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ELT 40:2 1997 The 1890s, the 1990s Sally Ledger and Scott McCracken, eds. Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siècle. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. xv + 329 pp. Cloth $59.95 Paper $19.95 THE TEMPTATION to compare the "cultural politics" of the 1890s with the 1990s is strong; it has already produced a spate of books and essays, and is sure to produce more before 2000. In Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siècle, most of the essayists find, in the diverse figures of 1890s artists and intellectuals, "salutary images for an age like our own," as Terry Eagleton puts it in his contribution, "in which the discourse of subjectivity, and the language of social transformation, no longer consort so obviously together." In other words, in the 1890s it was still possible to think about subjectivity and politics together. Given the 1990s defaillancy of Marxism and the divisions within current feminist theory, it is certainly tempting to think of 1890s socialism and feminism (the "New Woman" discourse that is here the focus of excellent contributions by Sally Ledger and Laura Chrisman) as politically "salutary." But as often as not, the essayists either identify forms of divisiveness or "decadence" in the 1890s that seem magnified today, or identify forms of emergent emancipatory discourse that have perhaps reached a certain "salutary" maturity in the 1990s. Thus, both Ed Cohen and Ruth Robbins read the emergent discourses of homosexual identity against the 1990s context of gay "coming out" and activism in ways that demonstrate the great difficulty J. A. Symonds, Oscar Wilde, and others had in even broaching the subject of homosexuality in the 1890s. While Robbins rather unsurprisingly reads the poetry of Wilde and Housman as struggling with this difficulty, Cohen shows how Symonds, the author/subject of "Case 99" in Krafft-Ebing, and Freud all tried to comprehend homosexual identity in terms of "dipsychia" (Symonds 's coinage) or of "double lives," leading Freud to posit an inherent "split" in masculine identity as such. Though all of the essays are solid, interesting contributions to understanding the "cultural politics" of the lasten de siècle and sometimes of our own, it is unclear to me why there needed to be two essays on vampirism and Dracula (by Judith Halberstam and Alexandra Warwick ). Stephen Regan's essay on Yeats's "cultural nationalism" offers a useful qualification to the rather hyperbolic claims, by Edward Said and others, that Yeats was a full-blown political nationalist and "decolonizer ." But this qualification seems at once both common-sensical 188 BOOK REVIEWS and not very surprising. Similarly, Scott McCracken's reading of Conrad 's Chance as a "postmodern" novel before its time is interesting, but seems unaware of Diane Elam's related analysis of Conrad in Romancing the Postmodern; and anyway, isn't it the case that a sizable number of novels and novelists have been retrospectively identified as "postmodern " to the point of a certain repetitiveness (the postmodern Joyce, etc., even Pater's Marius the Epicurean)? More challenging and theoretically savvy is Marcia Ian's superb analysis of Henry James's conception of "consciousness" in terms of "the spectacle of loss" involved in the psychoanalytic "metaphysics" of Freud and Georges Bataille. So, too, Anne Janowitz's reading of Morris's The Pilgrims of Hope offers a complex, original situating of that poem in relation to a "communitarian" strain within British romanticism that runs back through Chartism to Thomas Spence and others. Lynne Hapgood's chapter on the "Christian socialism" especially of the Rev. Stewart Headlam, founder of the Guild of St. Matthew in 1877, and Father A. O. Jay, "'the Saviour of Shoreditch'," strikes me also as an excellent, original piece of cultural and social history. The nostalgia for the good old days when socialism was a viable political force that Eagleton expresses in his chapter makes me wish that he had first read the pieces by Janowitz and Hapgood so that he could have said something more specific about the kinds of socialism afloat in the 1890s rather than just uttering, as he does, a series of cultural-political headlines with little or no connection to the rest of the volume...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 188-190
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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