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Decadent Threshold Poetics: A Comparative Study of Threshold Space in Charles Baudelaire, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Ernest Dowson, and Arthur Symons

Gossling, Jessica. 2018. Decadent Threshold Poetics: A Comparative Study of Threshold Space in Charles Baudelaire, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Ernest Dowson, and Arthur Symons. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The Decadent literary tradition in England and France in the nineteenth century is characterized by compartmentalized, interiorized, and curated spaces, which, typically, are retreats from urban life evoking subjective states of mind and strange sensations. As Jean Pierrot (1977) and Jan B. Gordon (1979) have argued, Decadent retreats have much in common with the ‘locked room’, but on closer analysis, as this thesis aims to show, Decadent spaces are much more than just places of entrapment. Decadent spatiality, rather like the literary tradition itself, defies clear definition. It is complex and polyvalent, cutting across and calling into question the notions of borders and boundaries. The private and public spaces that we encounter in both Decadent poetry and fiction – from the perfume bottle to the desk drawer, from the attic bedroom to the metropolitan music-hall – are invariably threshold spaces, portals to other non-physical realms.

Drawing on the models of spatiality in the work of Gaston Bachelard (‘l’immensité intime’), Walter Benjamin (Schwelle), and Subha Mukherji (‘threshold poetics’), this thesis examines the significance of threshold space in the work of four Decadent writers and offers four complementary case studies. Focusing on Les Fleurs du mal (1857) and Le Spleen de Paris (1869), Chapter One explores the model of Decadent threshold poetics in the work of Charles Baudelaire, exemplified by his prose poem ‘La Chambre double’. Chapter Two offers a new interpretation of Joris-Karl Huysmans’s classic Decadent novel À rebours (1884) through a consideration of the room spaces in the house at Fontenay as experiments in dynamic compartmentalization, and traces the threshold motif of the hothouse through his Durtal tetralogy. Chapters Three and Four focus on contrasting notions of threshold space in English Decadent poetry, Ernest Dowson’s Poésie Schublade Notebook poems, included in Verses (1896) and Decorations: In Verse and Prose (1899), and Arthur Symons’s Silhouettes (1892) and London Nights (1895). While Dowson’s poems represent a Decadent minimalism, describing diminished, ascetic interspaces like the drawer and the cloister, Symons’s early verse collections are preoccupied with expansive urban and rural threshold spaces that encapsulate the mental and physical restlessness of the poet.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.25602/GOLD.00023081

Additional Information:

This is an edited version of the thesis, with third-party copyright material removed.

Keywords:

Decadence; threshold; poetics; space; Baudelaire; Huysmans; Dowson; Symons; Bachelard; Benjamin

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature

Date:

31 March 2018

Item ID:

23081

Date Deposited:

23 Mar 2018 12:04

Last Modified:

12 Jul 2018 08:07

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/23081

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