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47. Aestheticism and Sensation

Talia Schaffer

Subject Media System » Print
Culture » Popular Culture
Literature » Victorian Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1800-1899

Key-Topics decadence

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405195584.2011.00048.x


At first glance, it may appear odd to have an article about aestheticism in a Companion to Sensation Fiction . After all, the two movements seem to have little in common. Aestheticism occurred decades later, spoke to another audience, and aimed for a different effect on the reader. Yet when we examine these movements more closely, we find that aestheticism actually shared certain features with sensation fiction. Both were controversial movements that eschewed the culturally accepted Victorian rules for good literature. Both aimed to generate vivid, intense visual effects. Both worked to produce strong feeling in the reader. And in their own time, both were perceived as pandering to inept readers in order to achieve a spurious, temporary popularity. Indeed, studying aestheticism helps us see that sensation fiction had a more complex influence than critics recognize. Most scholars know that sensation fiction helped pave the way for the popular adventure and detective fiction to follow, but what is less well known – if equally important – is that sensation novels also prepared readers to appreciate fiction that challenged dominant beliefs about literature's moral effect, sentimental appeal, and realistic style. By opening up this alternative way of writing, sensation fiction made aestheticism possible. In turn, because aestheticism praised art that directly affected the reader's feelings, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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