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Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. Inaugurated in January by Francois Mitterrand, the Genitron is a time machine that conducts its relentless countdown over the heads of the ;milling intetnational fauna of les Halles, the hustlers, punks, dealers, con men, mystics, musicians, strongmen, fire-eaters, rappers, breakers, addicts, sidewalk artists, and sidewalk dwellers who seem already to represent the specters of the apocalypse.
As the novelist AngelalCarter observes, “the fin is coming a little early this siecle. In his gloomy and embittered treatise on: Degenerationthe Austrian Max Nordau proclaimed that “in our days there have arisen in more highly developed minds vague qualms of a Dusk of the Nations, in which all xnarchy and all stars are gradually waning, and mankind with all its institutions and creations is; perishing in the midst of a dying world.
For some years already we have become accustomed to the electric signs of apocalypse, or rather those troubling signals of “Apocalypse From Now On,” as Susan Sontag puts it, that seem characteristic of late- twentieth-century life— dire predictions of disasters that never exactly happen, sexhal perhaps have invisibly happened already— the greenhouse effect, the stock market crash, the nuclear threat, AIDS, terrorism, crime, urban decay, crack.
History warns that after the revolution comes the terror and decadence. When the term fin-de-siecle originated in France in the s to define this state of mind it spread rapidly throughout Europe and the United States; “the word,” wrote Nordau, “has flown from one hemisphere to the other, and found its way into all civilized languages.
After all, the century markers are only imaginary borderlines in time; there is even disagreement as to when—December 31, ‘ December 31, ’00? There is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month sexuwl year. Even when a new century begins, it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.
This book is about the myth;metaphors, and images of sexual crises and apocalypse that marked both the late nineteenth century and our own fin de siecle, and its representations in English and Amer- ican literature, art, and film. The s and s, in the words of the novelist George Gissing, were decades of “sexual anarchy,” when all the laws that governed sexual; identity and behavior seemed to be breaking down.
As Karl Miller notes, “Men became women. Gender and countiy were put in doubt. The single life was found to harbour two sexes ahd two nations.
There were fears that emancipated women would hear children outside of rriarriage in the free union, or worse, that they would not have childreriat all. The fin de siecle was also a period of sexual scandals. In England, they ranged from the trial and acquittal of the notorious brothel-keeper Jeffries inand the sensational journalistic series on child pros- titution of W.
All of these scandals changed the level of public awareness about sexuality and engendered a fierce; response in social purity campaigns, a renewed sense of public moral concern, and demands, often suc- cessful, for restrictive legislation and censorship.
They were occasions when gender roles were “publicly, even spectacularly, encoded and enforced. Indeed, many Englishmen regarded the homosexual scandals of the s and s, up to Oscar Wilde’s trial, as certain signs of the immorality that had toppled Gteece and Rome. In the late twentieth century, too, threats of sexual anarchy have generated panic and backlash against the sexual liberalism of the s and s.
Concerns about the sexual abuse of children and the increasing frequency of occurrences of rape have focused on censoring art and banning pornography rather than on examining the social construction of male sexual violence.
Fears about the drastic changes in women’s sexual choices have taken the form of anti-abortion cam- paigns rather than plans for child support, parenting leaves, or daycare. Anxiety about women’s educational and economic advances and the effects of women’s paid labor on traditional marital structures have led to a renewed idealization of the family, domesticity, and maternity. The AIDS epidemic has fueled homophobia and an emphasis on mo- nogamy and celibacy rather than a commitment to sex education and information about safer sexual practices.
These responses are also typical of the fin de siecle. In periods of cultural insecurity, when there are fears of regression and degeneration, the longing for strict border controls around the definition of gender, as well as race, class, and nationality, becomes especially intense. If the different races can be kept in their places, if the various classes can be held in their proper districts of the city, and if men and women can be fixed in their separate spheres, many hope, apocalypse can be prevented and we can preserve a comforting sense of identity and permanence in the face of that relentless specter of millennial change.
Sexual difference was only one of the threatened borders of the fin de siecle, and sexuality only one of the areas in which anarchy seemed imminent.
Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle – Elaine Showalter – Google Books
The s were a turbulent decade in English history. The making of vast industrial fortunes was showaltee by the organization of trade unions and the founding of the British Labour party.
Impe- rialist adventure in Africa, where diamonds were discovered in the Transvaal inoccurred while urban poverty and homelessness in England received dramatic attention. Hopes for the Empire were un- dermined by acts of political terrorism committed by anarchists and Irish nationalists. Even while the age of imperialism was at its height, there were also fears of degeneration and collapse.
England was often compared to decadent Greece and Rome, and there were parallel fears of the rise of captive peoples. Sexual Anarchy Racial boundaries were among trie most important lines of demar- cation for English society, fears not! After General Gordon’s defeat by an Islamic fundamentalist, the Mahdi, at Khartoum inmany saw signs that the Empire was being lindermined by racial degeneration and the rebellion of the “lower” races.
Late Victorian science, espe- cially the new science of physical anthropology, devoted itself to establishing the legitimacy of racial jdifferentiation and hierarchy, and to demonstrating the “degenerations that threatened when these boundaries were transgressed. At the end of the s, England and Western Europe in general were hit by an economic depression, and in the s the term “unemployment” first came into use. In the inner city lived the “residuum” of the chronically poor and hard-core unemployed.
This netherworld was seen to live in slums, breeding disease, ignorance, madness, and crime, problems some eugenicists felt were so intractable that the poor should not be allowed to reproduce.
The theory of urban degeneration furthermore held that poverty led to a general deterioration of the race. Hyndman in his essay “English Workers as They Are””there is a certain percentage who are almost beyond hope of being reached at all. Crushed down into the gutter, physically and mentally by their social surroundings, they can but die out, leaving, it is hoped, no progeny as a burden on a better state of things.
Full text of “Sexual Anarchy Showalter”
While other races seemed distant and exotic, the working class was close at hand. William Booth’s In Darkest England and Margaret Harkness’s novel Sexuql Darkest London 1 drew parallels between the problems of the African jungle and showaler urban jungle where home- lessness, poverty, hunger, drunkenhess, and sexual barbarity could be seen every day.
In an eloquent comparison of Stanley’s vast African forest, with its pygmies, traders, dnd cannibals, to the labyrinth of London, with its stunted people and its predators, Booth, the leader of the Salvation Army, asked: Civilisation, which can breed its own barbarians, does it not also breed its own pygmies? The ivory raiders who brutally traffic in the unfortunate denizens of the forest glades, what are they but the publicans who flourish on the weakness of our poor?
As in Africa it is all trees, trees, trees with snowalter other world conceivable, so is it here — it is all vice and poverty and crime. In London, bythe homeless had taken to camping out in Trafalgar Square and St.
James’s Park, arousing both compassion and fear. Anafchy the social scientist Charles Booth explained, “This state of things attracted attention. The newspapers published accounts of it, and public imagination was aroused.
Here at any rate was genuine distress. Some charitable agencies distributed tickets for food or lodg- ing, others the food itself, taking cart-loads of food into the Square. They demanded that the police deal with the situation and threatened that they would otherwise hire their own guards to clear the streets. This netherworld of darkest England thus presented the perpetual threat of class revolution; any minute, it was feared, workers might rise up in revolt.
While the “lower races” were safely distant in Africa and India, and the poor usually well out eoaine sight, men could not hide in the same way from the threat of a revolution by women.
The crisis in race and class relations in the s had a parallel in the crisis in gender. In the s, moreover, feminist reform legislation, as Peter Gay notes, “began to dismantle England’s time-honored pa- triarchal system.
In France, too, women’s right to divorce was reestablished in Women also challenged the system of higher education, and their efforts to gain admission to university lectures at Oxford and Cambridge were met with strong opposition. The Oxford Union voted overwhelmingly against admit- ting women to the B. The different political interests of men and women created a severe strain in relations between the sexes. But Gladstone opposed the amendment, and carried ‘the Liberal Party with him.
After the amendment’s defeat, women’s suffrage was more or less a dead issue until the beginnings of militancy in Women were certainly no economic threat either. Overall, -women in the workforce earned only 50 percent of what men earnejd, and only 8 sjowalter of trade union membership was female. And the universities were far from feminized. Bythere were only women in all the English universities put together; in England: Gender crisis affected men as well as women, and the fantasies of a pitched battle for sexual supremacy typical of the period often concealed deeper uncertainties and contradictions on both showwalter.
It is important to ellaine in mind that masculinity is no more natural, transparent, and un- problematic than “femininity. The nineteenth century had cherished a belief in the separate spheres of femininity and masculinity that amounted almost to religious faith. In revolu- tionary periods, the fear of social and political equality between the sexes has always generated strenuous counter-efforts to shore up bor- derlines by establishing scientific proof for the absolute mental and physical differences between men and women.
As the historian Thomas Laqueur comments with relation to the French Revolution, “wherever boundaries were threatened arguments for fundamental sex- ual differences were shoved into the breach.
While women’s “nurturant domestic capabilities fitted them for home and hearth,”. As Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, wrote, “the ideal man is entirely or almost entirely masculine and the ideal women is entirely or almost entirely feminine.
Each individual must have a preponderance, be it ever so little, of the cells of its own sex, and the attraction of each individual to elaime other sex depends upon its place on the scale between the highest and lowest grade of sex. anaarchy
Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle
anacrhy The most masculine man draws the most feminine woman, and vice versa; and so down the scale till close to the borderline in the great mass of persons, who, having only developed a few of the qualities of sex, are easily satisfied to mate with anyone. Opportunities to succeed at home and in the Empire were not always abundant; the stresses of maintaining anarchg external mask of confidence and strength led to nervous disorders, such as neurasthenia; suppressing “feminine” feelings of nurturance and affectidn created problems for many men as well.
What was most alarming tjo the fin de siecle was that sexuality and sex roles might no longer be contained within the neat and permanent borderlines of gender anarcjy. Men and women were not as clearly identified and separated as they had been, as Punch lamented in April Were they dangerously close to the borderline? Thus while many critics and historians have described this period as a battle between the sexes, a period of sexual antagonism that came from male resentment of women’s; emancipation, I would argue that it was also a battle within the sexes 1.
Men, too, faced changes in their lives and sexual identities. In England, there was “a crisis in the s of the male on all levels — econonjic, political, social, psychological, as elaije, as power, as role, as lover. The crisis of masculinity marked an awakening consciousness of what it meant to be a man.
In the context of developing individualism, men become aware of their sex- ual difference, their physical and moral specificity. In England and the United States, men organized antisuffrage groups, often with! Some went much further and blamed rebellious women and female emancipation for the decline and fall of the West- ern world.
There images of female narcissism, of the femme fatale and the sphinx, of women kissing their mirror images, gazing at themselves in circular baths, or engaging in autoerotic play mutate by the end of the century into savagely “gynecidal” visions of female sexuality.
These images of women are part of the pattern Bram Dijkstra has called “idols of perversity.
aharchy Beside her is a knife and a pile of decapitated male bodies, while a parade of other tiny men wait their turn for the elanie. Among the most famous images of the period are Gustave Klimt’s gilded, predatory women.
Teddy Roosevelt was one of many fin-de-siecle politicians who con- nected his imperialist politics with an image of robust masculinity: We see the development of sports, the praise of athletic figures, the new stadium gods who displayed their beautiful muscular bodies before women spectators.