English 430/545
Victorian Cultural Backgrounds:
Aestheticism and Decadence
Summer I, 1998
Daily, 9:20-10:50; 6/1-7/2
LL C146
Dan Bivona


Perhaps the most controversial artistic movements of the nineteenth century, Aestheticism and the Decadence were very closely related; the former dominant during the 1860s and 70s, the latter setting the cultural tone of the 80s and 90s. In this course we will explore the cultural currents which fed into Aestheticism's celebration of physical beauty, and then consider how this preoccupation with beauty mutates into a celebration of beauty that has just begun to decay. We begin with Matthew Arnold, whose hymn of praise to "Hellenism" in Culture and Anarchy seemed to provide sanction for the artistic experiments of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the subversive early poetry of Swinburne. We will then turn to the devotional Aestheticism of the most influential theorist of the movement: Walter Pater. In the latter half of this course we will focus on the work of the two figures most clearly responsible for reshaping Aestheticism into a celebration of beauty under threat of decay -- J-K Huysmans and Oscar Wilde -- and close with a reading of Conrad's Lord Jim, a proto-Modernist novel which adapts Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray to a very different project. The main texts for the course will be Arnold's Culture and Anarchy, Pater's Studies in the Renaissance, Huysmans' Against Nature, Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Conrad's Lord Jim. These will be supplemented with some poetry of the Rossettis, Swinburne, and "Michael Field" (a.k.a. Edith Cooper and Katherine Bradley); and essays by Darwin, Buchanan, J. A. Symonds, and Arthur Symons (all of which will be available from the Internet through links on the online course syllabus).

Writing requirements include 1 midterm exam and 1 critical paper for undergraduates, 1 midterm and 2 critical papers for graduate students. The papers should be 5-8 pages in length and follow the MLA Format and Citation Guide. A list of topics is now available here.You are expected to attend all classes and contribute to class discussion which will count for 20% of your final grade. You have the option to rewrite one of your papers. If you choose the rewrite option, you should submit the rewrite no later than the final day of class (7/2).
N.B. Graduate students in 545 who wish to may choose the option of writing 1 critical research paper (10-15 pages in length) to be submitted no later than Thursday, 7/2, instead of doing the two 5-8 page critical papers.



 Undergraduates (430) Graduate Students (545)
June 17: Midterm Exam June 17: Midterm Exam
July 2: Critical Paper due. June 24: Critical Paper #1 due.
  July 2: Critical Paper #2 due.
  • Huysmans, J-K. Against Nature (Viking Penguin). 
  • Wilde, Oscar. Picture of Dorian Gray (Oxford UP). 
  • Conrad, Joseph. Lord Jim (Oxford UP). 
These books will be available at the ASU Bookstore in May. 
Dan Bivona's Office Hours: 
Hours: T,W 1-3 and by appointment
Office: LL B541 (NEW!)
Phone: 5-7748
The following schedule lists the required readings for the course. The poetry and passages from Darwin and other prose writers are publicly available on the Internet. Just follow the links below.  For suggestions on secondary sources, see the supplemental reading list.  For a more comprehensive bibliography of Victorian fiction, see Jay Clayton's Victorian Bibliography.
 Date Topic  Reading 
6/1, 6/2 Hebraism and Hellenism Arnold, Selections from Culture and Anarchy
6/3, 6/4, 6/5 Aestheticist Poetry Swinburne, "Hymn to Proserpine", "The Garden of Proserpine," "The Triumph of Time"; D. G. Rossetti, "The Blessed Damozel", "Jenny"; C. Rossetti, "In An Artist's Studio," "Goblin Market"; Michael Field, Selections; Buchanan, "The Fleshly School of Poetry"
6/8, 6/9, 6/10 


6/11, 6/12

Pater's Renaissance 


Decadence and "The Natural"

Pater, Selections from The Renaissance:   "Leonardo da Vinci," "Conclusion"; "Aesthetic Poetry""The Child in the House"; "Denys L'Auxerrois" 

Huysmans, Against Nature;  See Benjamin






No class 


Midterm Exam* 


Decadence and "The Natural"




Symonds, "A Problem in Greek Ethics"; Wilde, Salome; Symons, "The Decadent Movement in Literature"

6/22, 6/23 Decadence and Nature  Darwin, from Origin of Species ("Introduction," "Natural Selection," "Conclusion")
6/24, 6/25, 6/26 Decadence and Nature cont. Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray; " The Decay of Lying"
6/29, 6/30, 7/1, 7/2  Decadence and Modernism Conrad, Lord Jim

N.B. The midterm exam will be a take-home exam appearing on this website at 4PM on 6/16. The completed, typed exam is due at the English Department office before 5PM on Wednesday, 6/17.

**Midterm Exam**

You may send me the completed exam as an attachment to email if you wish.  If you plan to do so, send it to the following address:  dbivona@asu.edu.  The same deadline (5PM on 6/17) applies whether you send it as an attachment or drop off a hard copy in the English Department.

The following links will take you to sites which provide additional information about topics related to Aestheticism and the Decadence.

General: Nineteenth Century Literature, www.sappho.com

Art, Nature, Artifice, Simulacra:  Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" ; The Baudrillard Project ; Donna Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto" ; Victor Margolin, "The Politics of the Artificial"
Matthew Arnold: The Victorian Web

A. C. Swinburne: The Victorian Web (Swinburne), Swinburne: a Selection

The Arts and Crafts Movement (Morris et al.):Pre-Raphaelite, Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and Fantasy Sites, Founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement

The Pre-Raphaelites: Pre-Raphaelite Collection, The Pre-Raphaelite Critic, Pre-Raphaelite Overview, Pre-Raphaelite Society, Germ: A Hypermedia Critical Edition, Collection of Images of Rosseti's Artworks, D. G. Rossetti Hypermedia Archive, The Victorian Web (Christina Rossetti)

Charles Darwin: The Darwinian Revolution (John Lynch); The Darwinian Homepage ; Evolution and Social Darwinism ; Herbert Spencer

Oscar Wilde: Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience, The Victorian Web (Wilde), Short Stories, Random Oscar Wilde Quote, Oscariana, The Story of Oscar Wilde, The Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Oscar Wilde: The Complete Shorter Fiction & Poems in Prose, The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde

The Nineties: Aubrey Beardsley ; Literary Decadence

Joseph Conrad:  Bivona, "Inquisition as Behavioral Determination"

Miscellaneous:  John Addington Symonds, "A Problem in Greek Ethics",Gay History and Literature, Plato's Symposium and  Phaedrus, Michel Foucault Links; Wordworth's "Ode:  Intimations of Immortality from the Recollections of Early Childhood"