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The Naked Truth

Viennese Modernism and the Body

Uncovers the interplay of the physical and the aesthetic that shaped Viennese modernism and offers a new interpretation of this moment in the history of the West.

Viennese modernism is often described in terms of a fin-de-siècle fascination with the psyche. But this stereotype of the movement as essentially cerebral overlooks a rich cultural history of the body. The Naked Truth, an interdisciplinary tour de force, addresses this lacuna, fundamentally recasting the visual, literary, and performative cultures of Viennese modernism through an innovative focus on the corporeal.
Alys X. George explores the modernist focus on the flesh by turning our attention to the second Vienna medical school, which revolutionized the field of anatomy in the 1800s. As she traces the results of this materialist influence across a broad range of cultural forms—exhibitions, literature, portraiture, dance, film, and more—George brings into dialogue a diverse group of historical protagonists, from canonical figures such as Egon Schiele, Arthur Schnitzler, Joseph Roth, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal to long-overlooked ones, including author and doctor Marie Pappenheim, journalist Else Feldmann, and dancers Grete Wiesenthal, Gertrud Bodenwieser, and Hilde Holger. She deftly blends analyses of popular and “high” culture, laying to rest the notion that Viennese modernism was an exclusively male movement. The Naked Truth uncovers the complex interplay of the physical and the aesthetic that shaped modernism and offers a striking new interpretation of this fascinating moment in the history of the West.

328 pages | 43 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020

Art: European Art

Culture Studies

History: European History, General History, History of Ideas

Literature and Literary Criticism: Germanic Languages


"Historians of sexuality will be particularly impressed with George’s departure from historiography’s focus on high culture in modernism and her success at incorporating a rich array of sources into the intricate sexual matrix of the fin de siècle in order to illuminate the bodies of the Other, of the Self, of working-class women, and of war-torn men. This approach will make her study valuable to historians of sexuality who wish to explore the centrality of the body in fin-de-siècle modernisms of other regions of Europe, as well as North America. More generally, the sheer musicality of George’s voice in The Naked Truth will delight any artist of the written word."

Journal of the History of Sexuality

"In her pioneering book, George paints a new picture - with the body at the center - of a much-studied and often misunderstood epoch without shrinking from the dark sides and the 'naked truth'. Therefore George presents the body - and thus Vienna - as a place of pain and oppression, but also as a place of pleasure and promise. To use a Musil term, she exposes the body's sense of possibility."

Austrian Broadcasting Corporation

"Eloquent writing throughout. . . . [The Naked Truth] not only expands our view of Vienna 1900, but speaks to the broader
importance of body culture in Western modernity."

German History

"The Naked Truth stands out for its pathbreaking interdisciplinarity unifying developments in the 'high' arts and culture (spanning literature and visual arts) with developments in popular culture, including film, photography, mass media, and exhibitions, reflecting a preoccupation with the physical body. The book tethers a reexamination of canonical figures in Viennese modernism—a familiar cast of characters, including Arthur Schnitzler, Egon Schiele, Peter Altenberg, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and others—to relative “unknowns,” including writer and physician Marie Pappenheim, painter Carry Hauser, and modern dancers like Grete Wiesenthal and Gertrud Bodenwieser, disparate figures bound together thematically through the tropes of medicine, the body, and postmortem examination. The book impresses due to its true interdisciplinary breadth and innovative chronology stressing cultural continuity between the fin-de-siècle and interwar periods."


"George musters an impressive array of written and visual sources in this endeavor, which will interest readers in literary studies, history of science, art history, dance studies, and beyond. She brings canonical figures such as Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Ödön von Horváth, and Vicki Baum into conversation with neglected but nonetheless fascinating writers who offer insights into matters such as autopsies (Marie Pappenheim) and childbirth (Ilka Maria Ungar). It is a pleasure to have the provocative voices of female modernists added to this conversation, and the grounds for their inclusion are completely convincing. . . . George deftly and authoritatively weaves together disparate facets of Viennese social life, and her lucid prose is a pleasure to read."

German Studies Review

"This extraordinary volume is a long-over-due revision of Carl Schorske’s Fin-de-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture (Knopf 1980). What a revision it is! George analyzes the centrality of the body for Vienna’s modernist artists and writers, while creatively expanding the chronology of the Viennese fin de siecle from the late nineteenth century through 1938. In so doing, her work also demonstrates interwar Austria’s cultural vitality, implicitly rejecting the notion that the republic was nonviable. . . . In this beautifully illustrated, multivalent monograph, George considers numerous forms of high- and low-cultural production, among them dance, exhibitions, film, literature, and various visual arts. . . . The Naked Truth is an erudite and original contribution to the dis-course on Vienna circa 1900. . . . This book should interest anyone who cares about the fin de siecle; Habsburg Central Europe; or Vienna, in any shape or form. This delightful interdisciplinary volume will be the standard by which all subsequent analysis of Viennese modernism is measured."

History: Reviews of New Books

"In drawing our attention so concertedly to the corporeal, at all stages of life and health, this book will undoubtedly prove generative not only for scholarship on Vienna and modernism, but as a model of body-centered scholarship that might help us reimagine the history of other times and places as well."

Central European History

"Drawing on a rich variety of archival materials, literary and artistic works, and socio-historical examples, this transdisciplinary book demonstrates the relevance of rigorous humanistic inquiry that brings fields of medicine, art, literature, and dance into conversation. In short, the aptly titled book The Naked Truth convincingly argues for the importance of the body, medicine, and movement as central to our understanding of Viennese Modernism and constitutes a significant contribution to the fields of Modernist, German, and Austrian Studies."


“A sweeping survey of the primacy of the body in the Vienna modern, The Naked Truth demands a reorientation of our assumptions. This book will make a difference.”

Scott Spector, University of Michigan

The Naked Truth offers a brilliant challenge to popular myths about fin-de-siècle Vienna. In its cross-disciplinary focus on the dissected, gendered, classed, and moving body in Viennese culture, it reads Gustav Klimt’s famous icon Nuda Veritas as a purloined image: always in plain sight but consistently overlooked. By including noncanonical women and expanding the frame beyond the political divide of 1918, George gives us a supplemental and alternative genealogy of Viennese modernism.”

Andreas Huyssen, Columbia University

“In this finely written and meticulously researched book, George expands our definition of Viennese modernism. Ranging across various art forms and media, she brings the high modernist narrative from earlier scholarship into dialogue with popular culture. We readers stand to profit from this enriched conversation, learning about an age no less biopolitical than our own.”

Fatima Naqvi, Yale University

"A thoughtful and intelligent overview of the role of the body in Viennese science and culture of the fin-de-siècle and modern periods."

Alexanderadamsart blog

"Alys George, a scholar of Austrian literature, art, film, and culture, has written a sweeping study of the body in Vienna in the era of 1890–1930 that saw an unusual collection of creative minds in arts, literature, and sciences. The book casts a wide net over several fields of cultural production and by doing so challenges the understanding of Vienna as the site of 'homo psychologicus [psychological man] as the emblematic manifestation of Viennese culture,' launched by Carl Schorske in his classic studies from the 1960s and 1970."

Austrian History Yearbook

Table of Contents

Note on Translations

1.         The Body on Display: Staging the Other, Shaping the Self
Science and Spectacle: “Exotic” Bodies on Display
Fictional Encounters? Peter Altenberg’s Ashantee (1897)
Somatic Utopias: Viennese Hygiene Exhibitions
Literary Life Reform: Peter Altenberg’s Pròdrŏmŏs (1906)
Nature and Culture on Stage

2.         The Body in Pieces: Viennese Literature’s Anatomies
Becoming the Blade: Vivisection as the Primal Scene
In the Dissecting Room: Arthur Schnitzler and Marie Pappenheim
Viennese Symptoms, Human Fragments: Joseph Roth’s Journalism
The Politics and Poetics of Viennese Corpses: Carry Hauser and Joseph Roth
Corpse as Capital: Ödön von Horváth’s Faith, Hope, and Charity (1932)

3.         The Patient’s Body: Working-Class Women in the Clinic
Finding a Voice: The Poetics of Pregnancy (Marie Pappenheim and Ilka Maria Ungar)
Egon Schiele in the Clinic
In the Women’s Clinic: Architecture, Gaze, Film
Speaking for Suffering Mothers: Else Feldmann and Carry Hauser
The Politics and Public Visibility of Proletarian Bodies

4.         The Body in Motion: Staging Silent Expression
Body Language and Crisis of Language
Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the Power of Pantomime
Self and Other: Exploring Identity through Free Dance
Making Modern Dance Viennese
Celluloid Gestures and the Cinematic Body
The Worker’s Body: Modern Dance, Machine Culture, and Social Democracy




German Studies Association: DAAD/GSA Book Prize in Literature and Cultural Studies

Nanovic Institute for European Studies, University of Notre Dame: Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European Studies

Modern Language Association: MLA Scaglione Prize for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures

Waterloo Centre for German Studies: Waterloo Centre for German Studies Book Prize

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