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Reading Groups

Archetypal Innovation at the Fin-de-Siècle: Creating the Modern Detective, Vampire, Gothic, and Scientist with Dr. Anastasia Klimchynskaya

Five Sessions Wednesdays, 6:00 pm EDT - 7:30 pm EDT March 20 to June 5, 2024

Online via Zoom

The ‘With Books’ option includes all titles required for this group at an additional 10% discount from our Bookstore.

Meeting Dates:
3/20, 4/10, 5/1, 5/22, 6/5
Online via Zoom

The 1890s were a striking time in literary and cultural history, a brief period that produced a disproportionate number of the most inventive, memorable, and significant texts within Western history – fictions whose archetypal characters and generic innovations haunt our cultural imagination and pervade our literary and cinematic landscape to this day.

In this reading group, we’ll read and discuss a handful of such texts: Doyle’s The Sign of Four (1890) helped create the modern detective story, followed swiftly by short stories that made Sherlock Holmes one of the most recognized and adapted characters in the world. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) modernized Gothic and vampire fiction, bringing these monsters into the contemporary world and giving us another of the most adapted characters in literature. Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), which contributed to innovating the genre of science fiction, received a vehement response upon publication for introducing Darwin’s theory of evolution into literature and placing into question human supremacy within the natural order of living beings. And The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)—used as evidence in Oscar Wilde’s trial for gross indecency, taking him from being one of the most lauded playwrights of his day to a penniless exile – was a milestone of queer literature, an innovation on the Gothic form, and an articulation of the idea of Art for Art’s Sake all in one.

All these texts, then, are a delicious smorgasbord of the ideas and anxieties that permeated this decade and gave its literature so much to engage with: anxieties about criminality, urbanization, foreignness, the darker side of empire, evolution (and its dark double, devolution), entropy, and the idea of a civilization running out of steam at the end of a century. Reading and discussing these novels and their context, we’ll consider: just what was in the air at the fin-de-siècle, literally and figuratively?

Students should read the short novel, The Sign of Four in preparation for the first meeting.

Reading List:

What to expect from this reading group: The class will be somewhat structured, with a mix of lecture and discussion guided by the particular interests and questions of the participants.


Led by

  • Ana Klimchynskaya (1)

    Dr. Anastasia Klimchynskaya

    Dr. Anastasia Klimchynskaya

    Dr. Anastasia Klimchynskaya is a scholar of nineteenth-century literature, with a particular interest in the intersections of science and literature, and an instructor at Loyola University Chicago. She has taught, published, and presented widely on science fiction, detective fiction, and the history of science, including appearing as a recurring co-host on the Rosenbach Museum’s virtual series Sundays with Frankenstein and Sherlock Mondays. She has also previously taught a Decolonizing Science Fiction and Fantasy reading group at The Center for Fiction.