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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : English Literature

Undergraduate Course: Decadence, Dazzle, Dissent: Aestheticism and Cultural Politics in the Long Twentieth Century (ENLI10434)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course will explore the literary afterlives of the decadent movement of the fin de siècle. It will begin by considering late-nineteenth-century literary decadence, aestheticism, and cosmopolitanism, focusing in particular on the relationship between aesthetics, form, politics, and community in fin-de-siècle anglophone literature. This work will then be used as a foundation to examine the way in which literary decadence was used by later writers in responding to some of the major crises and conflicts of the twentieth century.

Where decadence has tended to be represented as an individualistic aestheticized form of retreat, associated with a feminised, queer, or in other ways marginalised frivolity, this course will consider the ways in which writers from across the twentieth century harnessed and weaponised this very frivolity as a way of both interrogating and resisting racism, militarism, fascism, and misogyny. In particular, the course will address the ways in which decadence as form, touchstone, exemplar, and inspiration, offered writers resisting various modes of racial subordination, colonialism, and fascism a means of both formal literary resistance and identification with a transnational and transhistorical literary community.
Course description While literary decadence is traditionally associated with endings of empires, civilisations, or centuries, this course instead takes the literary decadence of the end of the nineteenth century as its beginning. Students will consider the various ways in which writers throughout the twentieth century responded to, represented, and utilized decadent themes, tropes and forms in their own responses to crises, anxieties, and alienation. With a particular focus on the transatlantic anglophone afterlives of European literary decadence (in the UK, the US, and the Caribbean), the course will allow students to explore the relationship between literature and politics, as well as the transnational, transhistorical transmission of literary histories, themes, and forms.

Beginning with a number of the foundational texts of literary decadence, including by Charles Baudelaire, Walter Pater, and Oscar Wilde, the course will first introduce students to decadence as a movement, in its historical, political, and cultural contexts. The course will then move through the twentieth century, from the First World War, the Harlem Renaissance, the late colonial Caribbean, and the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe, to the Second World War and its aftermath, the decline of the British empire, the AIDS crisis, and counter-cultural decadence in the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond. Students will read primary texts which, in various ways and modes, engage with decadence in their response to these historical events and phenomena, alongside a range of secondary reading placing these texts in both cultural and historical context, and will be asked to consider the different kinds of relationship between aesthetics, history, and social, sexual, and cultural politics which these texts offer.

The course will complement and build on students existing knowledge of Victorian, Edwardian, modern, and contemporary literature, while also probing the usefulness of, and tensions and overlaps between, these terms. Possible readings will include well-known texts, such as Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin (1939), Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited (1945), and Quentin Crisp's The Naked Civil Servant (1968), and these will be studied alongside lesser-known works, which might include texts such as Vernon Lee's The Ballet of the Nations (1915), the interwar poetry of Una Marson and W. Adolphe Roberts, and Neil Bartlett's Who Was That Man? A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde (1988). Primary texts will potentially include novels, short stories, poetry, memoir, journalism, and drama. Students will also have the opportunity to discuss non-literary forms and modes of response to decadence, including art, music, film, and fashion.

Seminars will be used to discuss the formal, aesthetic, political, and philosophical qualities of decadent literature, together with the social, sexual, cultural, and political contexts and commitments of the literature under discussion. In order to prepare for these seminars, students will be required to meet weekly in their small Autonomous Learning Groups (ALGs) to discuss the week's reading and to prepare materials for each seminar. These materials will be presented to the class in a range of formats (including written reports, formal verbal presentations, and informal contributions to class discussion). This course will be assessed through the completion of one 2,000-word coursework essay (30%) and one 3,000-word final essay (70%).
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 100% coursework:
30% 2,000 word course essay
70% 3,000 word final essay
Feedback Written feedback will be provided on each assignment, and students are encouraged to meet with the course organiser either during office hours or at another pre-arranged time for verbal feedback both in advance of and following assignment submission. Feedback on the mid-semester essay will feed forward for the final essay.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Construct original, clear, and coherent arguments about the relationship between literature, aesthetics, history, and politics.
  2. Analyse and reflect on the relationship between the arts and key historical, cultural, and political issues of the twentieth century e.g. gender, sexuality, race, nationalism, fascism, war, capitalism, colonialism.
  3. Evaluate and assess ideas from a range of literary and non-literary sources.
  4. Apply close reading skills and comparative methods to a variety of literary forms including novels, drama, non-fiction, and poetry.
  5. Critically evaluate the importance of secondary research material for an understanding of the chief themes of the course.
Reading List
The below readings are indicative, and may change (particularly the secondary readings). Where texts are out of print, or difficult to access, electronic versions will be provided via Learn. Essential readings for each week are specified below. All students will be asked to read the primary texts. The secondary critical readings are intended to be spread across ALG groups, with each student/group reading one secondary text per week.

WEEK ONE: Decadent origins: history and aesthetics
Primary (to be read in class):
Théophile Gautier, preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin (1834)
Algernon Charles Swinburne, selected poems
Joris-Karl Huysmans, À rebours (1884) (excerpts)
Oscar Wilde The Decay of Lying (1889)

Matthew Potolsky, Golden Books:¿Pater, Huysmans, and Decadent Canonization and A Republic of (Nothing but) Letters:¿Some Versions of Decadent Community (2013)

WEEK TWO: Decadence, pacifism, and nationalism
Vernon Lee, The Ballet of the Nations (1915)
Vernon Lee, Satan the Waster (1920) (excerpts)

Gillian Beer, The Dissidence of Vernon Lee: Satan the Waster and the Will to Believe, (1997)
Richard Dellamora,¿Productive Decadence: The Queer Comradeship of Outlawed Thought: Vernon Lee, Max Nordau, and Oscar Wilde (2004)
Kristin Mahoney, Pacifism and Post-Victorian Decadence: Vernon Lee at the Margins of the Twentieth Century (2015)

WEEK THREE: Harlem Decadence
Richard Bruce Nugent, Smoke, Lilies, and Jade (1926)

Elisa Glick, Harlem¿s Queer Dandy: African-American Modernism and the Artifice of Blackness (2001)
Cody St. Clair, A Dilettante Unto Death: Richard Bruce Nugent's Dilettante Aesthetic and Unambitious Failure (2017)
Michèle Mendelssohn, A Decadent Dream Deferred: Bruce Nugent and the Harlem Renaissance¿s Queer Modernity (2019)

WEEK FOUR: Decadent poetics and cosmopolitanism in the late colonial Caribbean
W. Adolphe Roberts, Pan and Peacocks (1928) (selected poems)
Una Marson, Tropic Reveries (1930) and Heights and Depths (1932) (selected poems)

Catherine Maxwell, Decadent Poetics After Swinburne (2020)
Regenia Gagnier, The Geopolitics of Decadence (2021)
Robert Stilling, Imperial Shame, Magnificent Decay: Decadent Poetics and the Colonial West Indies (2021)

WEEK FIVE: Anti-fascist divine decadence
Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin (1939)

Glyn Salton-Cox, Boy Meets Camera:¿Christopher Isherwood and Sergei Tretiakov (2018)
Heather Marcovitch, The Obscure Camera: Decadence and Moral Anxiety in Christopher Isherwood¿s Goodbye to Berlin (2006).
Linda Mizejewski, Divine Decadence: Fascism, Female Spectacle, and the Makings of Sally Bowles (1994) (extract)

WEEK SIX: Essay completion week

WEEK SEVEN: Nostalgia at the end of empire
Evelyn Waugh, Let us return to the nineties, but not to Oscar Wilde (1930)
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited (1945)

Peter Kalliney, Broken Fences: Forster, Waugh, and the Garden Cities (2006)
Simon Joyce, The Politics of Nostalgia (2007)
Martin Lockerd, Decadent Arcadias, Wild(e) Conversions, and Queer Celibacies in Brideshead Revisited (2018)

WEEK EIGHT: Postwar non-alignments
Harold Acton, Memoirs of an Aesthete (1948) (excerpts)
Elsa Maxwell, I Married the World (1956) (excerpts)

Ellen Crowell and Alex Murray, Writing Decadent Lives and Letters (2020)
Allan Kilner-Johnson, Intermodernism and the Ethics of Lateness in Evelyn Waugh and Harold Acton (2023)
Kristin Mahoney, Decadent Bachelordom and Transnational Adoption: Harold Acton in China (2022)

WEEK NINE: The last dandies?
Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant (1968)
Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975) (excerpts)

Regenia Gagnier, Idylls of the Marketplace (1986) (excerpt)
Rhonda Garelick, Quentin Crisp: The Last Dandy? (2001)
Elisa Glick, The Dandy Goes Pop: Andy Warhol¿s Queer Commodity Aesthetics (2009)

WEEK TEN: Decadence in the time of AIDS
Neil Bartlett, Who Was That Man? A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde (1988)

Allan Kilner-Johnson, Decadence in the Time of AIDS (2020)
Kristin Mahoney, Notes on Post-Victorian Decadence after the Wars (2015)
Alan Sinfield, The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde, and the Queer Moment (1994) (excerpts)

WEEK ELEVEN: Black Dazzle
Shola von Reinhold, Lote (2020)

Saidiya Hartman, Venus in Two Acts (2008)
Frankie Dytor, Interview with Shola von Reinhold (2021)
Benjamin Bateman, ¿The Romance of Recovery: Ben Bateman talks to Shola von Reinhold¿ (2022)

Emily Apter, Spaces of the Demimonde/Subcultures of Decadence: 1890-1990 (1999)
Joseph Bristow, Biographies: Oscar Wilde ¿ the man, the life, the legend (2004)
Joseph Bristow, Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture: The Making of a Legend (2008)
Liz Constable, Dennis Denisoff, and Matthew Potolsky (eds.), Perennial Decay: On the Aesthetics and Politics of Decadence (1999)
Richard Dellamora, Friendship¿s Bonds: Democracy and the Novel in Victorian England (2004)
Richard Dellamora, Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism (1990)
John D¿Emilio, Capitalism and Gay Identity (1980)
Dennis Denisoff (ed.), Global Decadence, special issue of Feminist Modernist Studies (2021)
Dennis Denisoff (ed.), Scales of Decadence, special issue of Victorian Literatures and Cultures (2021)
Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (1991)
Alexander Doty, Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture (1993)
Terry Eagleton, Exiles and Emigrés (1970)
Stefano Evangelista, Literary Cosmopolitanism in the English Fin de Siècle: Citizens of Nowhere (2021)
Regenia Gagnier. Idylls of the Marketplace: Oscar Wilde and the Victorian Public (1987)
Regenia Gagnier, Is Market Society the Fin of History? (1995)
Regenia Gagnier, Literatures of Liberalization: Global Circulation and the Long Nineteenth Century (2018)
Rhonda Garelick, Rising Star: Dandyism, Gender, and Performance in the Fin de Siècle (1998)
Brian Glavey, The Wallflower Avant-Garde: Modernism, Sexuality, and Queer Ekphrasis (2015)
Elisa Glick, Materializing Queer Desire: Oscar Wilde to Andy Warhol (2009)
Elisa Glick, Turn-of-the-century Decadence and Aestheticism (2014)
Helena Gurfinkel, Queer, Cosmopolitan (2014)
Len Gutkin, Dandyism: Forming Fiction from Modernism to the Present (2020)
Ellis Hanson, Decadence and Catholicism (1997)
Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979)
Kate Hext and Alex Murray (eds.), Decadence in the Age of Modernism (2019)
Simon Joyce, Victorians in the Rearview Mirror (2007)
Cassandra Laity, H.D. and A.C. Swinburne: Decadence and Sapphic Modernism (1990).
Sally Ledger, Wilde Women and the Yellow Book: The Sexual Politics of Aestheticism and Decadence (2007)
Sally Ledger and Scott McCracken (eds.), Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siecle (1995)
Angela Leighton, On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism, and the Legacy of a Word (2007)
Kristin Mahoney, Literature and the Politics of Post-Victorian Decadence (2015)
Kristin Mahoney, Queer Kinship After Wilde: Transnational Decadence and the Family (2022)
Laura Marcus, Michèle Mendelssohn, Kirsten Shepherd-Barr (eds.), Late Victorian into Modern (2016)
Gail Marshall (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Fin de Siècle (2007)
Miche¿le Mendelssohn. Making Oscar Wilde (2018).
Monica Miller, Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity (2009)
Alex Murray (ed.), Decadence: A Literary History (2020)
Ankhi Mukherjee, What is a Classic? Postcolonial Rewriting and Invention of the Canon (2014)
Ethan Philbrick, Group Works: Art, Politics, and Collective Ambivalence (2023)
Matthew Potolsky, The Decadent Republic of Letters: Taste, Politics, and Cosmopolitan Community from Baudelaire to Beardsley (2013)
Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (1994)
Glyn Salton-Cox, Queer Communism and The Ministry of Love: Sexual Revolution in British Writing of the 1930s (2018)
Talia Schaffer, The Forgotten Female Aesthetes: Literary Culture in Late-Victorian England (2000)
Talia Schaffer and Kathy Alexis Psomiades (eds.), Women and British Aestheticism, (1999)
Vincent Sherry. Modernism and the Reinvention of Decadence (2015)
Elaine Showalter, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle (1990)
David Weir, Decadence and the Making of Modernism (1995)
David Weir, Decadent Culture in the United States: Art and Literature Against the American Grain, 1890-1926 (2006)
David Weir, Legacies of Decadence (2018)
Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (1973)
Gregory Woods, A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition (1998)
Gregory Woods, Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World (2016)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Students will be encouraged to think critically and with nuance about complex and challenging ideas, and to consider alternative perspectives through research and enquiry.

Students will develop their skills in close reading, in historical and cultural contextualisation, and in crafting and substantiating nuanced and coherent written arguments about literary and cultural texts. They will also gain more experience in verbally presenting and debating specialised material with their peers and other specialists.

Although working with guidance from the course leader, students will gain further experience of working in a self-motivated and independent fashion, and will be supported in seeking out further primary and secondary texts to develop their own areas of interest.
KeywordsLiterary decadence,aestheticism,cosmopolitanism,fin de siècle,modernism,Harlem Renaissance,sexuality
Course organiserDr Anna Girling
Course secretary
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