The Margins of Writing: A Study of Arthur Machen and the Literary Field of the 1890s

Sara Bjärstorp

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


The aim of this dissertation is to analyse the early writings of Arthur Machen (1863?1947) by focusing on three aspects of literary production: the field, the author, and the text. In all these aspects position-takings in the field, the construction of an author's identity, and textual production ? Machen's early career is informed by a particular and idiosyncratic notion of aesthetic creation, referred to in this study as the "aesthetics of failure". The dissertation investigates the recurring formulations of a deep-set anxiety about writing, both in the explicit terms of Machen's self-commentary and autobiographical texts, and in the symbolic forms of his fiction. By applying Pierre Bourdieu's theory of the literary field as well as close textual analysis, this dissertation approaches "writing" both as a historically and sociologically specific activity of producing texts and as a problematic hinging on the limitations and possibilities of the written word to signify. The general aim is to uncover the historical specificity of Machen's writing while at the same time analysing its textual complexity.

Chapter 1 presents the texts studied and the critical frameworks within which they are usually approached, focusing on ?horror? and ?decadence?, and introduces Bourdieu's theory of the literary field and its application in the analysis. Chapter 2 describes Machen's trajectory through the literary field of the 1890s, examining his positions both in relation to the material conditions of literary production, to significant cultural tropes, and to dichotomies such as those between high and low culture, dilettantism and professionalism. Chapter 3 discusses Machen's project of writing London as yet another version of his engagement with the margins of writing. Approaching the city as both a representational crux and as a symbolic geography onto which the relations of the literary field are mapped, this chapter proposes that the problems of writing (in) London are integral to Machen's aesthetics of failure. Chapter 4 distils the thematic preoccupation with the margins of writing by looking at instances of fallen texts, corrupted signification, and unspeakability.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • English Studies
  • Nyberg, Lennart, Supervisor
Award date2005 Mar 19
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2005-03-19
Time: 10:15
Place: Room 201, Department of Cultural Sciences, Biskopsgatan 7, SE-223 62 Lund

External reviewer(s)

Name: Luckhurst, Roger
Title: Dr.
Affiliation: Birkbeck College, University of London


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Languages and Literature


  • General and comparative literature
  • aesthetics of failure
  • sociology of literature
  • the unspeakable
  • London in literature
  • the city in literature
  • Pierre Bourdieu
  • decadence
  • horror
  • Arthur Machen
  • fin-de-siècle
  • Allmän och jämförande litteraturvetenskap
  • English language and literature
  • Engelska (språk och litteratur)


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