Decadence and the Birth of Modernism (TRU3038)

StaffDr Kate Hext - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisites120 points at level 2
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module introduces students to a wide range of both texts and methodologies. Students are encouraged, using electronic and print resources, to undertake independent research projects, including archival research and further research into cinema history and the aesthetics of cinema. By the end of the module they should possess a comprehensive knowledge of literary developments and trends in the period 1890-1951, as well as a set of transferable skills including written and oral communication, independent and guided research, and film analysis.


ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. An in-depth understanding of the politics, stylistics and cultural significance of Decadence and early Modernism in Great Britain and the United States, with a special emphasis on its social and historical contexts.
  • 2. A knowledge of the development of the ‘modernist’ aesthetic during the late-Victorian period

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. An ability to understand and incorporate critical thinking, including specific terminology, into discussions of texts
  • 4. An ability to compare and contrast texts within the same socio-historical constraints
  • 5. An ability to analyze texts closely and to locate them firmly within their socio-historical context.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 6. To present, within given formats and to a required standard, coherent and well-substantiated analyses and arguments, both orally and in writing.
  • 7. To study independently; an ability to incorporate tutor feedback into written work
  • 8. To engage in classroom debate and foster a vibrant intellectual environment.
  • 9. Reflect on these learning process.

Syllabus plan

Week One: What and when was ‘Decadence’?

Essays and poetry selections, including ‘The Decadent Movement in Literature’ by Arthur Symons, and poems by Arthur Symons, Oscar Wilde and Michael Field. All available on ELE.


Week Two: ‘Art pour l’art’: French Decadence

Joris-Karl Huysmans. À Rebours (Against Nature)


Week Three: Painting, music and the New Writing

Selected short stories: Vernon Lee, ‘A Wicked Voice’; Netta Syrett, ‘Fairy Gold’


Week Four: Deviant sexuality

Oscar Wilde. Salome

Film screening: Salome (Dir. Alla Nazimova, 1923)


Week Five: Decadence and the New Woman

Perkins Gilman, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’; ‘The Story of an Hour’; ‘The Sphinx without a Secret’; All in Angelique Richardson(ed) Women Who Did: Stories by Men and Women 1890-1914



Week 6: Reading Week



Week Seven: Decadent sensationalism

John Meade Falkner. The Lost Stradivarius


Week Eight: Interior design and commercialism

 Henry James. Spoils of Poynton



Week Nine: Decadent landscapes

Arthur Machen. The Hill of Dreams



Week Ten: Expunging Decadence?

T.S. Eliot. Prufrock and Other Observations

Arthur Symons. Section from The Symbolist Movement in Literature (on ELE)



Week Eleven: Decadence in urban America: jazz, class and mass immigration

Ben Hecht. Selected short stories from The Little Review and 1001 Afternoons in Chicago, all available on ELE.



Week Twelve:  Hollywood and the aesthetic moment

  Film screening: Vincente Minnelli (Dir.) An American in Paris (1951)




Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Lecture11x1hrA Group Lecture providing contexts and frameworks for study
Seminar22x2hrDiscussion of themes emerging from primary texts; group work; close-reading
Guided independent study267Independent study and preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Presentation in Seminar10 mins.1,2,3,4,5,6,8,9Oral - in office hours

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Historical Investigation (instructions provided on ELE)352000 words1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9Essay Feedback Sheet and marker's annotations
Annotated Bibliography151000 words1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9Essay Feedback Sheet and marker's annotations
Final Essay503000 words1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9Essay Feedback Sheet and marker's annotations

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Historical InvestigationHistorical Investigation1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9Referral/deferral period
Annotated BibliographyAnnotated Bibliography1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9Referral/deferral period
Final EssayFinal Essay1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Any edition of the following should be purchased but where possible you are encouraged to buy the current Penguin or Oxford UP edition.


Walter Pater, Studies in the History of the Renaissance;

Joris-Karl Huysmans, À Rebours (Against Nature);

Oscar Wilde, Salome;

Lisa Rodensky (ed) Decadent Poetry: from Wilde to Naidu;

Angelique Richardson(ed) Women Who Did: Stories by Men and Women 1890-1914;

John Meade Falkner, The Lost Stradivarius;

Henry James, Spoils of Poynton;

Arthur Machen, The Hill of Dreams;

T.S. Eliot,  Prufrock and Other Observations;

 F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources


ELE – College to provide hyperlink to appropriate pages




  • The Yellow Nineties



  • The Victorian Women Writers Project



  • The Fin de siècle



  • Project Gutenberg


  • The Modernism Lab



  • Cambridge Companions Online



  • British Periodicals Online



  • Illustrated London News



  • University of Exeter Digital Collections



  • The John Johnson Collection (Victorian Ephemera)



  • American Decadence



Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Selected articles and critical readings on ELE

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date