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Ancient Rome and Victorian Masculinity$
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Laura Eastlake

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198833031

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198833031.001.0001

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The Decadent Imagination

The Decadent Imagination

Nero, Pater, and Wilde

Chapter:
(p.189) 8 The Decadent Imagination
Source:
Ancient Rome and Victorian Masculinity
Author(s):

Laura Eastlake

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198833031.003.0008

This chapter examines how aesthetes and decadents staked a competing claim to those Roman narratives of corruption and contagion outlined in Chapter 7. Beginning with a detailed analysis of Marius the Epicurean (1885), it shows how Walter Pater and his contemporaries sought to delink aestheticism from Gibbonian narratives of decline and fall, and to reclaim aesthetic masculinity from associations of moral and masculine deviance. The second part examines decadent authors such as Oscar Wilde, Villiers de L’Isle Adam, and George Moore, who adopted an equally recuperative, though more controversial approach to the ancient Roman past. Revelling in the more illicit and disturbing aspects of Roman history with a playfully self-parodic humour which is typical of the movement as a whole, and frequently voicing their affinity with the most notorious of Roman emperors—Nero—decadent writers appear be invested in a very genuine attempt to disassociate decadent ideologies from Gibbonian models of degeneration and decline.

Keywords:   classical reception, Rome, Victorian, masculinity, Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, Nero, decadence, aestheticism

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