This independent study explores the portrayal of the degeneration of British middle-class manliness in the late nineteenth century. Previous approaches to the topic have focused on degeneration in Victorian British society as a whole or used sources that are not contemporary literature. This dissertation primarily uses fin-de-siècle literature to explore understandings of degeneration of manliness particularly in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (1887) and Richard Marsh’s The Beetle (1897). Approaching the study of the degeneration of manliness through contemporary literature is useful as it shows the portrayals of degeneration that were circulating in popular culture of the period. Literature would therefore have had a greater direct impact on the British middle-class’s understanding of the degeneration of manliness compared to other sources that were not as widely read or witnessed by British society. The gothic literature analysed in this independent study highlights the key themes of city life, women, art movements, science and the supernatural as causes of degeneration of British middle-class manliness. The themes found within the texts are all connected by their link to the contemporary belief in corruptive ‘influence’ that is the cause of degeneration in the male population of British society particularly in London.
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