Article

Decadence

Matthew Bradley

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online March 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0021
Decadence

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Decadence is a literary category originally associated with a number of French writers in the mid-19th century, most notably Charles Baudelaire and Théophile Gautier. Often linked by both proponents and critics with the excessive refinements found in the literature of the late Roman period, its general characteristics are an interest in perversity, ennui, art for art’s sake, transgressive modes of sexuality, artificiality, and decay. As the century continued, in France the label was increasingly applied to a type of poetry exemplified by the writing of Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé, and the fiction of J. K. Huysmans. By the end of the century, decadence had spread into many other European countries as an aesthetic term. Decadence became a vital force in England during the 1890s and thrived as one of the dominant focuses of a wider cultural debate regarding degeneration and in particular the fin de siècle, a decade and an idea with which it became increasingly associated. The periodical The Yellow Book was seen as one of the chief organs of decadent writing, and Oscar Wilde, Arthur Symons, and Ernest Dowson are usually cited as the leading writers in the English decadent tradition—although much work in recent years has focused on expanding this canon, particularly with regard to its gender bias. Along with aestheticism and symbolism (literary categories with which it often overlaps), decadence has become a vital focus within literary study of the Victorians, and it now appears secure as one of the major strands of teaching and research in the literature of the period.

Article.  8397 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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