Morbid Strains in Victorian Literature from 1850 to the Fin de Siecle
“Morbid Strains” studies the development of morbid formal characteristics in Victorian poetry, novels, and life-writing from the mid-nineteenth century to the fin de siècle. During this period, Alfred Tennyson, Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Michael Field convert the Victorian fascination with death and the body into literary form. While these authors’ works span a variety of genres, they share a common characteristic: Victorian critics condemned them as morbid. Through readings of lyric poetry, life-writing, and novels by these authors, I show the development of morbid literary characteristics that will later come to fruition in the aestheticist and decadent movements of the 1890s. Critics have noted the important influence of French authors such as Charles Baudelaire, Theóphile Gautier, and Gustave Flaubert on the aesthetic and literary movements of the fin de siècle. This study of morbid forms in narrative and poetic genres identifies a domestic lineage for British aestheticism and decadence in high culture texts celebrated as uniquely British and popular works that seemed to threaten the status of British literature as an art form.