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The Alchemist in LiteratureFrom Dante to the Present$
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Theodore Ziolkowski

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198746836

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198746836.001.0001

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Poeticizations, or Fermentatio

Poeticizations, or Fermentatio

(p.124) 5 Poeticizations, or Fermentatio
The Alchemist in Literature

Theodore Ziolkowski

Oxford University Press

This chapter begins with the wave of spirituality and the occult that swept across the West in the late nineteenth century, as typified by Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society and the Societas Rosicruciana in England. Scholars in France and Germany produced valuable histories and sourcebooks of alchemy. This renewed interest manifested itself in the poems of Baudelaire and Rimbaud in France, Hopkins in England, and Rilke and Wedekind in Germany, for whom the alchemist becomes the embodiment of the artist. In Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s drama Axel alchemy represents just one stage of the occult through which the hero must pass before rejecting life altogether, while in novels by Arthur Conan Doyle and Jakob Wassermann alchemy and the alchemist simply fulfill the role of the supernatural with no real function in the plot. In Huysmans’s La-Bas and Yeats’s “Rosa Alchemica,” in contrast, alchemy becomes a surrogate for a lost religious faith.

Keywords:   fermentatio, spirituality, occult, Madame Blavatsky, Theosophical Society, Marcelin Berthelot, Hermann Kopp, supernatural, lost religious faith, J.-K. Huysmans, W. B. Yeats

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