Professor Kate Hext
Associate Professor in Decadent Literature and the Arts
I write and teach on British and American literature, and film, between the late nineteenth and early twentieith centuries. I recently finished a book about Oscar Wilde and Hollywood, titled Wilde in the Dream Factory: Decadence and Hollywood (Oxford University Press, pub. 2024). I am also completing a new edition of Oscar Wilde’s plays for Oxford World’s Classics and, with Alex Murray, co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Oscar Wilde.
As these books indicate, I’m thinking a lot about Wilde at the moment. However, my interests are broad, and I have published on various issues -- usually to do with pleasure, style, individualism, and epiphanic moments -- related to modernism and decadence. I am co-Founder and co-Editor of the journal Cusp: Late-19th/Early-Twentieth Century Cultures, published by Johns Hopkins University Press: https://www.press.jhu.edu/journals/cusp-late-nineteenth-and-early-twentieth-century-cultures
In addition to the academic publications listed on my publications tab, I sometimes write reviews and essays for the TLS. My favourite is this one on Ronald Firbank and Carl Van Vechten because it brings together a literary discovery with the experience of archival research at one of my favoutie places, the New York Public Library: https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/love-affair-letters-carl-van-vechten-ronald-firbank/
Beyond my published work, I've organised numerous events in the fields of decadence studies, Victorian studies, and modernist studies. In April 2015, I and Dr Alex Murray (Queen's University, Belfast) organised the 'Aestheticism and Decadence in the Age of Modernism, 1895-1945' conference (Senate House, London), which led to a book title, Decadence in the Age of Modernism (JHUP, 2019). More recently, in autumn 2020, I organised an online series of talks, titled ‘Zooming Decadence’, designed to help academics at all levels keep in touch during the pandemic. The talks averaged over 100 attendees each.
Despite my appetite for decadence and frivolity, I have served in many administrative positions in my departments at Exeter and am, all seriousness, interested in effective modes of leadership in the university sector. My most significant roles to date, since 2016, have been as Director of Research, Head of Department (through the pandemic), and Director of Global Engagement. For some time, most of my teaching has been focused on modernism, cinema and decadence. However, I designed and have run (since 2016) the Social Inequality Grand Challenge as part of Exeter’s pioneering programme aimed to engage students in real-life problems: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/students/grandchallenges/ This was a recent winner of an Advance HE CATE award. My work on this programme indirectly led, too, to an ESRC grant award for a project on gender inequality, on which I was PI.
I have presented my work at dozens of conferences and have been invited to deliver talks internationally on career development and women’s leadership. In addition to my position at Exeter, I am Visiting Professor of English at Ewha Womans University, in Seoul, 2023-26.
Thematic concerns which shape my research in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries:
- British modernism
- Transatlantic aestheticism/decadence
- Early/Golden Age cinema
- Aestheticism and decadence in the United States
- The relationship between philosophy and literature in the nineteenth century
- Time/the aesthetic moment
- Literary representations of deviant desire
- The emergence of 'queer' identities
The main figures I research:
- Oscar Wilde
- Henry James
- T.S. Eliot
- Virginia Woolf
- Ben Hecht
- Vincente Minnelli
- Alla Nazimova
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Ronald Firbank
- Carl Van Vechten
- Henry Green
- Walter Pater
I have supervised or supervise PhD students working on topics that range from gothic collecting at the fin de siècle to decadence and 1970s disco. I would be happy to hear from potential PhD students working of any of the areas touched on in my profile.
I read Philosophy and Literature at the University of Warwick, before completing a Masters in Critical Theory, and PhD on Walter Pater's individualism, both at the University of Exeter. At Warwick I was President of the Athletics and Cross-Country Club, and my love of long-distance running is still only surpassed by a love of long novels and a good G&T (preferably taken at the same time).