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Title: Nihilism in French literature, 1880-1900
Author: Beaumont, Keith
ISNI:       0000 0001 3452 8346
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 1971
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The object of this thesis is to analyse the sources, expression and consequences of the nihilism which appears in the last decades of the nineteenth century in France, as this nihilism is mirrored in the literature of the time. Chapter I outlines the subject and defines the terms used. Chapters II and III discuss the philosophical evolution which lies behind this nihilism and examine the role of scientific developments - in particular the impact of the ideas of Darwin. The decline of belief in the various 'absolutes' of the earlier nineteenth century is stressed - amongst them the belief in 'Nature' and faith in ‘Science- - along with the metaphysical ‘void’ which ensued. Chapter – IV examines with the vague and ambiguous 'pessimism' of the literary and intellectual youth of France in the 1880's and 1890's and the part played by Schopenhauer in its dissemination - showing that the term 'pessimism' refers to, amongst other things, a view of the 'absurdity’·of existence and of the non-justification of all values, and that the vogue of Schopenhauer’s philosophy owes much to its apparent confirmation of many of the conclusions of contemporary science. Chapter V analyses the 'idealism' of many of the symbolists and its supposed sources in Schopenhauer. It shows how the former tends to become a nihilistic solipsism, and, the ambiguous role played by the 'anti-positivist reaction’and 'idealist revival' of these years. Chapter VI explores the political and social factors Which underlie and help to explain the vogue of this 'idealism' - the profound sense of alienation or separation from the values of the bourgeois world around them felt by many young writers and intellectuals towards the end of the nineteenth century. It examines the way in which this sense of alienation contributes to the nihilism of these years, and the various ways in which it finds expression. The following four cchapters analyse the elements of nihilism in the work of four writers – Jean Lahor, Jules Laforgue, Maurice Barrès and Alfred Jarry -, all of whom, despite their apparent diversity, reveal the influence of some or all of the factors discussed in the previous five chapters. All four are considered here not from a 'literary' point of view, but as intellectuals reacting to certain ideas and situations. The exact sources and nature of the nihilism of each is explored, and the attempts of Lahor, Laforgue and Barrès to struggle against and to overcome this nihilism - all with only partial success - are stressed, as is also Jarry's resolute acceptance of this nihilism and its systematisation in his . 'science of pataphysics. A penultimate chapter is devoted to an analysis of four works by other authors - Huysmans' A rebours, Villlers de l'Isle-Adam's Axël, Bourget's Le Disciple and Claudel’s Tête d'Or - all of which reveal various facets of the nihilism of these years. The concluding chapter outlines the pattern which has emerged from these detailed analyses, and stresses the significance of the nihilism studied as well as certain consequences of the reaction to it - amongst them the rise of a widespread anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism, the growth of various forms of an 'As if' philosophy, and the attempt to create new 'myths' or 'fictions' which will again provide a source of meaning and values for human existence. Finally, it indicates briefly the relationship between the nihilism studied in this thesis and that of the twentieth century.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PN Literature (General)