Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review, A Nervous Splendor


BOOK REVIEW
A NERVOUS SPLENDOR, Vienna 1888/1889

I just finished reading this nonfiction book by Frederic Morton. An aptly titled book, it cuts a wide swath, following the lives of four or five famous characters living in Vienna in 1888, including Freud, Strauss, Klimt, and Mahler. Overshadowing their stories is Crown Prince Rudolf, heir to the Austrian throne, who is denied a voice in governing the country by his austere father Emperor Franz Joseph. 

An apathetic grandeur affects Vienna's self-indulgent and lavish nobility. Profligate affairs abound, and marriages are merely financial arrangements. The author suggests something is wrong with this scene…perhaps Vienna is too fond of its past…but nobody seems to care about fixing it, with the possible exception of Rudolf. 

Rudolf convinces a 17 year-old of an aristocratic family to commit suicide with him in January 1889. The author describes the year with historic detail but doesn’t provide possible emotional grounding, especially in the case of Rudolf who remains as enigmatic at the end as at the beginning. The book doesn’t get you immediately hooked, and it requires some time to get invested in the story, perhaps because it is wide ranging rather than focused.

The photos and sketches draw you into the story. In particular, the photos of Rudolf are emotionally moving. He has the eyes of a man about to lose everything. 

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