Decadent aesthetics and Richard Marsh’s The Mystery of Philip Bennion’s Death
in Richard Marsh, popular fiction and literary culture, 1890–1915
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Richard Marsh’s fiction made a significant contribution to the arguments that circulated during the 1890s about aesthetics and the commodification of culture. The plots of sensational popular novels and the sights and sounds of the music hall were all deemed unworthy, addiction-inducing forces by cultural commentators at the time. This chapter focuses on The Mystery of Philip Bennion’s Death (1892/ 1897), a murder-mystery novel in which a work of art – a poisoned Renaissance cabinet – apparently kills its owner, a collector of curios: the dangers of art could hardly be more pressing. Marsh’s novel looks back on a century of writers who have associated fine art with crime, from De Quincey’s provocation that murder could be a fine art to Pater’s and Wilde’s interest in the aesthetics of transgression and the entertaining nature of murder. This chapter explores how Marsh's writing was at the heart of 1890s debates about collecting, aestheticism and decadence.

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