Loughborough University
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A key of their own fashioning: towards a definition of Decadent Realism

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posted on 2021-01-05, 12:27 authored by Lucy Dawkins
In 1932, looking back on a decade characterised by radical shifts in the public consciousness, George Egerton spoke for a generation when she wrote I would unlock a door with a key of my own fashioning . Subsequent evaluations of the dynamism of the 1890s that focussed variously on the isms of Naturalism, Impressionism, and Modernism have fragmented our understanding of this discrete period in literary history. This study draws together these debates, and reads them in light of both textual materiality and the thematic concerns of the short story in order to facilitate a greater understanding of the radical changes that took place during the fin de siècle. This thesis will demonstrate how central realist traditions, tropes, and aesthetics are to any thorough re-examination of the short fiction written and published during the 1890s, and how the authors under consideration here were consciously developing realism, actively adding to realism s own primary time , and re-shaping the tradition that had schooled them. Re-situating the short fiction of George Egerton and Ella D Arcy using contemporary sources and the framework of cultural and literary production and consumption, this thesis will address their desire to express the interiority of experience, and explore the influence of Decadence in negotiating and characterising this period of change. By reading these negotiations through the lens of a realist tradition, this thesis will argue for the development of what is here termed Decadent Realism , and offer a new continuum for connecting understandings of traditional realism to early twentieth century modernism, re-defining the critically-accepted period of the Modernist break .


Loughborough University, Department of English and Drama



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • English and Drama


Loughborough University

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© Lucy Dawkins

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


  • en


Nick Freeman

Qualification name

  • PhD

Qualification level

  • Doctoral