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Photo of Professor Kate Hext

Professor Kate Hext

Associate Professor in Decadent Literature and the Arts

My main research projects at present are completion of a book titled Wilde in the Dream Factory: Decadence and Hollywood (contracted to Oxford University Press), 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, I am also a very active researcher on broader issues related to decadence, cinema and culture roughly between 1890 and 1930, in Great Britain and the U.S. I have published on figures including Walter Pater, Henry James, Ronald Firbank, Ben Hecht, and Alfred Hitchcock. In addition to these, and 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 the New York Public Library:

Beyond my published work, I am active in organising events and participating 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). 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. I am co-Founder and co-Editor of a new journal titled Cusp: Late-19th/Early-Twentieth Century Cultures, published by Johns Hopkins University Press: 

Despite my appetite for decadence and frivolity, I have served in many administrative positions in my departments at Exeter and am, all seriousness, actively 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 decadence, cinema and modernism. 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:

I have presented my work at dozens of conferences and have been invited to deliver talks internationally on career development and women’s leadership. 

Research interests

Thematic concerns which shape my research in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries:

  • Aestheticism and Decadence
  • Aestheticism/Decadence on film
  • Aestheticism and Decadence in the United States
  • The relationship between philosophy and literature
  • Individualism
  • Time/the aesthetic moment
  • Literary representations of deviant desire and physical touch
  • The emergence of 'queer' identities
  • The emergence of theories of novel in the late ninteenth century

The main figures I research:

  • Walter Pater
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Henry James
  • T.S. Eliot
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Ben Hecht
  • Vincente Minnelli
  • Alla Nazimova
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Ronald Firbank
  • Carl Van Vechten

Research supervision

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.

Modules taught


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 together). 

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