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Socialism, Sex, and the Culture of Aestheticism in Britain, 1880-1914$
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Ruth Livesey

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780197263983

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197263983.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
Socialism, Sex, and the Culture of Aestheticism in Britain, 1880-1914

Ruth Livesey

British Academy

This chapter begins by citing an excerpt from Oscar Wilde's Paul Mall Gazette. In 1889, Oscar Wilde suggested that the growth of socialist activism over the previous decade had been nurtured by the arts. This study explores how the artists and writers involved in the socialist movement during this period evolved a distinct socialist aesthetic in creative tension with such aestheticism. Whilst aestheticism tended towards individualism, the sensuous pleasures of taste and consumption, and insisted on the absolute autonomy of the aesthetic, socialist writers tried to frame an alternative in which art was by its very nature a communal product of labour and will, with only relative freedom from the material determination of capitalism. This book explores Wilde's fleeting allusion to the sex of socialism and its relationship with aesthetics by examining the lives and works of socialist writers and activists in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain.

Keywords:   capitalism, Oscar Wilde, socialist writers, aestheticism, socialism, Britain, Paul Mall Gazette

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