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Related: Decadent movement - French literature
“decadence continues to suffer from a bad reputation in French literary studies. Works that fall under the decadent label have been, for the most part, considered marginal, inferior, or unreadable” (p. 12). As an artistic and intellectual movement, decadence has been pushed to the periphery of the French literary canon despite some significant scholarly attention given to the subject. [Hustvedt, 1998] The situation has been even worse in English, where most readers’ knowledge of decadent literature has been limited to a few works, such as Against Nature by J.-K. Huysmans (1848-1907) and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). [Waltz, 2001]
The Decadent Reader: Fiction, Fantasy, and Perversion from Fin-de-Siècle France (1998) - Asti Hustvedt [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
Cover shows: Professor Charcot in A Clinical Lesson at the Salpetriere (1887) - André Brouillet
The Decadent Reader: Fiction, Fantasy, and Perversion from Fin-de-Siècle France (1998) - Asti HustvedtIn France at the end of the nineteenth century, progress and material prosperity coincided with widespread alarm about disease and decay. The obsessions of our own culture as the millennium comes to a close resonate strikingly with those of the last fin-de-siècle: crime, pollution, sexually transmitted disease, gender confusion, moral depravity, alcoholism, and tobacco and drug use were topics of popular discussion then as now. The Decadent Reader is a collection of novels and stories from fin-de-siècle France that celebrate decline, aestheticize decay, and take pleasure in perversity. By embracing the marginal, the unhealthy, and the deviant, the decadent writers attacked bourgeois life, which they perceived to be the chief enemy of art. Barbey d'Aurevilly, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Jean Lorrain, Guy de Maupassant, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Catulle Mendès, Rachilde, Jean Moréas, Octave Mirbeau, Joséphin Péladan, and Remy de Gourmont looted the riches of their culture for their own purposes. In an age of medicine, they borrowed its occult mysteries rather than its positivism. From its social Darwinism, they found their monsters: sadists, murderers, transvestites, fetishists, prostitutes, nymphomaniacs, and hysterics. And they reveled in them, completely upending the conventions of romance and sentimentality. The Decadent Reader, which includes critical essays on all of the authors, many novels and stories that have never before appeared in English, and familiar works set in a new context, offers a compelling portrait of fin-de-siècle France. amazon.com editorial review
Related: fiction - perversion - perversion in art - fantasy -
Railing against scientific progress, bourgeois respectability, and democracy, decadent authors reveled in an artificial paradise of reveries (drug induced and not), the poetics of necrophilia, and the cult of oneself to the point of self-annihilation. Self-stylized aristocrats, and sometimes by inheritance actually so, they tended to be anti-democratic in politics, misanthropic and misogynistic in social sentiments, flamboyant in lifestyle, male in gender preference, and insolent in literary expression. Not surprisingly, the term “decadence” has typically been cast in pejorative terms, the fin de siècle at its sickest, as expressed in Max Nordau’s 1893 polemic, Entartung (“Degeneration,” French translation Dégénerescence, 1894).
Literary assessments of decadent authors have tended to be disparaging as well. As Asti Hustvedt emphasizes in the general introduction, “decadence continues to suffer from a bad reputation in French literary studies. Works that fall under the decadent label have been, for the most part, considered marginal, inferior, or unreadable” (p. 12). As an artistic and intellectual movement, decadence has been pushed to the periphery of the French literary canon despite some significant scholarly attention given to the subject. The situation has been even worse in English, where most readers’ knowledge of decadent literature has been limited to a few works, such as Against Nature by J.-K. Huysmans (1848-1907) and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).
The Decadent Reader seeks to redress this situation, in part, by making a broader selection of decadent works available to the English reader, much for the first time. Some of the authors, like Jean Lorrain (1855-1906), Catulle Mendès (1841-1909), Joséphin Péladan (1858-1918), and the Rachilde (1860-1953), were strongly associated with the decadent movement at the time but have suffered from relative neglect since. Others are not commonly thought of as decadents, such as late romantic Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly (1808-1889), realist Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), naturalist Octave Mirbeau (1848-1917), and symbolists Villiers de l’Isle-Adam (1838-1889), Jean Moréas (1856-1910), Remy de Gourmont (1858-1915). Yet the inclusion of such a wide array of individual authors serves to demonstrate that decadent ideas were widely diffused throughout late nineteenth-century French literature. The themes represented in these decadent writings are diverse as well, stories not only of the supernatural and occult, but of science fiction, romance, and “slice of life” sensational crimes (faits divers). --Robin Walz, 2001 via http://www.h-france.net/vol1reviews/walz2.html [Jun 2006]
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