Course description

The British Empire controlled roughly a quarter of the world by the beginning of the twentieth century; its literature, however, was increasingly haunted by decline. This course explores why, by way of writers like Joseph Conrad, Oscar Wilde, Rebecca West, Elizabeth Bowen, T.S. Eliot, and Graham Greene. The focus of our analysis is the novel's response to three kinds of breakdown: aesthetic decadence, imperial decline, and aristocratic degeneration. We draw on contemporary periodicals, paintings, films, and poetry to understand what makes these narratives so good for literary business. We also think about decline as a shaper of modernism, the relationship between decline and nationalism, and the cultural afterlives of the texts we encounter. For complete and current details about this Harvard Extension course, see the description in the DCE Course Search.


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