Gertrude Himmelfarb Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gertrude Himmelfarb, one of the most renowned intellectual historians of her generation, grew up in New York City. She studied history and philosophy at Brooklyn College, where she earned a B.A. in 1942. That same year she married the writer and editor Irving Kristol, with whom she had two children, William and Elizabeth. Himmelfarb pursued further studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Girton College, Cambridge, and at the University of Chicago, where she studied with Louis Gottschalk, a historian of the French Revolution and biographer of the Marquis de Lafayette. Gottschalk, who had himself studied under Carl Becker at Cornell University, offered his students rigorous and demanding seminars on historical method. Himmelfarb earned a Ph.D. in 1950, and she revised her dissertation on Lord Acton for publication two years later.

Himmelfarb went on to teach at the Graduate School of the City University of New York, where she was named Distinguished Professor in 1978. In the 1960’s Himmelfarb produced intellectual biographies of noted Victorians and essays on key Victorian topics such as Darwinism and parliamentary reform. Many of these were published as parts of anthologies or in The New York Review of Books. After extensively revising some of these essays, she republished them in Victorian Minds, the book that fully established her reputation as an intellectual historian. This work included two very different sketches of Sir Edmund Burke, one denigrating him as a philosopher and another, written a decade later, praising his work in this field; a comparison of these two essays reveals how Himmelfarb’s thought evolved. Victorian Minds includes a new view of John Stuart Mill’s life, as well, arguing that for much of it he was dominated by Harriet Taylor, his intellectual soulmate and, eventually, wife. Himmelfarb also reveals a previously ignored aspect of...

(The entire section is 780 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Beum, Robert. “Gertrude Himmelfarb on the Victorians and Ourselves.” Sewanee Review 105, no. 2 (1997): 260-267. Review essay assessing the reissue of Victorian Minds in the light of the evolution of historical theory over thirty years.

Boxwell, D. A. “Kulturkampf, Then and Now.” War, Literature, and the Arts 12, no. 1 (2000): 122-136. Comments on One Nation, Two Cultures, along with other books, in the context of “culture wars.”

Dintenfass, Michael. “Truth’s Other: The History of the Holocaust, and Historiographical Theory After the Linguistic Turn.” History and Theory 39, no. 1 (2000): 1-20. Densely theoretical article that addresses the historiographical assumptions implicit in Himmelfarb’s writing, along with several other historians.

Feuer, L. S. “Gertrude Himmelfarb: A Historian Considers Heroes and Their Historians.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 23, no. 1 (1993): 5-26. Analyzes Himmelfarb’s history of philosophy.

Hollahan, Eugene. “Himmelfarb’s Culture of Poverty and Hopkins’s ‘poor Jackself.’” Clio 25, no. 1 (1995): 43-62. Uses Himmelfarb’s writings on Victorian attitudes toward poverty to analyze the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Humanities 12 (1991). An NEH publication; the entire issue is devoted to Himmelfarb.

Tuttleton, James W. “Rehabilitating Victorian Values.” Hudson Review 48, no. 3 (1995): 388-397. Review of The De-moralization of Society.