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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019

Chapter 9 - He and She: The 1880s, Camp Aesthetics and the Literary Magazine

Summary

Literary magazine culture of the 1880s created a rich environment for interrogating the relationship between masculinity, fiction and seriousness. Increasing diversity and eclecticism in periodicals promoted the conditions for experiment and the development of styles of self-conscious performativity, exaggeration, and irony that we might describe as ‘camp’. Reading Oscar Wilde’s essays and dialogues alongside work by Robert Louis Stevenson, James Payn, H.H. Johnston, and Andrew Lang, this chapter explores the interest of 1880s journalism in theatricality, artifice, gender inversion, and an aesthetic of pleasurably ‘failed seriousness’. It argues that the literary magazine, where – as one contemporary critic noted – ‘the style is the essay’, offers a platform for developing notions of identity as fluid performance and all literary forms as inevitable modes of pastiche. Lang’s He, a neglected parody of H. Rider Haggard’s adventure novel She, is revealed as a text that is both fascinated by contemporary debate regarding female higher education and enjoys unpicking the self-ironising and knowingly comic aspects of Haggard’s imperial quest narrative. Like so many other works of the 1880s, it uses anthropological and literary self-awareness to bring terms once associated with masculine authority into liberating play.

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