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Spotlight

Decadence

 

  DecadenceIn its broadest sense, decadence refers to the fall of a society from a position of strength and prosperity to a state of weakness and ruin. More narrowly, members of the nineteenth-century Decadent Movement in art and literature either describe aspects of decadent life and society or reflect the decadent literary aesthetic.  
 
 
  AestheticismAestheticism was a nineteenth-century cultural movement that included many artists and writers who expressed decadent themes. Aestheticism was especially prominent in France and England, but also found adherents in Italy, Germany, and, to a lesser extent, the United States.  
 
 
  Aubrey BeardsleyAubrey Beardsley (1872-1898), an English decadent and Symbolist artist, used his art to attack Victorian sexual values. Though his life and career were short, his style has been immensely influential and can be discerned especially in the stylized lines of Art Nouveau.  
 
 
  Lord Alfred DouglasLord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945) was a minor English poet who would probably be forgotten today except for his tumultuous association with Oscar Wilde. Their relationship contributed to Wilde's spectacular public humiliation and imprisonment.
 
 
 
  Stefan GeorgeStefan George (1868-1933), one of the foremost German poets of the turn of the twentieth century and a prophet of that period's "conservative revolution," encoded his homosexuality in his works.  
 
 
  Joris Karl HuysmansJoris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) was an important figure in the Aesthetic and Decadent Movements who exemplified a style of homosexuality at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay identity. Duke Jean Floresas des Esseintes, the protagonist of Against Nature (1884), Huysmans' most influential and renowned work, embodies both aestheticist and decadent sensibilities.  
 
 
  Mikhail KuzminRussian writer and translator Mikhail Kuzmin (1872-1936) wrote poems and novels that present sympathetic, often idealistic, portrayals of gay love and desire. Though his work was well received before and immediately after the Bolshevik revolution, it was eventually repudiated by Communists including Lev Trotsky.  
 
 
  A caricature of Jean LorrainJean Lorrain (Paul Duval) (1855-1906) was a French poet, novelist, and journalist almost as renowned for his homosexuality and depravity as for his literary achievements.  
 
 
  Friedrich NietzscheFriedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is both one of the most influential and one of the most misunderstood of modern philosophers. Much of his work expresses a search for a primal joie de vivre that he felt had been squashed and distorted by the hypocritical religiosity and overbearing morality of his time.  
 
 
  Walter PaterWalter Pater (1839-1894), an influential Victorian critic, expressed an aesthetic that reflected a homosexual sensibility. Though his prose was widely respected as a model of stylistic elegance, one critic condemned him as the "mouthpiece" of an "artistic culture" who encouraged "effeminate desires."  
 
 
  Charles Ricketts and Charles ShannonCharles Ricketts (1866-1931) and Charles Shannon (1863-1937) were partners in life and art. The illustrations in The Dial, a magazine the pair published, were among the first works of Symbolist art seen in England.
 
 
 
  Arthur RimbaudThe French "boy-poet" Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), whose art is based solely on his individual creativity, is a progenitor of modern gay poetics. His tempestuous love affair with poet Paul Verlaine is among the most dramatic romances in the history of gay male literature.  
 
 
  Marquis de SadeWhether or not the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) was himself bisexual, homosexual activity is an important item in his program of revolutionary sexual libertinism, a program that anticipated some of the features of the Decadent Movement.  
 
 
  Algernon Charles SwinburneAlgernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) was interested in flagellation, sadomasochism, bisexuality, and lesbianism not only for their erotics but also as gestures of social and cultural rebellion. Though he was a masochist and regular customer of London's flagellation brothels, he expressed ambivalence about the homosexuality of his friend Simeon Solomon.  
 
 
  The Symbolist movementThe Symbolist Movement in literature and painting was the first self-consciously queer movement in Western art history. Like Aestheticism, Symbolism is distinct from, but closely associated with the Decadent Movement.  
 
 
  WagnerismWagnerism is concerned with the music, theoretical writings, political ideas, and aesthetics of the German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Wagnerism had a major influence on the decadents and Symbolist literature and art.  
 
 
  Oscar WildeOscar Wilde (1854-1900) was one of the most visible advocates of Aestheticism. Many of Wilde's plays and especially his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray explored decadent themes.  
 
 
 

 
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