Ethnic and gendered vulnerability at the fin de siècle: Celtic and female sub/objects in some poetical works of A. C. Swinburne, W. B. Yeats and Arthur Machen - S. Sitayeb

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Résumés

Français :

Cet article entend soumettre à l’épreuve des textes britanniques polymorphiques de l’ère fin-de-siècle (1880-1900) l’hypothèse d’une vulnérabilité ethnique, genrée (et, partant, collective), ou celle d’une vulnérabilité inhérente aux qualités intrinsèques de l’individu plutôt qu’à sa classe sociale, ses origines, son rang intellectuel et surtout son sexe. Bien que le celtisme et la féminité aient été perçus comme des formes de vulnérabilité collectives tout au long de l’ère victorienne, la poésie esthétique et décadente a contribué à nuancer l’équation entre les femmes et l’infériorité (ledit « sexe faible ») ainsi que l’idée répandue d’une discrimination raciale chez les Irlandais et les Gallois exilés ou émigrés à Londres. En cultivant une inversion des rôles impartis aux genres et en conférant une énergie aux bardes de la « Renaissance irlandaise » (Celtic revival), la poésie du tournant du siècle souligne l’essence individuelle et non collective de la vulnérabilité. L’œuvre poétique d’A. C. Swinburne est animée de nombreuses femmes fatales qui trouvent des correspondances et des équivalences chez Arthur Machen et W. B. Yeats, dont les personae poétiques déracinées de leur territoire natal tentent d’imposer leur culture minoritaire à l’encontre de l’hégémonie des normes, notamment en déterritorialisant la ville de Londres. Cette prise de pouvoir de la part des vulnérables fin-de-siècle repose toutefois sur des mécanismes illusoires qu’illustre bien l’épisode, dans The Hill of Dreams de Machen, de la plante galloise déracinée puis emportée à Londres avant de flétrir, tout comme le Gallois exilé. La vulnérabilité socio-professionnelle dont souffre l’artiste décadent, qui ne parvient pas à s’adapter à son environnement, repose sur un rejet collectif d’un des courants les plus éphémères et les plus condamnés de l’histoire littéraire : le décadentisme.

Anglais :

Focusing on fin-de-siècle poetry (1880-1900s), this paper will try to determine whether the notion of vulnerability is ethnic-based and gendered, and therefore collective, or whether it is only inherent in the qualities of each individual, regardless of his/her sex, class and origins. Although Celticism and femininity might have been perceived as collective forms of vulnerability all along the Victorian era, Aesthetic and Decadent poetry largely contributed to debunk the traditional equation between women and inferiority (the alleged ‘weaker sex’) and to deconstruct the correlation between non-English subjects and discriminated minority, notably Welsh and Irish writers living in England. It has been acknowledged that by revealing and cultivating not only a gender-role inversion (Palmer 127-156) but also an ethnic empowerment during the Celtic revival, fin-de-siècle poetry highlighted the individual (and not collective) essence of vulnerability. In the poetical works of A. C. Swinburne, the domineering Femme Fatale figure (embodied by Sappho in ‘Anactoria’)[1] finds an ethnic equivalent in Arthur Machen’s and W. B. Yeats’ uprooted poetic personae, in their attempt at rehabilitating (sometimes imposing) a Celtic identity, in response to the hegemony of the dominant culture, notably by geographically ‘deterritorializing’ the city of London (part of their escapist tendencies). Although fin-de-siècle poetry thus contributed to redefine the representations of Celtic and female subjects, we shall argue that such a subversive empowerment of women was illusory, since it was only suggested by male writers using females as vulnerable objects of sexual fantasy, and not real subjects. Likewise Machen’s botanical metaphor shows the vulnerability of displaced Celtic subjects: in The Hill of Dreams, when his autobiographical character uproots a Welsh plant called ‘Urtica Pilulifera’ and brings it to London, it becomes vulnerable and dies, and foreshadows the plight of the character himself. The study finally reveals a class and socio-professional form of vulnerability: that of the artist, and in particular the Decadent artist, who systematically fails to adapt to his environment (environmental and geographic vulnerability). Decadence, or Decadentism, is certainly one of the most appropriate literary currents to explore the concept of vulnerability, since it was attacked by the socio-medical discourse of the fin-de-siècle era and considered to be nothing but a transitional and pathological artistic style. If Arthur Symons humouristically called it “a disease” (Symons, Century 65), Max Nordau bitterly condemned it as a “degenerate art” in his Entartung (1892) (Nordau 34). As a consequence, the works of Arthur Machen were only published ten to thirty years after their composition because they only appeared in the shadow of Oscar Wilde, after his trial for homoeroticism (May 1895). Vulnerability is therefore evidenced by a need to compensate and accounts for the rhetorical excess inherent in the poetry of that time.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.21412/leaves_0305

Entrées d’index

Mots-clés : Artiste, argent, beauté, décadence, esthétisme, femme, maladie, Swinburne, vulnérablité, Yeats

Key-words:

Aestheticism, artist, Beauty, Celticism, disease, money, Swinburne, vulnerability, woman, Yeats

Auteur

Français :

Stéphane Sitayeb est PRAG et docteur en Littérature anglaise à l’Université d’Evry où il enseigne la littérature anglophone et la traduction (filières LEA et CPGE littéraire). Ses travaux de recherche portent sur la littérature britannique fin de siècle et s’interrogent essentiellement sur la relation entre l’esthétique, les sciences et la théologie dans leur intérêt commun pour les notions de confession et de dégénérescence. Sa critique littéraire s’oriente vers la forme brève, et plus particulièrement vers la prose poétique, typique d’un auteur gallois peu connu et mal étiqueté, Arthur Machen.

Anglais :

Stéphane Sitayeb works as a Professeur agrégé at the University of Evry, where he teaches English literature and translation. His research focuses of the poetic forms of the fin-de-siècle era and their concern with syncretisms and tensions opposing modern religious systems from the broader epistemological and rational mindsets of the late nineteenth century.

 


[1] A. C. Swinburne. Poems and Ballads, First Series (1866).