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Victorian Apocalypse: The siècle at its fin, Conference 1: Decadence/Degeneration/Disease
During the 2021–22 academic year, the UCLA Center for 17th– & 18th-Century Studies and William Andrews Clark Memorial Library will host the Core Program entitled “Victorian Apocalypse: The siècle at Its fin.” This program of lectures and presentations aims to reassess the ways in which the 1890s as an era has strong associations with theories of decadence, degeneration, and disease. “Victorian Apocalypse” will draw attention to the significance of UCLA’s unrivaled collections relating to the 1890s, especially the life and work of Oscar Wilde, which are held in the Clark Library collections.

This first conference will bring together cultural critics and historians of science and medicine to explore the ways in which the 1890s and turn-of-the-century witnessed in both Europe and North America a turbulent series of fears and fascinations with social types whose ethnic and erotic identities conveyed the idea of a maladie du siècle. This was a period when the Decadent movement in the arts was not uncommonly criticized through metaphors condemning its leprous properties, and when new understandings of bacteriology, epidemiology, tropical medicine, and infectious disease were being undertaken. Further, as several recent critics have acknowledged, the emergence of a seemingly disease-ridden Decadence bore certain degenerate qualities that created the conditions for an identifiable Modernism to emerge in the years leading up to the Great War.
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