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'Lane, You're a Perfect Pessimist': Pessimism and the English 'Fin de siècle'

Nicholas Shrimpton
The Yearbook of English Studies
Vol. 37, No. 1, From Decadent to Modernist: And Other Essays (2007), pp. 41-57
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20479277
Page Count: 17
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'Lane, You're a Perfect Pessimist': Pessimism and the English 'Fin de siècle'
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Abstract

Was pessimism a significant influence on late nineteenth-century English writing? The conventional answer, suggested by R. H.Goodale's classic article of 1932, is that its effect was marginal. This essay argues that the debate between pessimism and optimism profoundly affected "fin de siècle" literary culture. The last of three successive waves of European pessimism, prompted by the delayed discovery of Schopenhauer, coincided with a widespread disillusionment with the optimistic claims of positivism. Plays, poems, and novels reflected the assumptions of pessimist thought, and both the cult of artifice and the paradoxical piety of the decadence make more sense in a Schopenhauerian context.

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