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Can sexual restraint be good for you? Many Victorians thought so. This book explores the surprisingly positive construction of sexual restraint in an unlikely place: late nineteenth-century Decadence. Reading Decadent texts alongside Victorian writing about sexual health, including medical literature, adverts, advice books, and periodical articles, it identifies an intellectual Paterian tradition of sensuous continence, in which 'healthy' pleasure is distinguished from its 'harmful' counterpart. Recent work on Decadent sexuality concentrates on transgression and subversion, with restraint interpreted ahistorically as evidence of repression/sublimation or queer coding. Here Sarah Green examines the work of Walter Pater, Lionel Johnson, Vernon Lee, and George Moore to outline a co-extensive alternative approach to sexuality where restraint figured as a productive part of the 'aesthetic life', or a practical ethics shaped by aesthetic principles. Attending to this tradition reveals neglected connections within and beyond Decadence, bringing fresh perspective to its late nineteenth- and twentieth-century reception.
Russian novels are in intense, ambivalent dialogue with the European tradition; Tolstoy’s take up the British and the French in particular. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy reminds us that adultery is an ever-present threat in the British family novel, as it is in the novel of sensation. Like Tolstoy, Mrs. Henry Wood and Mary Elizabeth Braddon contrast the dynamics of different marriages. They also set adultery in the context of a system that works against women. In Wood’s East Lynne, Carlyle not only forgives his dying ex-wife, but declines to indict her former lover for murder; as he says, “I leave him to a higher retribution: to One who says ‘Vengeance is mine.’” This quote becomes Tolstoy’s epigraph.
Chapter Five turns to the Harlem Renaissance author and illustrator Richard Bruce Nugent, arguing that his “Geisha Man,” which centers on the erotic relationship between a white American father and his mixed-race child, should be understood as emerging from his sustained engagement with Decadence and the Salome story. I position this work within the framework of Nugent’s extensive experimentation with Decadence to argue that the text’s Orientalism and its preoccupation with incest should be understood as more than a simple echoing of Decadence’s more troubling tendencies. This content operates within the text in service to Nugent’s efforts to conceptualize mixed-race identity and the rupturing of Black kinship structures within the United States. Salome is for Nugent a story about a fetishized performer attempting to enact erotic agency within a system of fractured familial formations, and revising her story allows Nugent to theorize kinship and multiraciality in relationship to what Hortense Spillers refers to as the “losses” and “confusions” that accompanied the “dispersal of the historic African American domestic unit.” This chapter sheds light on the manner in which Orientalist Decadence was transported across the Atlantic to perform different types of service for Black thinkers in Harlem in the early-twentieth century.
Chapter Four focuses on the Decadent modernist Harold Acton’s time in China and argues that Acton relies on the concept of kinship as he theorizes cosmopolitanism and transnational contact. Inspired in part by Decadent precursors, such as Vernon Lee, he insists that coming into true communion with other nations requires the eschewal of forms of heteronormative domesticity that might delimit mobility or inhibit openness to foreign experience. However, his work is haunted by anxieties about the slippage between cosmopolitanism and Orientalism, and he turns to kinship metaphors, to the figure of transnational adoption, to think through that slippage. He simultaneously suggests that extrication from conventional familial arrangement facilitates transcultural communion and worries, in his figuring of cultural appropriation as unsuccessful transnational adoption, that true transcultural communion is impossible. In examining the manner in which Acton thinks through and against the concept of kinship while theorizing cosmopolitanism, I highlight the influence on his thinking of women writers and artists, such as Vernon Lee, Nancy Cunard, and Anna May Wong, who shared with Acton a vexed relationship to family and marriage as well as the aspiration to move across national and racial boundaries.
Drawing on an ambitious range of interdisciplinary material, including literature, musical treatises and theoretical texts, Music and the Queer Body explores the central place music held for emergent queer identities in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Canonical writers such as Walter Pater, E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf are discussed alongside lesser-known figures such as John Addington Symonds, Vernon Lee and Arthur Symons. Engaging with a number of historical case studies, Fraser Riddell pays particular attention to the significance of embodiment in queer musical subcultures and draws on contemporary queer theory and phenomenology to show how writers associate music with shameful, masochistic and anti-humanist subject positions. Ultimately, this study reveals how literary texts at the fin de siècle invest music with queer agency: to challenge or refuse essentialist identities, to facilitate re-conceptions of embodied subjectivity, and to present alternative sensory experiences of space and time. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.
Chapter one defines and historically situates the intersections among decadence, ecology, and the pagan revival in literature and art. Noting ecological, scientific, classist, nationalist, and imperialist aspects of decadence in its earliest articulations, focus is given to the shifting formulations of modern decadence in particular by such influential writers as Charles Baudelaire, Paul Bourget, and Max Nordau, the chapter offers close analyses of works by Algernon Swinburne such as his poem ‘The Leper’ (1866) and the Pre-Raphaelite artist Frederick Sandys such as his painting Medea (1868) that demonstrate the complex interplay across these concepts.
The introduction raises the intricate cross-influences among ninetheenth-century science, paganism, and the arts by noting the many renowned experts whose bodies are buried at Holywell Cemetary, Oxford. These include Walter Pater, Kenneth Grahame, botanist George Claridge Druce, zoologist George Rolleson, Celtic scholar John Rhys, Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith, and comparative philologist Max Müller. This intermingling of earth sciences, paganism, and the arts, I argue, captures the ecological foundations of decadence, despite its more popular conception as defined by artifice, dandyism, and shocking non-conformity. The final section of the itnroduction summarizes the monograph’s chapters.
Casting fresh light on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British art, literature, ecological science and paganism, Decadent Ecology reveals the pervasive influence of decadence and paganism on modern understandings of nature and the environment, queer and feminist politics, national identities, and changing social hierarchies. Combining scholarship in the environmental humanities with aesthetic and literary theory, this interdisciplinary study digs into works by Simeon Solomon, Algernon Swinburne, Walter Pater, Robert Louis Stevenson, Vernon Lee, Michael Field, Arthur Machen and others to address trans-temporal, trans-species intimacy; the vagabondage of place; the erotics of decomposition; occult ecology; decadent feminism; and neo-paganism. Decadent Ecology reveals the mutually influential relationship of art and science during the formulation of modern ecological, environmental, evolutionary and trans-national discourses, while also highlighting the dissident dynamism of new and recuperative pagan spiritualities - primarily Celtic, Nordic-Germanic, Greco-Roman and Egyptian - in the framing of personal, social and national identities.
This chapter charts the transition, in British literature of the early twentieth century, from the Decadence associated with Wilde and his generation to the modernism associated with Eliot and his generation. If criticism has readily acknowledged that London, as the locus of an emergent modernist sensibility, was bound up in geographically extended networks of transatlantic and European literary practice, the story of historical transition from Decadence to modernism has been less often told. With particular reference to the poetries of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, the chapter shows how the aesthetics of Decadence were reconfigured and repurposed by modernist writers, before turning in a brief coda to the counter-example of W. B. Yeats, for whom questions of Decadence and modernism were bound up with the national politics of a changing Ireland.
Chapter 2 explores a range of fictional and non-fictional writing on dinosaurs. The first half shows how different writers, including Henry Neville Hutchinson, Grant Allen, and geoscientist Henry Woodward, invoked the comic monsters of Lewis Carroll to develop a new, ‘grotesque’ register for describing dinosaurs. This language naturalised an emergent understanding of dinosaurs, especially American dinosaurs like Triceratops, as having gone extinct owing to the evolution of uselessly monstrous characteristics. These ideas were appealingly absurd to general audiences, who could contrast the progressive traits and intelligence of mammals like themselves with the doomed grotesqueness of the dinosaurs. The chapter’s second half examines this new way of talking about dinosaurs, providing close readings of humourist Eugene Field’s poem ‘Extinct Monsters’ (1893), Edward Cuming’s Wonders in Monsterland (1901), and Emily Bray’s Old Time and the Boy (1921). In addition to depicting dinosaurs through Carrollian nonsense conventions, all three of these texts were direct responses to the works of Hutchinson, demonstrating his long-term importance for the popularisation of dinosaurs.
Chapter 3 examines how transatlantic fiction about dinosaurs shaped notions of national potency at a key moment in US and British history. The first half focuses on two American interstellar romances whose violent protagonists vanquish dinosaurs on evolutionarily backward planets. J. J. Astor’s A Journey in Other Worlds (1894) has them conquering Jupiter’s dinosaurs before heading to a Christianised Saturn and learning about the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ race’s spiritual evolution, while in Gustavus Pope’s Journey to Venus (1895) they subdue prehistoric Venus in an unruly pastiche of palaeontological writing. The chapter’s second half provides alternative perspectives from British authors whose narratives, all published in 1899, allude to the ongoing search for giant dinosaurs in the American West as a way of reflecting on nation, empire, and masculinity. Henry Hering’s short story ‘Silas P. Cornu’s Divining-Rod’ ridicules the avarice of the US tycoons who fuelled the dinosaur ‘rush’, while C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne’s The Lost Continent and Frank Savile’s Beyond the Great South Wall have encounters with giant brontosaurs reinvigorating men’s imperialistic masculinity in over-civilised societies.
The style of George Meredith represents an opposite extreme from Trollope: dense with epigram and ornament, it is frequently denigrated as extravagant and obscure, violating the realist conventions that Trollope worked hard to establish. However, Chapter 6 demonstrates how Meredith drew on the virtues of Asiatic and baroque styles to create a new form of psychological realism characterized by “fervidness,” the intensity that arises when contradictory principles are held in tension. On the one hand, Meredith gravitated to short forms like epigram to distill complex thoughts into memorable phrases; on the other, he delighted in the flights of fancy permitted by prosaic expansiveness. Through a consideration of major and minor work, this chapter reveals how fervidness is embodied structurally as a drama between conditions of freedom and constraint that impinge upon the development of central characters. In this way, Meredith’s “fervidness” formally replicates a dynamic that plays out thematically, making his style much more referential in terms of its relation to content than that of either Thackeray or Trollope before him.
Following the revolutions across Europe in 1848, nationalist conceptions of Europe became increasingly dominant, culminating in the founding of the new nation states of Italy (1861) and Germany (1871). The period also saw an intensification of European colonialism, culminating in the “scramble for Africa” towards the end of the nineteenth century. European nationalism and colonialism were increasingly shaped by an ethnological idea of the European, with racial theories of Homo Europaeus justifying colonial barbarism (as exposed by Joseph Conrad at the end of the century). Alongside this particularly dark period in the history of the idea of Europe, Chapter 5 also considers the work of those who sought to champion a cosmopolitan idea of Europe, including Victor Hugo’s calls for a United States of Europe and Friedrich Nietzsche’s notion of the “good European,” most fully embodied for Nietzsche by Western Europe’s Jewish population. As this chapter reveals, however, Hugo’s idea of Europe was profoundly Francocentric, while Nietzsche’s incorporated deeply disturbing elements of the emerging race theory. The chapter concludes with an assessment of growing sense of European decadence at the end of the century, as articulated by writers such as Max Nordau and Georges Sorel.
Following the catastrophe of the First World War, which many saw as the result of nationalist rivalries, the immediate postwar period was dominated by concerns regarding European decadence and by dreams of a united Europe that would be able to regain its geopolitical power in a new global landscape increasingly dominated by the United States of America and by Russia. The French writer Paul Valéry set the agenda by arguing for a genuinely “European spirit” that had arisen out of the confluence of classical antiquity and Christianity. He was followed in this endeavor to champion a distinctly European spirit by writers such as Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Hermann von Keyserling. Chapter 6 charts the development of this idea of a European spirit, as well as the various plans for a politically united Europe, most notably as Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi’s proposals for what he termed “Pan-Europe.” The chapter reveals the cultural supremacism that taints many of these attempts to identify a European spirit, as well as emphasis placed on the need for European to re-establish its geopolitical and geo-cultural influence.
This chapter focuses on novels by George Sand, Marcelle Tinayre, Rachilde and Colette, along with a series of lesser-known works from the July Monarchy to explore the relation between gender and the novel in nineteenth-century France. While it would be impossible to write a history of the nineteenth-century English novel without making women writers central to the analysis, the same has not been true for histories of the French novel of this period. The chapter explores how women grappled with their outsider status and the different strategies which they adopted in order to legitimate their voices in an often hostile literary world. While drawing attention to similarities of both content and form in women’s novelistic practice, it also considers and illustrates the diversity of literary practices which characterises women’s writing of the period, and highlights the important ways in which gender shaped separate but interconnecting histories of male and female authorship of the nineteenth-century French novel.
This chapter asks whether the “planetary,” a term that has gained currency in literary criticism since the 1990s, is a manageable framework through which to study modernism. Current iterations of the “planetary” signal crises in our contemporary shared human environment, while also marking a transformation in our disciplines. Addressing this bind, Blanco considers a number of different uses and versions of “planetarity,” from Gayatri Spivak’s and Enrique Dussel’s to Susan Stanford Friedman’s recent provocations within the new modernist studies. While thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of framing a center-less modernism, Blanco also asks what happens when rupture is not thought of as the principal operating principle through which to think modernism. Framing these questions around the experiences of Spanish American modernistas in fin-de-siècle Paris (especially Nicaraguan Rubén Darío and Guatemalan Enrique Gómez Carrillo), Blanco ask whether a privileging of a planetary framework effectively undoes a workable conceptualization of modernism.
This chapter discusses the concept of ‘late style’, as defined by Edward Said in his last book, in the work of recent and contemporary Irish poets Derek Mahon, Seamus Heaney, and Paul Muldoon. It explores the anachronistic and untimely as productive ways of thinking about the critical function of art in the three poets, who are all preoccupied with what means to have come ‘too late’ to history, and to poetry. The essay explores the extent to which ‘late style’ can be understood as a function of the ‘exiled’ relationship between the artist and his audience, and to what extent it is a historical consequence of late modernity.
The European "modernism" of which Strauss was considered a representative in the 1890s and the "avant-garde" modernism that would exclude him in the new century differed significantly. Both are defined here as manifestations of, or critical reactions to, cultural and technological modernity. Varying shades of modernism are illustrated with reference to critical responses to Strauss and to his own 1907 essay "Is there an Avant-Garde in Music?" The length of Strauss’s career and the stylistic choices he made both reflect and problematize the once common notion that the history of the period’s music was simply one of evolutionary progress, which he first exemplified and then rejected. The varied and changing context of Strauss’s critical stance and compositional output resides not only in artistic ideas but also in politics and social practice in institutions like opera houses and concert halls and their audiences.
Walter Pater’s Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873) was a foundational text for British Decadence. John Ruskin had vilified Renaissance Italy for its moral and aesthetic depravity, but for Pater and his followers the works of artists such as Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci became vehicles for a radical aesthetic that elevated intensity of experience as the goal of life and saw art as the most crystalized form of that experience. The Renaissance offered sensual enjoyment that could transform and re-enchant the experience of modernity. This chapter argues that it was the aesthetic and moral ambiguousness of the Renaissance that appealed to the Decadent imagination – its audacious blurring of the boundaries between good and evil, the spiritual and the carnal, beauty and ugliness, legitimate and illicit pleasures; its radical unsettling of conventional demarcations of gender, sexuality, place and historical period. For Decadent writers and artists such ambiguities were intellectually and personally liberating. Renaissance Italy provided a creative space in which to explore contemporary uncertainties and to mobilize a distinctively Decadent style.
The 1980s and 1990s saw a dramatic increase in popular and critical attention to Decadence, largely due to the growing awareness that the trials of Oscar Wilde had been an important milestone in the development of queer identity. Wilde was prosecuted for a lifestyle more than anything else, and the 1890s development of a set of queer cultural tropes and social practices began the process of publicly articulating non-normative sexual identity. This chapter charts the interest in Decadence and aestheticism in this period, paying particular attention to how the lives of Wilde and his circle spoke to the context of the time, particularly the HIV/AIDS crisis. This chapter looks at the role Decadent writing played in the literature of the period, studying in particular Peter Ackroyd’s The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (1983), David Hare’s play The Judas Kiss (1998), and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library (1988) and The Line of Beauty (2004). The recovery of Decadence at the fin de siècle of the twentieth century seemed to signal that the modernity of the twenty-first century could locate its origins in the radical attitudes and practices of the Decadent 1880s and 1890s.