Issues of gender and sexuality had very much been a part of the literature of the fin-de-siècle. The 1890s had seen the emergence of the so-called ‘New Woman’ phenomenon, in which intelligent, liberated feminists were seen operating in strong roles in the public world. In contemporary novels, women were no longer the objects of the gaze in work by male authors, and female characters now explored the world through their own eyes. Elsewhere, the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895 had focused attention upon homosexuality, and the perceived decadence of this alternative way of living was associated by conservative critics at the time with the sudden liberation of women. ‘Decadence’ was, of course, a key word at the time, and was often linked in the popular literate mind to ‘degeneration’, the term made current by Max Nordau’s notorious book of that title, which was first published in German in the year of the Wilde trial (see extract in Section 5).
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