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Women Writing Decadence, 1880-1920

Conference venue
: University of Oxford
Period: 7-8 July 2018
Deadline for submitting abstracts: 10 January 2018

Keynote Speakers:

Dr Petra Dierkes-Thrun (Stanford University)
Professor Melanie Hawthorne (Texas A&M University)
Dr Ana Parejo Vadillo (Birkbeck, University of London)

Description of the Conference

Decadence as an international literary and artistic movement has to date been dominated by male authors, while women traditionally feature as objectified femme fatales, sphinxes, dancers and demi-mondes. However, literary and feminist scholarship over the last three decades has retrieved many important women writers of the period. Over twenty years ago, Elaine Showalter’s volume Daughters of Decadence (1993) brought together twenty of the most original and important stories penned by women, re-introducing then little-known writers such as Victoria Cross, George Egerton, Vernon Lee, Constance Fenimore Wollson and Charlotte Mew.

Yet the international and interdisciplinary nature of female networks in Decadence has been so far overlooked. Figures like Alma Mahler, wife of Gustav Mahler but a composer in her own right, were connected to leading figures of the Viennese secession such as Oskar Kokoschka, Klimt and Freud. Lou Andreas-Salomé, a Russian-born author, and one of the first female psychoanalysts, was another member of this network. She wrote more than a dozen novels, and non-fiction studies such as a study of Ibsen’s women characters and a book on her friend Nietzsche. Similar to their male counterparts, these female Decadents were keen networkers, publishers and editors, travellers and translators.

This two-day interdisciplinary conference thus seeks to draw out the active contribution of women thinkers and artists to shaping the Decadent movement from a European perspective. This trans-European and interdisciplinary focus will shed light on the wide array of forms in which women delineated the contours of the movement across the continent. Instead of looking for the ‘daughters of Decadence’, this conference proposes to reveal the ‘mothers of Decadence’ and their theoretical and practical approaches to the issues of authorship, gender and cosmopolitan exchange in the arts.

Eligible topics for the conference

We invite proposals for 20 minute papers on topics related to Women Writing Decadence, which may include, but are by no means limited to:

  • (De)constructing a female Decadent canon
  • International women networks
  • Re-definitions of Decadent female stereotypes, e.g. New Woman, Femme Fatale, Vampire, Cleopatra, etc
  • Female theorists of Decadence
  • Decadent women publishers, editors and translators
  • Female Decadent painters, illustrators and composers
  • Women and Decadent journal culture (Yellow Book, The Savoy, Pan, Jugend, Le Décadent, Cosmopolis)
  • Female flâneurs
  • The female dandy
  • Decadent deviance written by women
  • Female Decadence and Catholic aesthetics
  • Representations of mysticism, occultism and religion in female Decadent writing and art
  • Individual papers or panels on neglected, yet notable European authors:
  • Agnes Mary Frances Robinson (England)
  • Zinaida Nikolayevna Gippius (Russia)
  • Jane de la Vaudère (France)
  • Rachilde (France)
  • L. Onerva (Finland)
  • Else Lasker-Schüler (Germany)
  • Ada Leverson (England)
  • Colette (France)
  • Carmen de Burgos (Spain)
  • Ella D’Arcy (England)
  • Evelyn Sharp (England)
  • Hermione Ramsden (England)
  • Lena Milman (England)
  • Ménie Muriel Dowie (England)
  • Nora Hopper Chesson (England/Ireland)
  • Fanny ‘Franziska’ zu Reventlow (Germany)
  • Alexandra Papadopoulou (Greece)
  • Judith Gautier (France)
  • Kazimiera Zawistowska (Poland)
  • Marie Herzfeld (Austria)
  • Eva Giovanna Antonietta Cattermole (Italy)
  • Amalia Guglielminetti (Italy)
  • Lou Andreas-Salomé (Russia/Germany)
  • Sidonie Nádherná von Borutín (Austria-Hungary)
  • Alma Mahler (Austria)
  • Michael Field (England)
  • Mathilde Blind (England)
  • Olive Custance (England)
  • Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin/George Sand (France)
  • George Egerton (Ireland)
  • Sarah Grand (Ireland)
  • Netta Syrett (England)
  • Vernon Lee (England)
  • Lucas Malet/Mary St Leger Kingsley (England)
  • Reneé Vivien (France/England)

Guidelines for submission

Please email 300-word abstracts to by 10 January 2018.


  • Katharina Herold is studying for a DPhil English Literature at the University of Oxford supported by an AHRC grant. She trained and worked as a theatre director in Germany before embarking on a BA degree in English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths College, London, followed by an MSt in English Literature (1830-1914) at Oxford. Her DPhil thesis investigates the ways in which the East shaped English and German Decadent writing between 1880-1920. She teaches at Oxford and is Associate Lecturer at Goldsmiths College. Her article ‘Dancing the Image – Sensoriality and kinaesthetics in the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé and Arthur Symons’ appeared in Decadence and the Senses (LEGENDA, 2017).
  • Leire Barrera-Medrano is completing a PhD at Birkbeck College, University of London entitled ‘Aesthetics of Extremes: Spain and British Decadence, 1880-1920.’ She has published “‘Dolls in Agony’: Vernon Lee in Southern Spain” in Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens (83 Printemps | 2016) and has an upcoming chapter in a new volume on Michael Field (Ohio University Press, 2018). She has catalogued the ‘Fernández Giménez Collection’ (Colorado, USA), with 2,200 items belonging to the Spanish art critic and diplomat José Fernández Giménez (1832-1903), a close friend of Vernon Lee. In 2016 she co-organised the BAVS-funded ‘Forgotten Geographies in the Fin de Siècle’ conference and in 2015 was invited to organise a series of seminars on Anglo-Spanish artistic relations at Colorado State University as a visiting scholar. She also co-edits Girasol Press, an Anglo-Spanish publishing endeavour.

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