‘The body of a self-destroyer’

Suicide and the self in the fin-de-siècle Gothic

in Suicide and the Gothic
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This chapter explores why so many fin-de-siècle Gothic novels conclude on equally complex, if different, forms of suicide, including Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Machen's The Great God Pan (1894) and Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). The chapter argues that, as in Jekyll and Hyde, images of the self-destructive self should be seen within the context of models of social self-destruction found in theories of degeneration. The writings of Edwin Lankester and Max Nordau, in particular, suggest that society is prone to self-destruction when it becomes overly refined and collapses back on to itself. Images of the body thus need to be related to wider issues of the body politic. However, this chapter argues  that the fin-de- siècle Gothic does not simply replicate the terms used in theories of degeneration but rather scrutinises how images of wealth, cultural refinement and class-bound models of ‘civilisation’ lead to Gothic representations of self-destruction that strangely liberate the subject from the demands of the ostensibly degenerate body. The chapter outlines how the death of the body becomes, in suicide, an act of agency in which the self is able to transcend its corporeal limits and gain access to a higher spiritual realm.

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