Women Writing Decadence, 1880-1920

7-8 July 2018
University of Oxford

Keynote Speakers:

Dr Petra Dierkes-Thrun (Stanford University)
Professor Melanie Hawthorne (Texas A&M University)
Dr Ana Parejo Vadillo (Birkbeck, University of London)

Decadence as an international literary and artistic movement has to date been dominated by male authors, while women traditionally feature as objectified femme fatales, sphinxes, dancers and demi-mondes. However, literary and feminist scholarship over the last three decades has retrieved many important women writers of the period. Over twenty years ago, Elaine Showalter’s volume Daughters of Decadence (1993) brought together twenty of the most original and important stories penned by women, re-introducing then little-known writers such as Victoria Cross, George Egerton, Vernon Lee, Constance Fenimore Woolson and Charlotte Mew.

Yet the international and interdisciplinary nature of female networks in Decadence has been so far overlooked. Figures like Alma Mahler, wife of Gustav Mahler but a composer in her own right, were connected to leading figures of the Viennese secession such as Oskar Kokoschka, Klimt and Freud. Lou Andreas-Salomé, a Russian-born author, and one of the first female psychoanalysts, was another member of this network. She wrote more than a dozen novels, and non-fiction studies such as a study of Ibsen’s women characters and a book on her friend Nietzsche. Similar to their male counterparts, these female Decadents were keen networkers, publishers, editors, travellers and translators.

This two-day interdisciplinary conference thus seeks to draw out the active contribution of women thinkers and artists to shaping the Decadent movement from a European perspective. This trans-European and interdisciplinary focus will shed light on the wide array of forms in which women delineated the contours of the movement across the continent. Instead of looking for the ‘daughters of Decadence’, this conference proposes to reveal the ‘mothers of Decadence’ and their theoretical and practical approaches to the issues of authorship, gender and cosmopolitan exchange in the arts.

The conference is supported by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH): torch.ox.ac.uk.

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