Vernon Lee: Decadent Woman?

  • Ruth Robbins
Part of the Warwick Studies in the European Humanities book series (WSEH)

Abstract

Over the last twenty years or so, much energy and ink have been devoted to attempts to define the female writer’s relationship to various literary movements and practices. There is already available, for example, a large body of material examining gender and Victorian literature, and gender and Modernism.1 It is the issue of the relationship of gender to literary genres, movements and terminologies with which this essay is concerned. ‘Decadence’ is the movement which will be examined in respect of gender. The literary Decadence of the nineteenth-century fin de siècle might seem to be a strange choice: it is, after all, easy to see why feminists would wish to recuperate for their own use a term such as Modernism with all its implications of a radical, dynamic, forward-looking new art. Decadence raises rather different questions which are, nonetheless, instructive and can aid the literary critic’s understanding of how labelling processes operate, how they exclude or marginalise certain types of writing and writer, even when the label already — like Decadence — confers itself a marginal status on that to which it is applied.

Keywords

Clay Amid Fishing Defend Heroine 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See for example Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic, the Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 1979)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Phyllis F. Mannochi, ‘“Vernon Lee”: A Reintroduction and Primary Bibliography’, English Literature in Transition, 26 (4), 1983, 231–267Google Scholar
  3. Elaine Showalter in A Literature of their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontä to Lessing (London: Virago Press, 1979, 1984, 1987)Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Vernon Lee’s biography, Vernon Lee, Violet Paget, 1856–1935 by Peter Gunn (London: Oxford University Press, 1964)Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Walt Whitman, ‘Song of Myself’, section 51, Leaves of Grass (New York: Airmont Publishing Company, Inc., 1965) p. 79.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    R. K. R. Thornton, ‘“Decadence” in Later Nineteenth Century England’, in Decadence and the 1890s, ed. Malcolm Bradbury and David Palmer, Stratford Upon Avon Studies 17 (London: Edward Arnold, 1979) pp. 15–30Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Robert Browning, ‘Andrea del Sarto’, Robert Browning, The Poems, Volume I, ed. John Pettigrew (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1981) p. 646.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Vernon Lee, Belcaro, Being Essays on Sundry Aesthetical Questions (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887) pp. 203–5.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Michel Foucault, ‘A Preface to Transgression’ in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, translated by Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1977).Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    Richard Le Gallienne, The Century Guild Hobby Horse, VII (1892), pp. 80–1Google Scholar
  11. R. K. R. Thornton, The Decadent Dilemma (London: Edward Arnold, 1983) p. 46.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Bruce Haley, The Healthy Body and Victorian Culture (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1977) p. 169.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Henry James, The Bostonians (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984) p. 327.Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1923) p. 121.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    Jennifer Birkett, The Sins of the Fathers: Decadence in France 1880–1920 (London and New York: Quartet, 1986) p. 159.Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    D. G. Rossetti, ‘Jenny’ in The Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (London: Ellis, 1911) p. 88.Google Scholar
  17. 20.
    W. B. Yeats, ‘The Tragic Generation’, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan, 1966) p. 302.Google Scholar
  18. 21.
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Statesman’s Manual: A Lay Sermon, Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Collected Works, Vol. 6, Lay Sermons, ed. R. J. White (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972) pp. 3–53Google Scholar
  19. 22.
    See Christine Battersby, Gender and Genius, Towards a Feminist Aesthetics (London: The Women’s Press, 1989).Google Scholar
  20. 23.
    Vernon Lee, ‘The Economic Parasitism of Women’ in Gospels of Anarchy (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1908) pp. 270–1.Google Scholar
  21. 24.
    Vernon Lee, Baldwin: A Book of Dialogues (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1886) pp. 347–8.Google Scholar
  22. 30.
    Linda Dowling, Language and Decadence in the Victorian Fin-de-Siècle (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1986) pp. 115–16.Google Scholar
  23. 32.
    Vernon Lee, ‘The Craft of Words’, New Review, XI, December 1894, pp. 571–80Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    Oscar Wilde, Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, ed. Peter Ackroyd (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985) pp. 21–2.Google Scholar
  25. 35.
    Vernon Lee, Miss Brown, A Novel (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1884)Google Scholar
  26. 37.
    Holbrook Jackson, The 1890s (London: Cresset Library, 1988), p. 53Google Scholar
  27. John Stokes, In the Nineties (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989) p. 7.Google Scholar
  28. 38.
    Vernon Lee, ‘Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady’, The Yellow Book, Volume X, July 1896, pp. 289–344Google Scholar
  29. 41.
    The Lilith myth can be found narrated in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, but I first came across it in a quotation from ‘The Alphabet of Ben Sira’ used as an epigraph in Michelene Wandor’s collection of poetry Gardens of Eden: Songs for Eve and Lilith (London and New York: Journeyman Press, 1984). For an analysis of Cleopatra’s erotic, exotic and wicked communion with the asp, see Lucy Hughes-Hallet, Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions (London: Bloomsbury, 1990).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ruth Robbins 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruth Robbins

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