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Decadence and Imperial Doubts - the Literature of the 1890s

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

From Kipling and Conrad to Yeats and Wells, this course will study an extraordinarily rich decade of imaginative writing. Fin-de-siècle decadence, the beginnings of post-imperial writing, early science fiction, and the sharp social satire of Wilde and Shaw combine to offer a superbly varied range of texts for us to study.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

No prior knowledge required, although reading of the set texts is essential.

Content of Course

1. Introduction: setting the scene with poetry by Kipling and Hardy.

2. Imperial failures: Kipling’s ‘Lispeth’ from Plain Tales from the Hills (1888).

3. Flotsam of the trade-routes: The Beach at Falesa by Robert Louis Stevenson (1891).

4. Bourgeois pomposities: The Diary of a Nobody (1892) by George and Weedon Grossmith.

5. Bourgeois hypocrisies: Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession (1893).

6. Aristocratic fallibilities: Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).

7. Poets of ‘the tragic generation’: Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, and John Davidson.

8. Resurgent Irish nationalism: early poems by W. B. Yeats.

9. Fear of the future: H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) and The Island of Dr Moreau (1896).

10. The unacceptable face of imperialism: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899).

11. Unseen assessment & credit essay workshop.

Teaching method(s)

Discussion based seminars.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Discuss the historical and cultural context of the texts;

  • Describe the special concerns of the age;

  • Apply techniques of literary analysis to the works.


Core Readings


  • Greenblatt, Stephen 2006. The Norton Anthology of English Literature vol.2 New York: W. W. Norton (for the Shaw, Wilde, and Conrad texts).

  • Grossmith, George and Weedon 2003. The Diary of a Nobody London, Penguin Classics.

  • Kipling, R 1994. Plain Tales from the Hills London, Penguin Popular Classics.

  • Stevenson, Robert Louis 2009. The Beach at Falesa London Melville House.

  • Wells, H G 2005. The Time Machine London, Penguin Classics.

  • Wells, H G 2005. The Island of Dr Moreau London, Penguin Classics.


  • Attridge, Steve. 2003 Nationalism, Imperialism, and Identity in Late Victorian Britain: civil and military culture New York: Palgrave.

  • Daiches, David. 1969 Some Late Victorian Attitudes London: Deutsch.

  • Marshall, Gail (ed.).2003 The Cambridge Companion to the fin-de-siècle Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Class Handouts

Handouts will be provided.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.