In a perverse paradox that its early devotees would have appreciated, the study of decadence is not in decline but is on the rise, as critics seek to account for the accomplishments of decadent writers beyond the movement’s rascally erotic thematics. Of course, the themes popular with nineteenth-century artists of decadent leanings encompass a vivid parade of Lotharios, femmes fatales, beautiful corpses, absinthe-drenched days and nights, depraved aristocrats, and opium-inhaling bachelors, not to mention louche locales, mephitic atmospherics, and an obsession with exotic arcana. The exquisite, insufferable Salomes and the delirious Christian martyrs so favored by decadent artists were beguilingly present in the early scholarly works on decadence: Mario Praz’s teeming catalog The Romantic Agony (1933), Richard Gilman’s slim but influential essay Decadence: The Strange Life of an Epithet (1979), and Jean Pierrot’s book The Decadent Imagination, 1880–1900 (1981), all of which...

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