'Rather a delicate subject’: Verlaine, France and British decadence

Creasy, M. (2020) 'Rather a delicate subject’: Verlaine, France and British decadence. In: Murray, A. (ed.) Decadence: a Literary History. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom ; New York, NY, pp. 65-86. ISBN 9781108426299 (doi: 10.1017/9781108640527.004)

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This chapter examines the reception of Decadence in Britain by focusing on responses to the poet Paul Verlaine. For many Anglophone readers Verlaine epitomized Decadence, but comment upon his work is hedged by euphemism and ambiguity. I argue that this reflects the ‘queer’ resonance of Decadence for British readers, encompassing Verlaine’s status as a homosexual poet and, more generally, the power of Decadent writing to question and unsettle received knowledge (including sexual norms). The chapter traces the origins of the term ‘Decadence’ through classical historiography to the work of Charles Baudelaire and its transition across the Channel in the 1890s, as writers including Arthur Symons, Oscar Wilde, John Gray and Michael Field absorbed the influence of Baudelaire’s literary successors, J. K. Huysmans and Verlaine, into their own work. Symons’ description of Decadence as a ‘new and beautiful and interesting disease’ helpfully draws together what British readers found so appealing and so disturbing about Decadence – its continental origins, its association with various kinds of transgression and its capacity to revitalize clichéd ways of thinking.

Item Type:Book Sections
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Creasy, Dr Matthew
Authors: Creasy, M.
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PE English
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
College/School:College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
Published Online:25 September 2020

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