A Baedeker of Decadence

A Baedeker of Decadence: Charting a Literary Fashion, 1884–1927

Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 432
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    A Baedeker of Decadence
    Book Description:

    During the final decades of the nineteenth century, a common mind-set emerged among many intellectuals-"la décadence." Many novels and novellas of the period were populated with protagonists who were fragile, refined, self-absorbed, and preoccupied with a trivially exquisite aesthetic.A Baedeker of Decadencepresents thirty-two international works of literary decadence written between 1884 and 1927. George C. Schoolfield, a world authority on the decadent novel, offers an entertaining and wide-ranging commentary on this highly significant literary and cultural phenomenon.Schoolfield tracks down the symptoms of decadence in narrative works written in more than a dozen languages, providing synopses and passages in English translation to give a sense of each author's style and tone. Schoolfield throws new light on the close intellectual kinship of authors from August Strindberg to Bram Stoker to Thomas Mann, and on the ingredients, themes, motifs, and preconceptions that characterized decadent literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15920-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Baedekers
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. 1 France
    (pp. 1-15)

    Daniel, interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about the great image, his “head of gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, [h]is legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay,” bravely prophesied to the monarch the decline and destruction of empires, his own and those to come. The Neo-Latin and vernacular lyric of the Renaissance liked to ponder the ruins of Rome and of other cities of the empire; looking at Trier, Augusta Treverorum, the German humanist Conrad Celtis beheld a “Rome reduced to shards, thick clusters of shrubs growing in...

  6. 2 Ireland
    (pp. 16-28)

    Decadence has an important second meaning for literary and cultural studies. Not only is it a description of works whose protagonists are the “fragile flowers of a dying century,” as inBruges-la-Morte, Noodlot, Trætte Mænd, A cidade e as serras, Der Garten der Erkenntnis,“Die Letzten,” and so on, or the egomaniacal aesthetes ofÀ rebours, Il piacere, The Picture of Dorian Gray,theSonatas; it also applies to the falling away, thede-cadereof small cultural, social, or linguistic elites, whose long rule over submerged indigenous populations was nervously perceived to be coming to an end—as indeed it...

  7. 3 Italy
    (pp. 29-42)

    In the essay “The Literature of Decadence,” inHarper’s Monthly Magazinefor November 1893, by which Arthur Symons introduced continental decadent literature to the English-speaking world, he wrote: “In Italy … Gabriele D’Annunzio, in that marvelous, malariousPiacere[1889], has achieved a triumph of exquisite perversity.” Subsequently, Symons had reason to think aboutIl piacereonce more; he functioned as an adviser to Georgina Harding as she made her translation,The Child of Pleasure(1898), and rendered “the sonnets and other verse contained in the novel into English verse.” He offered two suggestions to her, he tells us in his...

  8. 4 Sweden
    (pp. 43-57)

    August Strindberg’sI havsbandet(1890) became accessible to an English-reading public two decades after its publication. In the wake of Strindberg’s death (1912) several of his autobiographical novels, his debut novel,Röda rummet(1879,The Red Room), the immensely popularHemsöborna(1887,The People of Hemsö), and his stories came out more or less simultaneously, and at the same time two translations of the text here in question, one by the quasi-official translator, Ellie Schleusner, calledBy the Open Sea, in London and New York, and the other,On the Seaboard, by Elizabeth Clark Westergren, in Cincinnati. The Schleusner version...

  9. 5 England
    (pp. 58-70)

    The Picture of Dorian Graywas first printed inLippincott’s Monthly Magazinefor June 1890, shortly after Arthur Conan Doyle’sSign of the Four, which had come out in the journal in February of the same year. That the two short novels appeared there almost simultaneously has a certain importance for our argument on decadence, sinceThe Sign of the Fouris the most “decadent” of all the Holmes texts. As for Wilde’s novel, it is our business to try to detect—the task should be an easy one, like shooting sitting ducks—its decadent elements. (A matter of some...

  10. 6 Holland
    (pp. 71-84)

    In October-November 1890, the second novel of Louis Couperus (1863–1923),Noodlot, was published in the Amsterdam newspaper,De Gids; Couperus was already well known, thanks to his highly successfulEline Vere, een Haagse Roman, which had appeared in the newspaper in 1888 and as a book the next year. According to “A Tribute and a Memory,” inSilhouettes(1925), by Edmund Gosse,Noodlotwas recommended to Gosse—who knew Scandinavian languages and Dutch—by a transplanted Netherlander, Maarten Maartens, who made a career in Britain by writing about his homeland. Gosse “liked it very much,” and shortly had it...

  11. 7 Norway
    (pp. 85-99)

    It is appropriate to begin the discussion of Arne Garborg’s diary-novel,Trætte Mænd(1891,Weary Men), with a brief account of Garborg’s life. He was born in 1851 at a farm called Garborg, in Jæren, a section of southwestern Norway known for its bad weather and rocky soil, for its disproportionately large contribution to the great nineteenth century migration to North America, and for the strong hold that pietism—what we might call religious fundamentalism—had upon its inhabitants. To the disappointment of Arne Garborg’s father, a stern man and a stern pietist, the eldest son was not interested in...

  12. 8 Belgium
    (pp. 100-116)

    At Berlin’s Café Bauer, on April 11, 1900, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in his diary that he was reading Georges Rodenbach’sLe Mirage, the Belgian’s dramatization of his short and immensely popular novel Bruges-la-Morte (1892), “with deep emotion, in breathless hearkening.” In September the same year, at the artists’ colony of Worpswede, Rilke recorded how he and his friends had sat talking, “a rich community in conversation and silence,” about Tolstoy, death, Georges Rodenbach, and Gerhart Hauptmann’s playFriedensfestand “about life and the beauty of all experience, about being able to die and wanting to die, about eternity and...

  13. 9 Poland/Prussia
    (pp. 117-131)

    In his autobiography,Moiwspółcześni—Wśród obcych(1926, My Contemporaries—Amid Strangers), translated into German in 1965 by Klaus Staemmler, stanisław Przybyszewski (1868–1927) makes a sneering aside about Joseph Conrad: “With what greed is Joseph Korzeniowski-Conrad, who however cannot hold a candle to Nietzsche, demanded back for Poland.” The remark comes in the course of Przybyszewski’s argument that Nietzsche was of Polish origin, and in his style essentially Polish. Both Conrad and Przybyszewski had won their reputations writing in a foreign tongue, Conrad’s in the English acquired in the British merchant marine, Przybyszewski’s in the German learned at the gymnasium in Toruń...

  14. 10 Finland
    (pp. 132-146)

    The Finland-Swede Karl August Tavaststjerna’s early promise was never quite fulfilled. He established himself as Finland’s leading “realistic” novelist withBarndomsvänner: Ett nutidsöde(1886, Childhood Friends: A Present-Day Fate), the story of a singer’s try at a continental career, and his return to a stationmaster’s post somewhere in Finland’s interior; withHårda tider(1891, Hard Times), an account of the Finnish famine of 1867–68 and of the contrast between the Swedish-speaking aristocracy and Finnish-speaking refugees from the north of the country; and with some short stories, a form which forced him to control his weakness for digressions; yet he...

  15. 11 Ireland
    (pp. 147-163)

    Eight years afterA Drama in Muslin, another novel dealt in a subtler way with the imminent decline of the Ascendancy, The Real Charlotte (1894) by the cousins Edith Oenone Somerville (1858–1949), from Drishane House at Castle Townshend in West Cork, and Violet Martin Ross (1862–1915), from Ross House in Galway. It was criticized at first because of its “sordidness”; when he got around to reading it, W. B. Yeats described it, somewhat bizarrely, as picturing “with unexampled grimness our middle-class life,” although he recognized it as a near-masterpiece. In hisIrish Literature and Drama in the English...

  16. 12 Austria
    (pp. 164-181)

    Leopold Baron (Reichsfreiherr, or “baron of the Empire”) von Andrian-Werburg experienced a terrible misfortune at the very start of his life. The misfortune was the place of his birth: he was born in Berlin on May 5, 1875, the grandson of the German-Jewish composer of grand opera, Giacomo Meyerbeer; his father, Ferdinand von Andrian-Werburg, was from a distinguished Viennese family that had received the patent of nobility from Leopold I. As an adult, Leopold Andrian went to remarkable lengths to conceal the fact that he had first seen the light of day in the capital of the detested Prussia. (It...

  17. 13 Poland/Prussia
    (pp. 182-197)

    Przybyszewski wrote seven novels in German. The first three compose a trilogy under the collective titleHomo sapiensÜber Bord(1896, Overboard),Unterwegs(1895, Under Way), andIm Malstrom(1895, In the Maelstrom); the second part, published first, was issued by Fontane, who probably believed that its simplicity and somewhat unusual setting would appeal to the reading public. The other two were published by the smaller house of Hugo Storm.Über Bordhas as its background the BerlinBohèmeof the early 1890s and the restaurant Zum schwarzen Ferkel; Strindberg figures as the detested “Iltis,” “Skunk,” and the restaurant is...

  18. 14 Wales
    (pp. 198-214)

    Arthur Machen (1863–1947) was the son of John Edward Jones, an Anglican clergyman; his mother’s maiden name was Machen, and by the terms of an inheritance, Reverend Jones added her name to his, thus Jones-Machen. The author dropped the nondescript first element. Machen’s birthplace was Caerleon-on-Usk in Monmouthshire, from 1974 officially called by its Welsh name, Gwent, after the post-Roman kingdom between the Usk and the Wye, the border with England; his father was rector of the little church at Llanddewi Fach, within easy walking distance of Caerleon. InFar Off Things(1922), Machen wrote: “I shall always esteem...

  19. 15 England
    (pp. 215-232)

    It may not be coincidence that the three ‘English’ authors mostly closely associated with the phenomenon of literary decadence—George Moore, Oscar Wilde, and Bram Stoker—were all Anglo-Irishmen of a sort: Wilde and Stoker were born into the Church of Ireland, while Moore, from a wealthy Roman Catholic family, was converted to Protestantism amidst much publicity. Whether this common background gave them a sense of decay (stemming from their own local culture) or whether their “outsider” status in England, where all three spent their literary careers, made them aware of the possibility that the British Empire did not have...

  20. 16 Portugal
    (pp. 233-246)

    A cidade e as serras(The City and The Mountains) is the last book of the great Portuguese novelist José Maria Eça de Queirós, who died on August 16, 1900, while reading the proofs; at the time, Eça was Portuguese consul in Paris. He had been born in 1845, the illegitimate son of a young official and an officer’s daughter. The parents were married four years after his birth, but the boy was brought up separately from his three legitimate younger brothers, at boarding schools, from which he went on, at sixteen, to the University of Coimbra. After a failure...

  21. 17 Spain
    (pp. 247-266)

    TheSonatasof Ramón María del Valle-Inclán (1866–1936) fell outside the loop of international decadence when they appeared. The tetralogy of short novels was begun in 1902 withSonata de otoño(Sonnet of Autumn),Sonata de estío(Sonnet of Summer) followed in 1903,Sonata de primavera(Sonnet of Spring) in 1904, andSonata de invierno(Sonnet of Winter) in 1905. Attention had been called to contemporary Spanish literature by the ill-founded award of the Nobel Price for Literature in 1903 to the fecund dramatist José Echegaray (1832–1916), and by the representation in German—that major translation language—of...

  22. 18 Germany
    (pp. 267-285)

    The comparatist Erwin Koppen has written that the early work of Thomas Mann—that is, from his debut with the novelBuddenbrooks: Der Verfall einer Familie(1901,Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family) throughDer Tod in Venedig(1912,Death in Venice)—is stamped by the European decadence, and its motifs and attitudes, down to small details: “Since [his work], beyond that, also shows high literary quality (a claim that cannot always be made for the products of the few German decadents), we [may] see in it a peak of European literature of the fin de siècle.”

    Before turning to...

  23. 19 Sweden
    (pp. 286-304)

    A year after Strindberg’sI havsbandet, the short novelLifvets fiender(1891, The Foes of Life) by Oskar Levertin (1862–1906) was published. At the time, it was seen as a criticism of the tendentious literature which had flourished in Sweden, as in the rest of the North, during the previous decade: the forces of reformist radicalism are set against ultraconservatism, the former represented by the journalist Otto Imhoff, the latter by the political leader Bernt Gottfrid Hessler who, as the first member of his peasant family to receive a university education, has come into money and power. Levertin’s intention...

  24. 20 Denmark
    (pp. 305-326)

    Herman Bang (1857–1912) has long been considered the chief representative of the decadent literary spirit in Denmark. The reasons are not far to seek. In his personal life, Bang lived up fully to the public’s notion of the decadent: he was homosexual and made little effort to hide it, he was a drug addict, he posed as a nobleman, “Herman de Bang,” he was dandyistic, he liked publicity, and he brought his flamboyant personality to the fore both in highly successful readings from his works and in much less well received stage appearances, particularly on tour in Scandinavia, as...

  25. 21 Australia
    (pp. 327-355)

    Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson, born in Melbourne on January 3, 1870, was a piano student at the Leipzig Conservatory from January 1889 until April 1892, when she left without having completed the prescribed four-year course. A biographer remarks that, still a schoolgirl at Melbourne’s Presbyterian Ladies’ College, she may have been encouraged in her musical ambitions by the example of Helen Mitchell, an earlier product of the college, who had been renamed Nellie Melba for her sensational debut as Gilda at Brussels in 1887. Ethel Richardson had become engaged to the widely read Scot, John George Robertson, a student of...

  26. 22 The United States
    (pp. 356-372)

    The only novel by James Gibbons Huneker (1857–1921),Painted Veils(1920), was a potboiler, written from July 9 to August 25, 1919, “seven breathless weeks.” An immediate cause for the author’s haste was the cost of the medical treatments both he and his (third) wife, Josephine, were receiving. Behind the practical need, however, lay Huneker’s long-held ambition to write a full-length novel. In his short fiction, collected inMelomaniacs(1902),Visionaries(1905), and the concluding section ofBedouins(1920), he had demonstrated a narrative urge which somehow never panned out. The protagonist of “The Corridor of Time” in Melomaniacs,...

  27. 23 Iceland
    (pp. 373-400)

    Halldór Guðjónsson was born in Reykjavík on April 23, 1902; his father, Guðjón Helgi Helgason, had worked his way up from obscure beginnings to a position as road-building foreman. In 1903, the little family—Halldór was the first child and only son of Guðjón and Sigríður Halldórsdóttir—moved to a farm, Laxnes, outside the town; from it, Halldór eventually took Laxness as his pen and legal name. His childhood was extraordinarily happy, as he described it inÍ túninu heima(1975, On the Home Meadow); his father, self-taught, was unusually cultured, and his mother and maternal grandmother, Guðný Klængsdóttir (whom...

  28. Bibliography
    (pp. 401-408)
  29. Index
    (pp. 409-416)