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Editors Dr Julia Hartley, Dr Wanrug Suwanwattana, and Professor Jennifer Yee discuss their recently published book French Decadence in a Global Context with Dr Emma Bielecki and Professor Ziad Elmarsafy of King’s College London’s Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. The event will be chaired by Professor Nicholas Harrison.

About the book
Decadence is seldom looked at in the context of colonialism, and yet its heyday in the 1880s and 1890s is directly contemporary with the expansion of France’s modern colonial empire. Ever a slippery signifier, Decadence figures alternately as pro-colonial, anticolonial and apolitical. This edited volume gives a sense of the sheer range and diversity of intersections between colonialism and Decadence, from anticolonial anarchist writers to colonial discourse, from nineteenth-century women writers to our contemporary, Michel Houellebecq. Different chapters explore these intersections in the cultural imagination of dance, the novel, travel writing, historiographical theory, and literary networks. Decadence is often seen as an essentially metropolitan, urban movement, but this study identifies key spaces elsewhere, from fin-de-siècle Saigon to India in the heyday of French colonialism, from Byzantium to ancient Persia. Although the colonies were held up by some as an antidote to the threat of French decline, other writings reveal anxiety that the antidote might itself be a form of poison. Colonial contact might exacerbate degeneration, whether through cultural mixing or through the violence of colonial aggression itself. A profound anxiety about French identity and France’s so-called mission civilisatrice is played out through the imagery, the style and the pose of Decadence.

About the editors
Julia Hartley is Lecturer in Comparative Literature at King’s College London, prior to which she was a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Warwick and a Laming Fellow at the Queen’s College, Oxford. She is the author of two books: Reading Dante and Proust by Analogy (Legenda, 2019) and Iran and French Orientalism: Persia in the Literary Culture of Nineteenth-Century France (I.B. Tauris, forthcoming 2023). Julia also appears regularly on BBC Radio 3, having been nominated in 2021 as a BBC New Generation Thinker.

Wanrug Suwanwattana is Lecturer in French Language and Literature at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand. She completed her DPhil at the University of Oxford (Merton). She is working on fin-de-siècle French literature and Indochina, focusing on Decadence as a form of travelling and transnational aesthetics and its importance in the French imaginary of exotic Indochina. Her research interests include gender and sexuality studies, colonialism, Occidentalism, Orientalism, nationalism and contemporary literature of the Global South. She has published articles in Thai, French and English on French literature as well as contemporary Thai literature. Her current research examines the writings of French and Francophone women in Indochina and South East Asia in the twentieth century (Jeanne Leuba and Germaine Krull).

Jennifer Yee is Professor of Literature in French at the University of Oxford. Her research interests include colonialism and postcolonial issues, Orientalism, exoticism, métissage, narratology and the novel, and the relationship between writing and the visual. Her third book, The Colonial Comedy: Imperialism in the French Realist Novel, was published with Oxford University Press in 2016. She is also the author of Clichés de la femme exotique: un regard sur la littérature coloniale française entre 1871 et 1914 (L’Harmattan, 2000) and Exotic Subversions in Nineteenth-Century French Fiction (Legenda, 2008). Previous co-edited work includes France and ‘Indochina’: Cultural Representations (Lexington, 2005), with Kathryn Robson, and a special issue of French Studies, ‘A Postcolonial Nineteenth-Century’ (72.2, 2018), with Charles Forsdick. She has also published articles and chapters on subjects that include colonial literature, colonial postcards, Indochina, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Balzac, Zola and Cixous. 

The event is organised by Dr Joe Ford (IMLR) and Dr Julia Hartley (KCL).


All are welcome to attend this free event but please register in advance, using the Book Now button at the top of the page.