Peter Gay

Peter Gay a professor of history at Yale University, is the author of the recently published Freud, Jews and Other Germans, and of the forthcoming The Bourgeois Experience, Victoria to Freud, Vol. 1: The Education of the Senses.

Kissing Cure

Peter Gay, 31 August 1989

It was Freud’s dubious privilege to attract endangered personalities. Possibly the most gifted, almost definitely the most interesting of these was Sandor Ferenczi; and the publication of a clinical journal he kept during most of 1932, the year before his death, allows the public interested in such matters to assess, far better than before, the range of his professional gifts and the depth of his psychological vulnerability. The English translation is fluent; the editing, though at times partisan, is helpful. This is a welcome addition to the growing number of significant texts illuminating the history of psychoanalysis.


Peter Gay, 5 January 1989

The astonishing thing about this highly professional monograph is that no one has done it before. The subject – cultivated Jewish women presiding over influential salons in Berlin during the era of the French Revolution and just after – would appear to be irresistible. ‘It was in Germany,’ rather than in France, where Jews had been politically emancipated, ‘specifically in Berlin,’ Hertz writes, ‘that a Jewish community achieved the social glory represented by entertaining and even marrying the cream of gentile society. Nor was it only the Berlin Jewish women’s role in promoting Jewish social emancipation that captivated observers of the Berlin scene. That their guests included both commoners and nobles was heralded by prominent visitors as a significant achievement.’ Yet for the most part this achievement has been recorded in frivolous, gossipy, relentlessly superficial accounts. The principal exception is at the other extreme: Hannah Arendt’s rebarbative, self-indulgent biography of Rahel Varnhagen, the most celebrated of these Jewish hostesses. Hertz dutifully mentions and a few times cites, Arendt’s book in passing and then moves on.’

Recognising Mozart

Peter Gay, 7 July 1988

The literature on Mozart is almost as diverse, though surely not quite so glorious, as Mozart’s own output. These three books are a case in point: a freewheeling analysis of Mozart the opera composer in the Enlightenment, a thoroughly documented survey of Mozart’s last year, and a technical study of Mozart’s manuscripts. Together, they give us a sense that we are closing in on the real Mozart, stripping away as they do myth after myth and replacing impressionistic conjectures by precise information. It is good news, if hardly astonishing, that Mozart’s stature is in no way diminished by such microscopic examination.

This book, let me say at once, is a masterpiece. It is also, I must quickly add, decidedly eccentric, offering the reader none of the landmarks, none of the orientation, that chapter divisions normally provide. Mozart is not quite a biography: while it dutifully includes a useful chronology and moves, by and large, along the spine of successive compositions, it is too episodic and ruminative to be yet another Life of a Great Composer. Its informal, almost conversational manner makes it first cousin to the essay, but expansive beyond the boundaries of that sadly neglected genre. It explores Mozart’s character with cheerfully acknowledged borrowings from Freud, but Hildesheimer’s use of psychoanalytic categories is so discreet as to remove his study from the ranks of psychobiographies. Though it speaks about Mozart’s compositions at satisfying length, it is certainly not an exercise in musicology – Hildesheimer disclaims any competence in such technical domains. Yet Mozart is in some measure all of these things: biography, essay, psychobiography, musical exegesis. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to call it a vast, uninterrupted meditation on Mozart, an unbuttoned yet orderly symphonic poem in words. The pleasure that Mozart gives is the pleasure we derive from watching a fine and virile intelligence playing upon an inexhaustible theme, and being right most of the time.


Mozart and Freud

7 July 1988

John Stone (Letters, 4 August) makes heavy weather of a footnote in my review: having used Hanslick’s history of music in Vienna for years in my work on 19th-century culture, I knew that his citations are hopelessly incomplete. I also know that what appear, by their presumably different titles, to be two journals are, as Mr Stone points out, the same. What I meant to convey in this ill-written note...

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‘Voici le temps des assassins,’ Rimbaud announced in the wake of the Paris Commune. One could argue that the central motif in Modernism was the notion of violation: André Breton...

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Hoping to Hurt

Paul Smith, 9 February 1995

Peter Gay’s The Cultivation of Hatred completes his Freudian psychoanalysis of the bourgeois 19th century by bringing aggression to bear alongside the forces of sexuality which form the...

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All about Freud

J.P. Stern, 4 August 1988

Professor Peter Gay is an eminent American cultural historian of German origin, an enthusiastic convert to Freudian doctrine, and an honorary member of the American Psychoanalytical Association...

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Keeping the show on the road

John Kerrigan, 6 November 1986

‘The Professor was not always right,’ declared H.D. after analysis in Vienna. Her judgment seems rather generous. Reading her Tribute to Freud, one can’t ignore the emotional...

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Unshockable Victorians

John Bayley, 19 June 1986

In any century feelings of superiority about the one before are accompanied or succeeded by feelings of nostalgia, even envy. Fifty years ago we laughed at the Victorians: now we wish we could be...

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Former Lovers

Michael Mason, 6 September 1984

Human cultures in the historical period are intimidatingly complex affairs, and it is usually very difficult for the cultural historian to achieve generalisations that are reliable and also...

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