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BOOK REVIEWS Two on the Fin de Siècle The Fin de Siècle: A Reader in Cultural History, 1880-1900. Sally Ledger and Roger Luckhurst, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. xxiii + 363 pp. Cloth $70.00 Paper $19.95 Fins de Siècle I New Beginnings. Ib Johansen, ed. Aarhus N, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 2000. 291 pp. Paper $19.95 ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR catch phrases of the eighteennineties was fin de siècle. Generally used more loosely in Britain than in France, it conveyed more than simply "end of the century." The term suggested different things to writers and artists, to critics and the general public. For some, it denoted "modern," "advanced," "innovative"; for others , it aroused thoughts of "sensationalism," "immorality," "decadence." There were even those who liked to preface fin de siècle with the perjorative maladie. The "illness" imported from France troubled many middle-class Englishmen . With British insularity they frowned on "French pictures," "French kisses," "French letters," and they feared "the French disease." They could point out that Beardsley's drawings in The Yellow Book encapsulated the questionable ambience of the fin de siècle. Those better read knew that John Davidson in his novel A Full and True Account of the Wonderful Mission of Earl Lavender has a staid matron account for the chaos of modern life. "It's fang-de-seaycle that does it... and education and reading French," she laments. Wilde, very much the Francophile, was at loggerheads with popular opinion. He preferred to view the close of the century as a period of transition in aesthetic, social and moral values. On several occasions he publicly proclaimed that fin de siècle should indicate artistic appreciation and cultural achievement. "AU that is known by the term, I particularly admire and love," he wrote. "It is the fine flower of our civilisation: the only thing that keeps the world from the commonplace, the course, the barbarous." In 1895, when Wilde was sentenced to two years at hard labor for public immorality, ambiguities attached to fin de siècle seemed to be resolved. The antithesis between the respectable and the problematic that characterized the turn of the nineteenth century provides parallels to our own current engagements. To a large extent, such parallels explain the interest that literary critics, cultural historians, social theorists, and 85 ELT 46 : 1 2003 devotees of the Victorian and the modern have in the fin de siècle. Today, unlike the Victorians, we no longer categorize a new realism, a new imperialism , a new journalism or a new educational reform and new sciences . They have become part of a historical legacy to which we are indebted, have rejected or superseded. How to deal with the mass of material written between 1880 and 1900 was the first difficulty editors Sally Ledger and Roger Luckhurst had to confront in The Fin de Siècle: A Reader in Cultural History, 1880-1900. In a brief introduction they justify their principles of inclusion and exclusion . Thirteen sections move from the politics of metropolitan life, the new woman, and the literary manifestoes of the Decadents through concepts of socialism and anarchism to the newly emerging sciences of psychology , psychical research, sexology, eugenics, and anthropology. Each section of this interdisciplinary reader contains four to twelve sources and documents for the issues that have made the fin de siècle culturally important. Since both editors are literary scholars they favor their own discipline and to some degree omit material that political historians or historians of science might prefer to see included. To their credit, the editors have selected their discourses to reflect, as they put it, "the extraordinary sense of cross fertilization between forms of knowledge that mark ... the identifying features of the fin de siècle!' Preceding each section are overviews that serve as prelude to the essays that follow; appended are notes that explicate names, terms, and matters discussed. Among the seventy or so authors of the representative essays are the provocative voices of Max Nordeau, Wilde, Shaw, Symons , W. T. Stead, William Booth, Mona Caird, Andrew Lang, Cecil Rhodes, William Morris, T. H. Huxley, and Havelock Ellis. The dialectic plays...


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pp. 85-87
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