Idols of Perversity  

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"I finally hold a copy of Idols of Perversity in my hands and on page 55, in the chapter "Dead Ladies and the Fetish of Sleep" is Studie einer weiblichen Leiche (1885) by Albert von Keller.

Other works (not previously familiar) that struck me are Les buveurs de sang[1] by Joseph-Ferdinand Gueldry, In the Swim[2] by Charles Dana Gibson, The Unknown[3] by John Charles Dollman, Morphine[4] by Albert Matignon."--J.-W. Geerinck[5]

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-siècle Culture (1986) is a book by Bram Dijkstra. The book discusses the "iconography of misogyny" in a number of works of late 19th century literature and art: antifeminist vamp imagery, femmes fatales, and similar threatening images of female sexuality. It is a portrait of "woman, who [...] drags man into a grim trough of perversion." In comedian Steve Martin's short novel Shopgirl, Martin's heroine claims that Idols of Perversity is her favourite book. On the cover is Ella Ferris Pell's Salome and the book takes its name from Jean Delville's The Idol of Perversity.


From the publisher

At the turn of the century, an unprecedented attack on women erupted in virtually every aspect of culture: literary, artistic, scientific, and philosophic. Throughout Europe and America, artists and intellectuals banded together to portray women as static and unindividuated beings who functioned solely in a sexual and reproductive capacity, thus formulating many of the anti-feminine platitudes that today still constrain women's potential.

Bram Dijkstra's Idols of Perversity explores the nature and development of turn-of-the-century misogyny in the works of hundreds of writers, artists, and scientists, including Zola, Strindberg, Wedekind, Henry James, Rossetti, Renoir, Moreau, Klimt, Darwin, and Spencer. Dijkstra demonstrates that the most prejudicial aspects of Evolutionary Theory helped to justify this wave of anti-feminine sentiment. The theory claimed that the female of the species could not participate in the great evolutionary process that would guide the intellectual male to his ultimate, predestined role as a disembodied spiritual essence. Darwinists argued that women hindered this process by their willingness to lure men back to a sham paradise of erotic materialism. To protect the male's continued evolution, artists and intellectuals produced a flood of pseudo-scientific tracts, novels, and paintings which warned the world's males of the evils lying beneath the surface elegance of woman's tempting skin.

Reproducing hundreds of pictures from the period and including in-depth discussions of such key works as Dracula and Venus in Furs, this fascinating book not only exposes the crucial links between misogyny then and now, but also connects it to the racism and anti-semitism that led to catastrophic genocidal delusions in the first half of the twentieth century. Crossing the conventional boundaries of art history, sociology, the history of scientific theory, and literary analysis, Dijkstra unveils a startling view of a grim and largely one-sided war on women still being fought today.

Index [6]

Raptures of Submission: the Shopkeeper's Soul Keeper and the Cult of the Household Nun

The Cult of Invalidism; Ophelia and Folly; Dead Ladies and the Fetish of Sleep

The Collapsing Woman: Solitary Vice and Restful Detumescence

The Weightless Woman; the Nymph with the Broken Back; and the Mythology of Therapeutic Rape

Women of Moonlight and Wax; the Mirror of Venus and the Lesbian Glass

Evolution and the Brain:Extinguished Eyes and the Call of the Child; Homosexuality and the Dream of Male Transcendence

Clinging Vines and the Dangers of Degeneration

Poison Flowers; Maenads of the Decadence and the Torrid Wail of the Sirens

Gynanders and Genetics; Connoisseurs of Bestiality and Serpentine Delights; Leda, Circe, and the Cold Caresses of the Sphinx

Metamorphoses of the Vampire; Dracula and His Daughters

Gold and the Virgin Whores of Babylon; Judith and Salome: The Priestesses of Man's Severed Head

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