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Conference papers

'Aesthetic Controversies?'

Abstract : My presentation will be devoted to the study of one remarkable Aesthetic controversy, the ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’ opposing Robert Buchanan, poet and, at the time, literary journalist, and some aesthetes including William Morris, Algernon Charles Swinburne and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The controversy erupted when Buchanan published a violent attack, ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’ under the pseudonym of Thomas Maitland in the Contemporary Review in 1871, and lasted, I’ll argue, until the early 1880s. This case study is part of a larger project retracing the history of British Aestheticism through the many controversies, scandals and polemics the movement elicited from the early 1860s to the 1890s. The first part of my talk will be devoted to presenting definitions of ‘controversy’ and controversy studies. I contend that the study of literary controversies deserves a place within controversy studies, most of which focus on religious or scientific controversies. However controversies need to be carefully defined both as debates and disputes involving a third party and as political events and frames to shape and regulate the political debate as well. The second part of the talk will be devoted to presenting the ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’ controversy from its very inception to what is arguably its end with the publication of ‘Dante Gabriel Rossetti’ by Walter Pater in 1883. A precise timeline will accompany the presentation of a methodology for studying Victorian literary controversies: protagonists, networks of sociability, stakes of the controversy, media (magazines, newspapers, pamphlets and essays), texts (both published and unpublished) and genres of the controversy. In conclusion, I’ll discuss the ending of the controversy, its impact on the reception of Aestheticism and on canon formation. I’ll also point out some discursive dimensions that need to be more thoroughly explored to have a better understanding of controversies as discursive practices. Studying aesthetic and literary movement through the lens of controversies is valuable and should be situated within a larger political frame. This frame appears to be characterized by what could be termed a ‘culture of dissensus’. Within the larger frame of the late-Victorian politics characterized by democratisation, mass education and the contest of several political views for cultural and political hegemony, British Aestheticism should be seen as a political ‘dissenting event’.
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Contributor : Bénédicte Coste <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, October 25, 2017 - 9:09:36 AM
Last modification on : Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - 5:04:05 PM


  • HAL Id : halshs-01623101, version 1



Bénédicte Coste. 'Aesthetic Controversies?'. The Politics Of Aestheticism, Bénédicte Coste, Oct 2017, Tourtour, France. ⟨halshs-01623101⟩



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