Modernist Works and the Fear of the Fin de Siècle Essay

Modernist Works and the Fear of the Fin de Siècle Essay

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Modernist Works and the Fear of the Fin de Siècle

    Fin de siècle is a term which is now used to refer to the period of the last 40 or so years of the Nineteenth Century and its art, yet at the time the word had genuine sociological connotations of modernity, social decay and reaction.  In France in particular though arguably throughout Europe, society was changing in such a way as to merit such a pessimistic term for the trend evolving.  The growing ability for the mass of the people to access all areas of society, previously only available to an appreciative elite coupled with the growing crime rate and visible decline of this elite are factors of this social phenomenon.  The modernist writers, typically the youthful offspring of the old elites, certainly used fin de siècle as a theme.  There is evidence of a conflict with the concept of fin de siècle, but it is too simple to say that they displayed a fear of fin de siècle.  As I will try to show in this essay, the modernist reaction to and interpretation of fin de siècle is not static and, as though proportional to the development of modernity as an aesthetic, develops through works of varying mediums by different authors over the period identified as 'modernist'.


The phenomenon of  fin de siècle is like any term, including modernism, not rigidly set chronologically.  It can be used to describe any time in the period between about 1860 and around the beginning of the First World War.  This roughly coincides with the chronology of modernism.  This is no coincidence, since the two are linked exponentially and develop so.  But whether the relationship between the works of modernism and fin de siècle is one of fear, is not a clear cut 'yes or no' situation.  In ...

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...arles Baudelaire, The Flowers of Evil, Aylesbury: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Joris Karl Huysmans, Against Nature, St Ives: Penguin Books Ltd., 1959.

Thomas Mann, Death in Venice, St Ives: Penguin Books Ltd., 1971.

Bram Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity - Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin de siècle culture, New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

J.A. Cuddon, Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, St Ives: Penguin Books Ltd., 1992.

Ruth Harris, Murders and Madness - Medicine, Law and Society in the Fin de siècle, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

Eugen Weber, France - Fin de siècle, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Richard David Sonn, French Anarchism as Cultural Politics in the 1890's, Michigan: Ann Arbor, 1981.

1 Eugene Weber, France - Fin de Siècle, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1986, pp. 9 - 26


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