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The Cosmopolitanism of Arthur Symons, 1880-1910

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

The aim of my thesis is to identify the cosmopolitanism of Arthur Symons (1865-1945) for the re-evaluation of his works, including travel essays, fiction writing, and his editorship of The Savoy magazine. As one of the crucial leaders of the Victorian fin-de-siècle literary scene, Symons has been discussed in various contexts, such as decadence, impressionism, symbolism, and modernism. From these approaches, I focus on the ‘cosmopolitan’ aspect in him that is consistently found throughout his career.

Chapter 1 explores the background of Symons’s borderless travelling style, and argues the series of travel essays on Venice that reveal his awareness of the fictitious nature of Western Orientalism. The favourable descriptions of the
multicultural sphere as mosaics of different pieces are surely linkable to the
current discussion on globalization. Chapter 2 discusses ‘flâneur poet’ Symons’s ‘aesthetic cosmopolitanism’, focusing on his description of the metropolitan,
hybrid view of London with an anonymous crowd. Chapter 3 re-evaluates his 8 editorship of The Savoy (Jan-Dec 1896), because this periodical venture is an
important example of Symons putting his cosmopolitan ideals into practice as an
editorial policy. He made every effort to offer an international literary intersection
on the pages of the magazine, and this experience later brought the publication of The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899), his most internationally successful work. Chapter 4 analyses Spiritual Adventures (1905) as an example of the ambivalence of the cosmopolitanism Symons notices, which appears as the symbolism of water in Spiritual Adventures (1905).

Finally, Symons’s cosmopolitanism is not a forceful persuasion to seek monotonous unity like a ‘cosmopolitan law’. Rather, it is a voice to invite us to see the world from a new perspective, one where every individual can coexist, side by side, without losing her/ his own identity. Such a humble cosmopolitanism cannot bring dramatic, rapid change to the world-view. However, in a longer span, it will not be powerless. We can surely find this sincere hope in Symons. He exhibits the possibility of aesthetic cosmopolitanism to the future, rewriting the stereotypical impression of Victorian literature as the representation of Western Imperialism.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2013

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