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Title: 'The Indispensable East' in decadent literature in England and Germany, 1880-1920
Author: Herold, Katharina
ISNI:       0000 0004 7966 3076
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis explores the role of the East in British and German literary Decadence. It reaches from the high point of Victorian Decadence in the 1880s to high point of Modernism at the beginning of the Weimar Republic in 1918−1920 in Germany. My central concern is to argue that the East is a major characteristic of fin-de-siècle European Decadence. In bringing together two European literatures, this comparative thesis makes a case for Decadence's transnational if not global nature. England and Germany serve as examples to consider Decadence beyond the Anglo-French model still dominating the field. The thesis examines the role of the East with specific reference to two British and two German authors: starting from Oscar Wilde's (1854− 1900) Victorian vision of Egypt and Arthur Symons's (1865−1945) post-Romantic fascination with the 'Gypsy', it moves to Paul Scheerbart's (1863−1915) Decadent Babylon and Assyria, read as being in opposition to a modern Europeanism, and concludes by turning to Stefan George's (1868−1933) exclusion of the East from his poetic practice. The geographical reach of the East focuses on regions of the Eastern Mediterranean and Northern Africa. The cultural translation of specifically the Middle East into different national contexts gains new − sometimes oppositional - meanings, avoiding a one-sided representation of both the East and the two national literatures that absorbed it. In arguing for a Decadent cosmopolitanism as a model of heterogeneous inclusivity that reaches beyond the binaries Edward Said established in his Orientalism, this thesis brings together postcolonial theory, theories of cosmopolitanism, art history and literature in a comparative study allowing for an analysis of synergies and interdependences of European literary movements. The thesis thus chronologically traces how the literary treatment of the East changed Decadent literature: initially defined as a cosmopolitan network of artists and as an aesthetically inclusive concept, Decadence in the early twentieth century evolved to denote the decay of Western socio-political culture. In my conclusion I argue that the renewed attention to the East was 'indispensable' to the formation of Decadence and crystallized the need for literary 'cosmopolitics' in order to overcome Europe's cultural crisis of modernization at the turn of the twentieth century.
Supervisor: Evangelista, Stefano ; Robertson, Ritchie Sponsor: AHRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Cosmopolitanism ; Orientalism ; Decadence in literature