Fin de Siècle

Paul Dukes introduces a major series on the 1890s.

Not just an end, but also a beginning, an atmosphere of spring and renewal no less than autumn and decline. Fin de siècle. That phrase must have been coined by someone with an uncommonly fine dialectical sense of circumstance and language, for besides the note of decline it undoubtedly strikes one of high achievement as well. It was as if the world were teetering on the brink, uncertain whether it ought to climb higher still, or descend: an epoch in the true sense of the word. Fin de siècle, the great turning point.

The quotation is from the Dutch historian Jan Romein, whose book, The Watershed of Two Eras: Europe in 1900 (1978), has probably been the most comprehensive treatment of a subject of perennial interest, likely to grow throughout the 1990s. In one of its occasional series, History Today hopes to add to the developing discussion with a number of contributions from scholars concerned with aspects of this stimulating subject. No doubt, fin de siecle will always retain something of an elusive quality, but equally, we can agree with Jan Romeio that what we are looking at is nothing less than the making of an epoch.

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