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Fictions of AutonomyModernism from Wilde to de Man$
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Andrew Goldstone

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199861125

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199861125.001.0001

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Autonomy from Labor

Autonomy from Labor

In Service to Art for Art's Sake from Wilde to Proust

(p.24) 1. Autonomy from Labor
Fictions of Autonomy

Andrew Goldstone

Oxford University Press

From the earliest phase of modernism, writers’ practices of autonomy have probed the relationships that link them to the very domains from which they seek independence. This book opens its account of these practices in the late ninetenth century, arguing that aestheticist fiction uses servant characters to stage a subtle reflection on the connection between artistic autonomy and domestic labor. Oscar Wilde writes of a butler in one his plays: “He represents the dominance of form.” The aestheticist novel uses servants to keep the social world at bay even as it recognizes servants as representatives of that same world. Aestheticist writing, far from excluding the world of labor, avows its dependence on it, dialectically incorporating that avowal into its formal effects. This chapter analyzes this dialectical pattern in aestheticist and decadent novels—Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s Axël, Huysmans’s À rebours—and James’s protomodernist The Ambassadors; then it shows a similar but more elaborate incorporation of service into aesthetic form in one of modernism’s great autonomy fictions, Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.

Keywords:   Oscar Wilde, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Philippe Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Henry James, Marcel Proust, servants, aesthesticism in fiction, labor, form

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