The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud - Vol. 1

By Peter Gay | Go to book overview

ONE

The Strain of Definition

A WORRYING though often barely visible ingredient in the experience of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie was anxiety over its very definition: its internal rank orders, its status in society, its relation to other classes, its political future, its moral character. "I appeal to the middle classes," Thackeray wrote in Vanity Fair. i. But while both he and his readers thought the meaning of the appeal perfectly clear, neither could be quite sure. Much was in doubt: ideals, prospects, the meaning of terms not least of all. The shapes of the social pyramids which furnished grounds for aspirations and condescension were partially obscured by subtle social distinctions and conflicting claims, their upper and lower boundaries often lost behind the mists of desperate struggles to join, or leave, or rise within, the bourgeoisie. And the legends burdening the history of the middle classes, coupled with the long-standing debate over their reputation, helped to generate, in the midst of heady advances and sober optimism, an uncertain sense of identity, often verging on self-hatred. A capacious and persecuting bourgeois conscience bedeviled many in the nineteenth century, and would, in the twent:ieth, exacerbate historians' efforts at retrospective map-making.

But myths, contradictions, neurotic distortions often hold the key to historical realities. They will, in fact, prove essential elements in any meaningful definition of the nineteenth-century middle classes. I think of these classes as a family of desires and anxieties. Much else served to give them an appearance of coherence and unity that was only in part

____________________
i.
End of ch. 9, in The Works of William Makepeace Thackeray, Centenary Biographical Edition, 26 vols. (1910-II), I, 104.

-17-

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The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud - Vol. 1
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Books by Peter Gay *
  • The Bourgeois Experience - Victoria to Freud *
  • Contents *
  • Abbreviations *
  • General Introduction *
  • Orientations 3
  • One - The Strain of Definition 17
  • Two - Architects and Martyrs of Change 45
  • Education of the Senses *
  • Bourgeois Experiences, I - An Erotic Record 71
  • One - Sweet Bourgeois Communions 109
  • Two - Offensive Women and Defensive Men 169
  • Three - Pressures of Reality 226
  • Four - Learned Ignorance 278
  • Five - Carnal Knowledge 328
  • Six - Fortifications for the Self 403
  • Appendix 461
  • Bibliographical Essay 463
  • Illustrations and Sources 509
  • Acknowledgments 513
  • Index 517
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