Conferences, Core Program

Victorian Apocalypse: The siècle at its fin, Conference 3: Exhaustion/Entropy/Extraction

Friday, April 22, 2022–Saturday, April 23, 2022
8:30 am PDT – 10:30 am PDT

–Organized by Joseph Bristow (University of California, Los Angeles), Neil Hultgren (California State University, Long Beach) and Elizabeth Carolyn Miller (University of California, Davis) 

Online Event via Zoom meeting. Please register in advance:

During the 2021–22 academic year, the UCLA Center for 17th– & 18th-Century Studies and William Andrews Clark Memorial Library will host the Core Program entitled “Victorian Apocalypse: The  siècle  at its  fin.” This program of lectures and presentations aims to reassess the ways in which the 1890s as an era has strong associations with theories of decadence, degeneration, and disease. “Victorian Apocalypse” will draw attention to the significance of UCLA’s unrivaled collections relating to the 1890s, especially the life and work of Oscar Wilde, which are held in the Clark Library collections.

On April 6, 1895, the day after Oscar Wilde was arrested for committing acts of gross indecency with other men, the National Observer thanked the Marquess of Queensberry for destroying “the High Priest of the Decadents.” Wilde’s imprisonment marked not only one of the most prominent episodes that brought the supposed immorality of fashionable Decadence to public attention; his case was also surrounded by emergent discourses of degeneration, ones that viewed his homosexuality as a pathology that was a clear symptom that Western culture was caught in a sexual and racial downward spiral.

Conference 3:

Critics of fin-de-siècle literature and culture have long associated this period with devolution and decline, and with a newly pessimistic vision of the future that starkly opposed the Victorian doctrine of progress. While the origins of this philosophical turn are various and have economic, religious, and geopolitical dimensions, recent critics of the fin de siècle have begun to connect the era’s melancholy atmosphere with the environmental changes wrought by the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution–changes that emerged by the end of the period as both irreversible and profound.

The British Empire in the nineteenth century, newly powered by steam, engaged in a global terraforming project on an unprecedented scale. Mines, railways, factory pollution, and the extractive industries of global empire left marks on the earth that told a story of extreme social and environmental change over the course of mere decades. Many thinkers at the time understood how these social and environmental changes were intertwined, and how the decline of nature also portended the decline of the human. John Ruskin’s The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century (1884), for example, diagnosed the gloomy skies of industrial England as a consequence of “poisonous smoke” rising from “furnace chimneys,” but also an ominous sign of human finitude: “dead men’s souls.” In the early decades of the nineteenth century, Britain was the first nation to transition to a coal-fired economy, which accelerated production and fast-tracked the imperial project, but by the end of the century, economic and political woes intermingled with new fears about the finitude of Earth’s resources, voiced by political economics such as William Stanley Jevons in The Coal Question (1865). The fin de siècle thus foretold not only the decline of British Empire, but ultimately the decline of human civilization.


Friday, April 22, 2022

8:30 a.m.
Bronwen Wilson, University of California, Los Angeles

Neil Hultgren, California State University, Long Beach, Joseph Bristow, University of California, Los Angeles, and Elizabeth Carolyn Miller, University of California, Davis
Introductory Remarks

8:45 a.m.
Session I
Moderator: Elizabeth Carolyn Miller, University of California, Davis

Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, University of Chicago
The Great Coal Panic and the Invention of Modern Scarcity

9:10 a.m.
Sukanya Banerjee, University of California, Berkeley
The Nairs of Malabar at the fin de siècle: Land, Law, and Polygamous Futures

9:35 a.m.
Jesse Oak Taylor, University of Washington, Seattle
Conrad’s Catastrophism

10:00 a.m.
Moderators: Zach Fruit and Lindsay Wells, Ahmanson-Getty Postdoctoral Fellows

10:30 a.m.
Session adjourns

Saturday, April 23, 2022

8:30 a.m.
Session II
Moderator: Elizabeth Carolyn Miller, University of California, Davis
Introductory Remarks

8:35 a.m.
Allen MacDuffie, University of Texas at Austin
Henry James’s Narratives of Exhaustion 

9:00 a.m.
Deanna K. Kreisel, University of Mississippi
Exhausting Utopia

9:25 a.m.
Benjamin Morgan, University of Chicago
Practices of Scaling in Late-Victorian Ecoutopia and Ecoapocalypse

9:50 a.m.
Moderators: Zach Fruit and Lindsay Wells, Ahmanson-Getty Postdoctoral Fellows

10:30 a.m.
Conference concludes

Image: Arthur Machen, front board, The House of Souls (London: E. G. Richards, 1906). Artist unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Library Special Collections, Young Research Library, University of California.