Education of the Senses

ISBN: 0393319040
ISBN 13: 9780393319040
By: Peter Gay

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About this book

Education of the Senses draws on a vast array of primary sources to reexamine nineteenth-century sexual behavior, overturning a number of stereotypes, especially about women and sexuality.

Reader's Thoughts


Seems to me that the reviews Amazon has above do not refer to volume one of this landmark five volume history of the bourgeois. Same goes for at least one of the reviews below. This series by Peter Gay chronicles the "Bourgeois Century", roughly 1820 to the first world war. Gay's approach is anchored by a commitment to Freudian theory and a cross-cultural approach that takes in British, French, German and American culture with equal interest. His scholarship is careful and nuanced. He draws equally adeptly from primary and secondary materials and this volume see saws between able synthesis and novel (re) interpretations of primary sources. As the subtitle states, this volume focuses on "the education of the senses", which is a euphimism for the process by which a young victorian (man) learns about sex. That is not to say that Gay focuses exclusively on the experience of men, far from it. Education of the Senses begins with a general introduction that I assume applies to all five volumes. Gay is careful to explain the background of the nineteenth century: i.e. that it was a period of ferocious change and that people were greatly affected and disturbed by that change. The subtitle of Education of the Senses is "Bourgeois Experiences, I: An Erotic Record", and that it precisely the territory covered by this volume. First off, he discusses the diary of Mabel Loomis Todd, an east coast American bourgeois. Her story is that of the woman who marries and is unfaithful to her husband. Gay uses her experience to demonstrate that the sex life of the Victorian was more complicated then previous scholars thought (this is the overriding theme of all of his work in this area). Gay marches through Bourgeois attitudes towards sex within marriage (i.e. women were not sexually anthesthic), the role of feminism in Victorian culture, the place of birth control and birth, the role of the medical establishment in promoting half truths about sex, the place of pornography and the place of private family life, among several other topics. Gay is judicious in his use of Freudian theory, I found it interesting, not overwhelming or dogmatic. His writing style is fluid. First rate cultural history. Can't wait for volume two, though I probably will wait for a while...

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