3/06/2020 Peter Durantine

Russian Professor’s Book Examines Society’s Anxieties—in the 1890s

Franklin & Marshall students in some of Jon Stone’s courses probably can relate to his teaching on Europe’s Fin de siècle, an anxious era wrought by advances in science and technology. 

“Throughout much of the 19th century, there was a growing belief in the power of science, of cultural studies, of sociology, of economics—in order to fully understand the world in which we live,” he said. “By the 1890s, people were prominently voicing some reservations about that.” 

This subject is part of a recently published book by the associate professor of Russian and Russian studies, “Decadence and Modernism in European and Russian Literature and Culture: Aesthetics and Anxiety in the 1890s.”  

  • “By the end of the 19th century, a lot of the beliefs that had become ingrained in European society began to crumble and crack, and looking at those cracks appearing was really fascinating to me,” Stone says. “By the end of the 19th century, a lot of the beliefs that had become ingrained in European society began to crumble and crack, and looking at those cracks appearing was really fascinating to me,” Stone says. Image Credit: Deb Grove

That end-of-century period appeals to Stone, who covered much of the same period in his first book, “The Institutions of Russian Modernism: Conceptualizing, Publishing, and Reading Symbolism,” published in 2017.

“By the end of the 19th century, a lot of the beliefs that had become ingrained in European society began to crumble and crack, and looking at those cracks appearing was really fascinating to me,” Stone said. “It is an era when you get people like Sigmund Freud [founder of psychoanalysis] questioning how fully we understand the human mind.” 

Stone examines these societal fissures through the period’s literature and culture. Author and Professor Kirsten MacLeod of New Castle University called the book insightful and said, “Stone’s study offers compelling new ways to understand the relationship between Decadence and Symbolism and their position vis-à-vis modernism.”

Stone spent about six years researching and writing the book, published by Palgrave.

“I wanted to look at the literature produced at that period to see how it was reflected, these elements of doubts, uncertainty and anxiety,” Stone said. “These helped set the stage for the developments in art, in politics and in science in the 20th century.”

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