By Edited by Scott McCracken Edited by Sally Ledger
This publication considers the ways that present conflicts of 'race', type, and gender have their roots within the Eighteen Nineties.
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It might seem a far cry from all this to those gay intellectuals like Edward Carpenter, who were especially enamoured of hunky railway workers and athletic East End policemen; but this is just a rather more literal version of the symbolic embracing of the 'real', the brawny proletarian as material object with which the estranged intellect must libidinally unite. For this above all is the age of artistic slumming, in which some raw, fascinating but fearful underworld lurks beneath the paper-thin structure of civilization, and in which destructive element you must immerse in the name of authenticity.
Given the preoccupation with empire in the 1890s, it is fascinating the way in which the post-Darwinian meaning of the word £ race' time and time again becomes inflected with imperialist overtones in the writings of the period. It would thus seem that the eugenics arguments which began to gather momentum in the 1890s were connected in a complex way with Britain's ongoing imperialist project, and many of the New Woman writers showed themselves to be complicit with this. In this context it is significant that alongside the feminist interest in eugenics in the 1890s, at the level of practice there was a general suspension of suffrage activity following the onset of the Boer War at the turn of the century; Millicent Garrett Fawcett wrote later that 'Two fires cannot burn together, and the most ardent of the suffragists felt that, while the war lasted, it was not a fitting time to press their own claims and objects.
What marks this whole dimension of the fin de siecle is a kind of mystical positivism, for which, after the endless lucubrations of high Victorian reason, that which simply, brutely, self-identically is, is the most alluring mystery of all. There is much of Whitman in this reverent espousal of the actual, but also a more general neurotic hankering for the very pith and texture of things, behind which we Nachgeborener may glimpse that old familiar lost object, the body of the mother. Evolutionary thought has struck all hierarchy out of Nature: in the tangled skeins of material development, it is impossible to say with any certainty which obscure life forms will give birth to some later mighty flourishing and which will not; which mollusc will perish in some biological cul-de-sac and which will pave the way to monopoly capitalism.
Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siècle by Edited by Scott McCracken Edited by Sally Ledger