"Originally French but afterwards cosmopolitan": Australians interpret the fin de siècle

Mark Hearn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


From the early 1890s, application of the term fin de siècle functioned as an ambiguous metaphor that could symbolise hope invested in progress and technological innovation, or a fear of national decline. The term was most consistently employed to regulate the behaviour of women, in the reinforcement of prevailing gender roles and in resistance to the emergence of the New Woman, identified as an unwelcome embodiment of the fin de siècle and feared for her potential to destabilise the emerging nation’s future. The press functioned as a key technology for the transmission of this narrative, and its extensive deployment in the public sphere spread as its meaning was embraced and contested, and faded in the early 20th century as its usefulness in making sense of a transition to the challenges and opportunities of a new century seemed spent. As a device for repudiating outmoded or illegitimate values and forms of behaviour, its deployment cleared a path for approved forms of progress. As a metaphor of modernity, the fin de siècle narrative helped Australians break with the past in order to compose the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-380
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Australian Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • fin de siècle
  • gender
  • historiography
  • modernity
  • new woman
  • periodisation


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