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Decadent Sociability and Material Culture at the Fin de Siècle: 'A Genius for Friendship'

Thorne, J (2019) Decadent Sociability and Material Culture at the Fin de Siècle: 'A Genius for Friendship'. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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This thesis re-evaluates decadence by investigating the relationship that emerged between sociability and material culture at the fin de siècle. Its focus on the mechanisms of sociability and on materiality situates decadent interactions within the physical world. Rather than treating the decadents as isolated individualists who rejected communality, as most critical readings of decadence suggest, the thesis argues that individual performances co-existed within the frame of the decadent group. This study recognises the importance of individuality to the decadents’ self-presentation, but it emphasises the ways in which the decadents shared a collective investment in the decadent social project. A central element of this communality was the use of physical objects that provided decadents with an organising principle for their philosophies and a means of founding their common sense of self. In order to trace the workings of decadent sociability, the thesis investigates five specific aspects of decadent material culture. The figure of the dandy is discussed as a recognised model of decadent behaviour: objects such as clothes, cigarettes, flowers and perfumes were used as props to stage a collective dandiacal identity. These performances are then considered within the context of the material spaces that decadent social networks negotiated. The public sphere of urban restaurants and music halls, and the private sphere of decadent interior design, each with their own distinctive material signifiers, become the sites of shared performative displays of selfhood. The thesis next explores how objects (books in particular) sit at the intersection of the personal and the material, and gain social currency through gifting rituals. A similar process can be seen in the exchange of decadent caricature as part of the fin-de-siècle gift economy. Finally, the thesis examines publishers and the business side of decadent publishing as vital and revealing components of decadent sociability. Rather than viewing publishers as purely commercial figures, it considers the significance of sympathetic relationships between booksellers and their authors. In analysing these forms of sociability at the end of the nineteenth century, this thesis foregrounds an engaged reading of decadence: it is a social movement with a material vocabulary and a cultural language used to celebrate friendships, send signals to the initiated, and challenge the status quo.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Decadence; Sociability; Material Culture; Fin de Siecle; Wilde; Beardsley; Le Gallienne; Dandy; Consumption; Interior Design; Gifting; Publishing
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Humanities & Social Science
Date Deposited: 05 Sep 2019 10:10
Last Modified: 30 Nov 2022 10:47
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00011254
Supervisors: Norquay, G, Kandola, S and Sheldon, J
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/11254
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