Literary Radicalism in the British Fin de Siècle
In characterising the literature of the 1890s, literary historians have tended to use descriptions, explanatory models, and even metaphors which have been derived in the first instance from French literary history. Mallarmé and Baudelaire, Huysmans and Zola, Degas and Manet, and movements such as Symbolism, Naturalism and Impressionism — it is from these French examples that models of English literary history are derived. French precedents are used to construct the types or the categories of literary history which can then be applied on a fairly wholesale basis to other cultures, especially to that of Britain.1 One consequence of such a methodology is that the British counterparts of French prototypes are invariably seen as shadows of the ‘real thing’: so, for example, in the 1890s, English poetry, particularly that of Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, and Arthur Symons, is often seen as derivative of French models. The limitations of such a strategy are most clearly in evidence, however, in descriptions of literary radicalism. Generally speaking, nineteenth-century French culture is seen as determining the underlying patterns of artistic radicalism: indeed it is commonly perceived as possessing something of a monopoly of cultural or artistic iconoclasm.
KeywordsLiterary Criticism Literary History French Revolution French Model English Poetry
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- 1.For an example of such a strategy, see R. K. R. Thornton, The Decadent Dilemma (London: Edward Arnold, 1983).Google Scholar
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