The Importance Of Decadence In Literature

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Before delving into the illustrations of the nineteenth century, it is first worth discussing the cultural environment which surrounded illustrators at that time. The period from roughly 1880 to 1900, called the fin-de-siècle, is often considered the pinnacle and the decline of Decadence. Attempts to define Decadence abound in academic writing, and it is necessary to take into account the different interpretations of this term. Linda Dowling defines two opposite assumptions in regards to Decadence: the older view which “is that of rumour and gossip, a truth doomed to exhaust itself in the mere telling” as opposed to a “more serious view of Decadence [which emerged] as a cult of artifice in art and literature.”1 The older view Dowling mentions…show more content…
It is 'perversity’ that, more than any other word in Symons’ vocabulary, oscillates uneasily between the aesthetic and erotic pre-occupations of late-Victorian literary Decadence. […] Symons sought to legitimize a form of perversity that was sexual as well as stylistic.5
His definition of the term Decadence failed to acknowledge the diversity of the art that was produced at the time in addition to the fact that Symons did not even acknowledge any other form of art except for literature. Symons actively contributed to the stigma attributed to Decadence as an art movement and “support[ed] the popular view that the 1890s comprised nothing less than a period exuding ʻsensational or lurid
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This stems from the duality between “the cult of beauty and the self […] [and] the expression of profound pessimism, a tendency to focus on the imagery of doom, decay, and a society in decline”15 which prevailed in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The label “Decadence” has been, sometimes falsely, attributed to many works produced in the last decade of the nineteenth century. It is indeed a term that had been coined by the public of the time to label the works which shocked them, or as Dowling puts it, works with “sensational or lurid overtones.”16 It is such a problematic term because it implies that all the works perceived by the public as sensational can be gathered in one group thus reducing Decadence to mere perversity and indecency. The generalization on the part of the public, and consequently on the part of critics, undermines the diversity of art that was produced during the fin-de-siècle era. However, Symons’s article on Decadence is not to be entirely disregarded in favour of his book on Symbolism: in his article, he does mention that Decadence is made of two art movements, which are Symbolism and Impressionism. He acknowledges the variety of the artistic works of the last decades of the nineteenth century, but does not go further in his analysis. Symons still pushes his agenda on Decadence by writing that “both
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