Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) was born in the Austro-Hungarian empire and lived in Vienna nearly all his life. (He fled to London in 1938, when Nazi Germany invaded Austria.) As a young man, Freud began a medical career specializing in neurology and nervous disorders. He became interested in the problems of hysterics, individuals suffering from debilitating symptoms or behaviors for which there was no obvious physiological cause. Trying first hypnosis and then the “talking cure,” Freud developed his theories that traumatic events repressed from conscious memory nevertheless profoundly affected an individual’s emotions and daily behaviors. The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) introduced his ideas about the powers of the unconscious mind. Dreams, jokes, slips of the tongue, habits, characteristic emotional responses—almost any aspect of a patient’s behavior could be used by a skilled interpreter to uncover the past events that caused present suffering.
Freud’s first and most controversial explanation for the childhood traumas that affected adult personality involved the sexual drive—a generalized eroticism or urge for pleasure that he detected even in the very young. The various ways that families controlled such drives accounted for the neuroses so common to adults. But Freud’s ideas changed over the decades, partly from work with patients, partly from controversies with such students as Alfred Adler and Carl Jung, and partly from his observations of the disasters overtaking Europe after 1914. As the selection here reveals, by the 1920s he had come to believe that men harbored an instinct for destruction, a “death wish,” as much as one for pleasure and love.
Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. XXI (1927–1931), trans. and ed. James Strachey, 111–15, 122. Copyright © 1961 Hogarth Press.
British novelist and critic Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) was also known as a writer on history, travel, and many other subjects, as well as a sometime poet. He attended Oxford University where he received a degree in literature. Unable to pursue his two first choices of profession—scientist or Air Force pilot—because of poor eyesight, he turned instead to writing. He spent most of the 1920s and 1930s living in Italy and France, where he wrote his best-known novel Brave New World (1932), before moving in 1937 to America. Huxley was a lifelong pacifist, but in the 1930s he was a particularly active one. His book Ends and Means (1937) explored the causes of war, its consequences, and how although humanity agrees on what it wants, it has failed to agree on how to get there. His Encyclopaedia of Pacifism extended his interest in the subject, looking critically at all historical, social, biological, and psychological aspects of conflict.
From Aldous Huxley, ed., An Encyclopaedia of Pacifism. London: Chatto & Windus, 1937, pp. 7–9, 27–8, 72–5, 104–6, 122.
A vision of the “American Century” is powerfully conveyed by this 1930 road map produced by the Gulf Oil Company. The map spins an idealized vision of America just before the Great Depression. Leisure opportunities,—boating, golf, and badminton, an d for both men and women—are all easily accessible by miles of paved roads. There is nowhere an automobile can’t go.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Halidé Edib Adivar
Halidé Edib Adivar (1884–1964) was a Turkish feminist and writer, best known for novels focusing on the status of Turkish women. Born in Constantinople (Istanbul), she was connected by family to the court of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II and educated in a multilingual environment where she learned Arabic, English, and French. One of a new generation of women, her experiences spanned the old world of harems as well as the new world of professional women. Her early career involved writing articles on education for newspapers and work for the ministry of education. Her memoir is not particularly personal, focusing as it largely does on Turkey’s struggle for nationhood, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, and the Nationalist politics of its first “modern” leader, Kemal Ataturk.
From H. Edib, The Memoirs of Halidé Edib. London: John Murray, 1926, pp. 11–4, 85–8, 142–8. Halidé Edib, The Turkish Ordeal: Further Memoirs. London: John Murray, 1928, pp. 25–34 (excerpts).
Born in 1893 into an upper-class family at a time when society expected neither intellectual nor professional achievement from such women, Vera Brittain obtained a scholarship to Somerville College at Oxford University in 1914. When the war began in August 1914, her brother, Edward, and his best friend, Roland Leighton, enlisted. Brittain left college the following year to study nursing, and she joined a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) unit. Having become engaged to Leighton while he was home on leave in August 1915, Brittain learned in December of that year that he had been killed in action on the Western Front. Continuing her nursing work, Brittain experienced the loss of numerous other friends and relatives, including her brother, over the course of the war. After the war, she returned to Oxford and developed an important literary career in her own right, publishing her beautifully written and compelling wartime memoir Testament of Youth in 1933. Throughout the 1930s, she advocated international peace and women’s rights, insisting that the shattering experiences of her youth should not be reinflicted on contemporary young people.
Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth (New York: Seaview, 1980), 239–241.
Fatima Mernissi is a Moroccan feminist and sociologist. After studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, she received her Ph.D. from Brandeis University before returning to Morocco. Mernissi’s work has largely focused on the role of women within Islam, and she has examined the ways in which traditional Islamic cultures have treated women versus how the Qur’an (the source of much of Islamic “orthodoxy”) treats them. Her first book Beyond the Veil (1975) became a classic in the fields of anthropology and sociology. Doing Daily Battle: Interviews with Moroccan Women (1989) was prompted in part by the suggestion that feminism was a Western concern. For the book, Mernissi interviewed a hundred women, mostly from the lower classes, and collected a great deal of material on a diversity of subjects such as culinary culture, spirituality, sex, and family.
From Fatima Mernissi, Doing Daily Battle: Interviews with Moroccan Women. Trans. Mary Jo Lakeland. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1989, pp. 126–44, 213–7 (excerpts).
Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) was one of the foremost British modernist writers. A member of the influential set of writers, artists, and philosophers known as the Bloomsbury Group, her best-known works include the novels Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando, as well as the nonfiction essay, A Room of One’s Own. Woolf was at the height of fame as a novelist when she wrote Three Guineas. Divided into three distinct essays, it takes the form of letters in response to requests for financial support for various admirable causes. The third essay acts both as a statement of radical pacifism and as an attempt to decode the root of all wars, which she sees as a distinctly male desire for aggression. To directly resist Fascism, therefore, is to extend the male need for dominance and not to control or terminate that desire. In this excerpt, she asks her correspondent why he thinks she should be of any use in coming up with a solution to the war. Women, after all, have been shut out of education and public office throughout history, so in what ways can they be expected to solve the muddles made of public life by men? While she recognizes the acute global crisis underway, she explores the even deeper cultural malaise of patriarchy that underlies it.
From Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas. London: Hogarth Press, 1938, Part 3.
Virginia Stephen was born in London in 1882. Both of her parents came from families that were among prominent in English literary and intellectual circles. Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, became the guiding force behind the authoritative Dictionary of National Biography. Nonetheless, Virginia and her sister Vanessa received no education beyond that of the governesses normally provided for girls of their social class. Orphaned in their early twenties, the Stephen sisters established a household in the London residential district known as Bloomsbury. They became the center of a famous artistic and intellectual circle that included biographer Lytton Strachey, economist John Maynard Keynes, artist Duncan Grant, critic Clive Bell, and writer-publisher Leonard Woolf, whom Virginia married in 1912.
“Three Guineas” is an extended essay written, ostensibly, in response to a petition Woolf had received in the mail asking for her contribution (the three guineas of the title) and support in answering the question “How in your opinion can the women of England help to prevent war?” Woolf ’s cool, deeply ironic reply was scathing. Using statistics and examples from the morning’s newspaper, she noted how infrequently women, even those from affluent social classes, received the kind of education that would enable them to address such a problem; how seldom they had opportunities to gain the independence of mind that comes from supporting oneself with paid work; how long and completely their voices had been neglected in making political decisions; how little, in fact, the opinions of women had ever mattered in deciding issues of war and peace. Her response reflects the continued feminist hope that once women achieve full equality of rights and status with men, the competition and belligerence that characterizes twentieth century civilization will be mitigated by the feminine voice.
Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas, 159–66, 43–44, 49–51, 171–73. Copyright © 1938 by Harcourt, Inc.