Date of Completion


Embargo Period



decadence, victorian literature, children's literature, childhood studies, gender and sexuality, queer theory

Major Advisor

Victoria Ford Smith

Associate Advisor

Margaret Sönser Breen

Associate Advisor

Katharine Capshaw

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


The Decadents not only embraced elaborate description and intricate linguistic style but also sought to break taboos by lauding the beauty of decay, authenticity of artifice, and same-sex desire. Thus, many scholars have assumed that the Decadents had no interest in or readership of children. My dissertation, however, argues that Decadents idolized youth as a time of beauty, of ignorance of convention, and even, according to famed Oxford aesthete Walter Pater, heightened aesthetic sense. Drawing on queer theory, particularly Jack Halberstam’s celebration of “the wonderfully childish territory of revolt” in The Queer Art of Failure, I examine the Decadent movement’s radical nature by mapping the ways that its writers portray the child as a queer ideal. In part one, I examine texts such as Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and John Francis Bloxam’s “The Priest and the Acolyte,” as well as lesser known short stories and poems by authors such as Una Ashworth Taylor, Ernest Dowson, and Constance Fenimore Woolson. In doing so, I argue that Decadent writing both portrayed childhood as enabling queer desire and embraced childhood as a metaphor for queer otherness. In part two, I focus on Decadent texts written for children, including Wilde’s fairy tales and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, as well as lesser-known texts by both authors including Wilde’s essays and Grahame’s contributions to the Decadent periodical The Yellow Book. Here, I argue that Decadent writers considered children’s literature a sophisticated genre and made use of its marginal literary identity to imagine queer possibility unclouded by the social indoctrination of adults.

Available for download on Friday, May 03, 2030