Decadence and the English tradition
The thesis sets out to do two things. It seeks first of all to describe the revival of interest in the Caroline era which defines the nature of an "English Tradition" in the Eighteen Nineties. Secondly, in doing so it seeks to reappraise three significant poets of that era, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, and Francis Thompson, in terms of their participation in this revival. The first chapter, "Craving Viaticum", deals with the general background of the Eighteen Nineties period. It suggests that the Symbolist movement equates with the Decadent one in a more direct way than has often been allowed, and deals with the era's enthusiasm for nostalgia and past ages as part of its reaction against current society. It also explores the period's allegiance to hero-figures. The second chapter, "The French Connection: Pater's Part", deals with Walter Pater, and evaluates him in terms of his art and criticism, suggesting how these develop from a nostalgic desire to re-create past ages in the image of his present ideals. The more exaggerated claims made by critics of his work for the influence of French writers on him are questioned, and Pater's relation to the "English Tradition" is discussed. In the third chapter, "The French Connection: Other Approaches", the tendentiousness of those critics who attempt to define the entire Decadent era in Britain in terms of French influences is discussed and exposed. The fourth chapter, "New Births of Decadence: The English Tradition and the Seventeenth Century", deals with the relation of the literature of the period to the Caroline era in detail, and the fifth chapter, "Of Academic Interest", is concerned with analysing this relationship through discussion of both contemporary and present-day critics, adducing statistical evidence to prove a resurgence of interest in the writers of the Caroline era in the period 1880-1910. The sixth chapter, "By the Statue of King Charles: The Jacobite Revival" deals with the political and religious aspects of the Caroline revival, and charts the growth of neo-Jacobitism in the Eighteen Nineties and its relation to literary history. The seventh chapter, "Against Nature: Defining Decadence", suggests that the root of Decadent thinking is myth, and that the counterpart of Symbolism in the world of decadent nostalgia was the iconic religious and political culture of the court of King Charles I, a convenient archetype for Decadent myths of ritual, aristocracy, and martyrdom. This discussion closes the first part of the thesis. "Francis Thompson, Faithful Decadent: Catholics and Criticism" is Chapter Eight. It discusses Francis Thompson in relation to his critics, and the manner in which views of his work have been polarised between two main schools of criticism. Chapter Nine, "Faithful in my Fashion", suggests a resolution of this historically polarised critical discussion by assessing Thompson's poetry in close relationship with the work of the seventeenth-century sacred poets. The tenth chapter, "Waif of Romance: The Poetry of Ernest Christopher Dowson", assesses Dowson in relation to Herrick and the Cavalier lyrists, discussing also how he stands as a type in relation to his age. The eleventh chapter, "Lionel Johnson: One of Those Who Fall: His Life and Ideas", is concerned with the crisis in Johnson's thought over the natures of guilt and beauty, and how this is illustrated in his poetry. The twelfth and final chapter, "The Life and Work of Lionel Johnson: A Long Blast Upon the Horn: His Work and Themes", assesses Johnson's nostalgia for the Stuart era in terms of a resolution of his present poetic crisis through past values. His intellectual and intertextual relationships with Ben Jonson and Marvell are also discussed. The thesis closes with an assessment of Johnson's achievement based on his allegiance to the Caroline revival with which the argument throughout has been concerned.