Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Jeremy Valentin Freeman, Humanities

Un-Decadence: Counter-Poetries and Decadent Aesthetics in the British Fin-De-Siècle

Tuesday, August 18, 2020 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


This dissertation examines and categorically reforms the accepted construction of fin-de-siècle decadence. In this study I grapple with how we understand the nature of fin-de-siècle cultural history and how theories of decadence during the late-nineteenth century may be usefully complicated by an analysis of fin-de-siècle decadence as a non-unitary discursive program. Cumulatively this study reimagines Victorian, fin-de-siècle and modernist literatures in relation to decadent aesthetics read through a sustained investigation of discourse and generic forms in the period. To this end I examine three late-Victorian poets’ methods of construction and models of poetic and aesthetic form as they wrote, shaped and published their works in order to demonstrate how they incite us to alter and re-define our conception of decadence as a historical category. For this critical intervention I have chosen a set of authors—Edward Carpenter, John Davidson and Sarojini Naidu—whose work exemplifies three poetic models that, I argue, actively engaged with and reformed the tropes, arguments and methods of fin-de-siècle decadence. Edward Carpenter’s poetry is emblematic of democratic decadence and exemplifies a homoerotic, vegetarian, fraternal, and socialistic decadence that combines late-century aestheticism and utopianism with the embrace of a cosmic Whitmanian self and an ardent embrace of Indian spirituality and culture. John Davidson’s poetics are a case-study in muscular decadence with its roots in Nietzsche, the Nietzschean will to power and in a cross-fertilization of German and European pessimism with particularly British ideas of national culture and the great self. Sarojini Naidu’s poetics are a case-study in poly-decadence, a poly-cultural, poly-theistic, and poly-valent poetics that explores the international shape of decadent symbolism and a wide movement toward an emancipatory decadence intertwined with a nationalistic feminism. By organizing and naming the key decadent aesthetic fields that the authors engaged with this study traces the dialectical interplay between poetry and decadent theory during the period and attempts to broaden and complicate how we understand decadence, discourse and aesthetics as key drivers in the production of culture.

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