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Age, Degeneration, and Regeneration in Fin-De-Siècle British Fiction
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This study investigates how various age metaphors from a vampire to mandatory euthanasia function to invalidate linear progressions of both individuals and society in fin-desiècle British literature. It explains how and why many fictional narratives spoke about forceful aspects of not only personal aging but also collective degeneration at the end of the nineteenth century, a time period in which anxieties about the collapse of the old system of belief in modernity and progress mingled with hopes about the arrival of a new way of thinking about man and society. Likening the condition of late Victorian England to old age, this study places the nation’s age consciousness in the fin-de-siècle context of degeneration. The study analyzes how fin-de-siècle age narratives problematize Victorian Britain’s attempts to keep secure its national persona as a young self with strong potential for unstoppable progress. In particular, the study theorizes the ways in which fin-de-siècle age narratives deconstruct a normal aging process and discover signs of elderliness within modern England in imaginatively testing the possibility of national regeneration. Ultimately, it argues that fin-de-siècle age narratives question the ideological boundary separating youth and progress from old age and decline and thus give their readers a chance to contemplate the shared reality, marked by both anxieties of degeneration and hopes of regeneration. Through the lens of age, this dissertation examines four different subgenres of late nineteenth-century fiction—Gothic, imperial adventure, New Woman, and speculative fiction— and touches on early twentieth-century children’s fiction. Reading how these genres explore what it means to be old and/or young for the British Empire itself and for its subjects, the dissertation brings into focus the ways in which they present a new sense of temporality, which is a nonlinear mixture of the nation’s past, present, and future. Specifically, the dissertation discusses literary texts written by Bram Stoker, H. Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad, Sarah Grand, Eliza Lynn Linton, H. G. Wells, Anthony Trollope, Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett, and Edith Nesbit. Looking at these authors’ depictions of the blurred relationship between youth and age, the dissertation suggests that at the turn of the century the heightened anxiety about decline was a driving force behind the production of the nonlinear multilayered temporality.
Subjectfin-de-siècle British fiction
theories of gender
long nineteenth century
long twentieth century
turn of the century
Ahn, Somi (2019). Age, Degeneration, and Regeneration in Fin-De-Siècle British Fiction. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from