Bram Dijkstra

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Bram Dijkstra : biography

5 July 1938 –

Bram Dijkstra (born 5 July 1938) is a retired professor of English literature and the author of seven books on literary and artistic subjects. He also curates art exhibitions and writes catalog essays for San Diego art museums. He joined the faculty of the University of California, San Diego in 1966 and taught there until he retired and became an emeritus professor in 2000. He is married to the literary agent Sandra Dijkstra.


  • Faces in Skin: Poems and Drawings (Oyez, 1965)
  • Hieroglyphics of a New Speech: Cubism, Stieglitz and the Early Poetry of William Carlos Williams (Princeton University Press, 1970)
  • Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-siècle Culture (Oxford University Press, 1986)
  • Evil Sisters: The Threat of Female Sexuality and the Cult of Manhood (Knopf, 1996)
  • Georgia O’Keeffe and the Eros of Place (Princeton University Press, 1998)
  • American Expressionism: Art and Social Change 1920–1950 (Harry N. Abrams, 2003)
  • Naked: The Nude in America (Rizzoli, 2010)


He is probably best known for two books that have escaped the academic world into the world of popular culture: Idols of Perversity and Evil Sisters.

These two books discuss vamp imagery, femmes fatales, and similar threatening images of female sexuality in a number of works of literature and art.Alessandra Comini, "Posters from the War Against Women", review of Idols of Perversity (New York Times, Books section, ) In comedian Steve Martin’s short novel Shopgirl, Martin’s heroine claims that Idols of Perversity is her favorite book.


Hieroglyphics of a New Speech

  • “Dijkstra catches the excitement of this period [1920s] of revolutionary art, reveals the interactions between writers and painters, and shows in particular the specific and general impact this world had on Williams’s early writings.” – Literary Studies: Art
  • “In this good book, with competence in matters of both painting and poetry Dijkstra most usefully clarifies an area of literary history that has hitherto been somewhat uncertainly documented.” – American Literary Scholarship, 1970.

Idols of Perversity

  • Idols of Perversity is one of those … books that … changes the rules forever, engaging the full sweep of fin de siècle European painting right alongside the aggressively political feminism that stormed campuses in the wake of the women’s movement of the 1970s.” – Publishers Weekly, Oct. 14, 1996.
  • Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture is an ambitious interdisciplinary study, reviewed favorably in newspapers from the New York Times to the Baltimore Sun, which called it ‘a monumental labor of profound importance.’” – Publishers Weekly, Oct. 14, 1996.

Evil Sisters

  • “An ideological study tracing the roots of distorted ideas of gender, sex and race.” – San Diego Magazine, Dec. 1996.
  • “[Dijkstra] has a way of refocusing the lens of cultural analysis on images and texts, so that the once taken for granted is seen wholly anew. Virtually every page is sprinkled with nuggets of insight, evidence of scholarly command of the material and expository skill.” – San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 20, 1996.
  • “…so thorough is its critique of pseudo-scientific views of race and gender.” – Publishers Weekly, Oct. 14, 1996.
  • “Dijkstra provides another scholarly work that reveals the historical basis for gender and race imagery and conflict in modern culture, especially in film and television…This compelling, thought-provoking work is recommended especially for academic libraries and gender studies collections.” – Library Journal, Oct. 1, 1996.