking, but one that he claims anthropologists find in many societies. While the material is interesting, Mason's focus is so narrow, his writing so gnarled, his syntax so confusing, his structure so uncertain, that it is difficult to follow his argument or ascertain the direction in which he is moving (toward the end he proposes a second volume). Hard to imagine why anyone would prefer this volume to Gay's, or even read it afterward.

Pub Date: June 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-19-812247-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1994

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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