ENGL 344
Aestheticism & Decadence Spring 2018 Division I; Cross-listed as COMP364 / ENGL344
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“Fin de Siècle”: Despair over a seemingly perilous decline in moral standards, scandalous forms of art and writing, anxieties brought on by Britain’s uneasy relation to its colonies, and the emergence of new dissident sexual and social identities, led some to fear (and others to celebrate) that the ways of Victorian Britain were not long for this world at end of the 19th century. This course will consider two loosely affiliated artistic movements, aestheticism and decadence, as responses both scandalized and scandalizing to this exhilarating period. The terms themselves are elusive; so, much of our work will entail tracing out the multiple and often contradictory uses of them. Do they designate a distinct cultural and historical moment, a loose set of writers and artists, a set of thematic preoccupations? Or, might we better understand aestheticism and decadence as a style of writing, or even of the self–one we are as likely to find in 21st-century New York as 19th-century London? We’ll read writers such as Oscar Wilde, who reveled in amoral manifestos like “art for art’s sake” by elevating artifice and shallowness to first principles of life; as well as Sherlock Holmes, who pursued something like “detection for detection’s sake”. Our reading will range across novels, plays, poetry, essays, and works that seem to exceed or fall short of those genres, all in the period that gave us both science fiction and the detective story. We’ll be especially interested in attempts to rethink traditional social bonds in works that value solitude over sociality, the transient encounter over the enduring relationship, new forms of affective communities, and to think about how literary form might relate to those efforts. Along with fiction, essays, and drama, we¿ll explore their interrelation with the broad and compelling range of visual art produced in this period. Likely authors include: Huysmans, Wilde, H.G. Wells, Darwin, Conan Doyle, RL Stevenson, Kipling, Edith Wharton.
The Class: Type: seminar
Limit: 25
Expected: 25
Class#: 3954
Requirements/Evaluation: 2 papers (one shorter, one longer), a series of shorter response papers, regular and substantial contributions to class discussions
Prerequisites: a 100-level ENGL course, or a score of 5 on the AP English Literature exam, or a score of 6 or 7 on the Higher Level IB English exam
Enrollment Preference: English majors
Distributions: Division I;
Attributes: ENGL Literary Histories B

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