My dissertation, “The Use of the Supernatural in Fin-de-Siècle Aesthetic Literature” argues that writers associated with the aesthetic movement at the end of the nineteenth century use the supernatural happenings in their works to impose their aesthetic ideals and theories onto the everyday world. Aestheticism in literature is known for critiquing British society and its intertwined association with literary decadence which also uses the gruesome and grotesque to critique. What this dissertation considers is that there are uses even beyond critique beyond what supernatural manifestations happen in aesthetic writings. The supernatural forces in their works embody these aesthetic ideals and the characters have to navigate new terrain as the writers demonstrate through their works alternative ways of living, moralities, and understanding the relationship of the self to the world around them.
I analyze several texts from different writers associated to varying degrees with the aesthetic movement to see how each of their interests and concerns are bore out by the supernatural entities they create. There are three supernatural manifestations that this dissertation focuses on: otherworldly vision, enthralling beauty, and haunted portraits. These three topics combine the supernatural with the aesthetic concerns of the writers. Marie Corelli was a bestselling writer at the end of the century who was much maligned by contemporary critics but was popular with the public as well as many aesthetes at the time. Arthur Machen was an author and mystic who is considered the father of horror fiction. Vernon Lee was a prolific writer who wrote supernatural fiction as well as aesthetic essays. Finally, Oscar Wilde wrote many works with supernatural elements and wrote extensively on aesthetics. While these writers often look in different directions, they are united in their belief that art can direct people and cause them to notice things about themselves and the world around them that they otherwise would not contemplate. They believed in the power of art to change people by challenging them.