English 166

Special Topics: The Literature of the Fin de Siècle

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Fall 2021 Viragh, Atti
TuTh 2-3:30 56 Social Sciences

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The cultural uniqueness of the fin de siècle throws into disarray our usual way of organizing knowledge about the “Victorians” and the “moderns.” Far from a minor transitional stage between epochs, this is a period whose art and thought are so distinctive that it must be understood on its own terms. The storm clouds of mass warfare, socialist revolution, anti-colonial uprisings and the breakup of empires were all in the air, but had not yet erupted on the world stage. Most countries had seen decades of peace, increasing rights for women and minorities, and, alongside severe poverty in industrialized cities and swelling organized labor movements, a new business class taking power over the public sphere from a declining aristocracy. In cosmopolitan centers like St. Petersburg, Vienna, Paris and London (and moving between them), a polyglot generation debated new theories about art, philosophy, psychology, sexuality and political economy. Recent scientific discoveries such as cell theory, the germ theory of disease, evolution, and the neurological theory of mind were now widely accepted. In this atmosphere, experimental movements in the arts—impressionism, symbolism, secessionism, art nouveau, decadence, the arts and crafts movement—were flourishing. If fin-de-siècle literature cannot be reduced to that of any other period but demands its own category, this class is designed as an introduction to some of the major writers in that category. We will read and situate their work alongside developments in the social and natural sciences that they were thinking about, and we will seek to develop, along the way, our own theory of fin-de-siècle literature.

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