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Decadence And Catholicism

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Overview

Romantic writers had found in Christianity a poetic cult of the imagination, an assertion of the spiritual quality of beauty in an age of vulgar materialism. The decadents, a diverse movement of writers, were the climax and exhaustion of this romantic tradition. In their art, they enacted the romance of faith as a protest against the dreariness of modern life. Ellis Hanson teases out two strands--eroticism and aestheticism--that rendered the decadent interest in Catholicism extraordinary. More than any other literary movement, the decadents explored the powerful historical relationship between homoeroticism and Roman Catholicism. Why, throughout history, have so many homosexuals been attracted to Catholic institutions that vociferously condemn homosexuality? This perplexing question is pursued in this elegant and innovative book.

Late-nineteenth-century aesthetes found in the Church a peculiar language that gave them a means of artistic and sexual expression. The brilliant cast of characters that parades through this book includes Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, J.-K. Huysmans, Walter Pater, and Paul Verlaine. Art for these writers was a mystical and erotic experience. In decadent Catholicism we can glimpse the beginnings of a postmodern valorization of perversity and performativity. Catholicism offered both the hysterical symptom and the last hope for paganism amid the dullness of Victorian puritanism and bourgeois materialism.

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Editorial Reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer

Whoever comes to this book would do well to leave facile preconceptions behind...What is most refreshing about Hanson's approach is that he takes the spirituality [of the writers he examines] every bit as seriously as he does their aesthetic. Indeed he sees the two as inextricably bound...At a time when many people would rather be thought of as invalids than sinners, it is stimulating to read a work that takes seriously the notion that the urgings of the flesh can serve as a foundation for spiritual growth...That one makes the acquaintance, along the way, of Firbank's 'absurdly named Pope Tertius II' is only one among many added bonuses in a book as entertaining as it is learned.
— Frank Wilson

America

Decadence and Catholicism examines the intersections of Catholic, aesthetic and erotic discourses, particularly in the works of J.K. Huysmans, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde. There is a long chapter devoted to each of these three 'decadents,' as they have been familiarly described, a representation with which Hanson has no quarrel. He then considers several lesser-known authors: John Francis Bloxam, John Gray, André Raffolovich, Frederick William Rolfe, Montague Summers and Ronald Firbank. Hanson's precise, vivacious and often witty style enhances the quality of his overall scholarship. In his treatment of each writer, he mingles biography and summary with full, varied and deeply textured interpretation.
— Paul C. Doherty

Philadelphia Inquirer - Frank Wilson
Whoever comes to this book would do well to leave facile preconceptions behind...What is most refreshing about Hanson's approach is that he takes the spirituality [of the writers he examines] every bit as seriously as he does their aesthetic. Indeed he sees the two as inextricably bound...At a time when many people would rather be thought of as invalids than sinners, it is stimulating to read a work that takes seriously the notion that the urgings of the flesh can serve as a foundation for spiritual growth...That one makes the acquaintance, along the way, of Firbank's 'absurdly named Pope Tertius II' is only one among many added bonuses in a book as entertaining as it is learned.
America - Paul C. Doherty
Decadence and Catholicism examines the intersections of Catholic, aesthetic and erotic discourses, particularly in the works of J.K. Huysmans, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde. There is a long chapter devoted to each of these three 'decadents,' as they have been familiarly described, a representation with which Hanson has no quarrel. He then considers several lesser-known authors: John Francis Bloxam, John Gray, André Raffolovich, Frederick William Rolfe, Montague Summers and Ronald Firbank. Hanson's precise, vivacious and often witty style enhances the quality of his overall scholarship. In his treatment of each writer, he mingles biography and summary with full, varied and deeply textured interpretation.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Whoever comes to this book would do well to leave facile preconceptions behind...What is most refreshing about Hanson's approach is that he takes the spirituality [of the writers he examines] every bit as seriously as he does their aesthetic. Indeed he sees the two as inextricably bound...At a time when many people would rather be thought of as invalids than sinners, it is stimulating to read a work that takes seriously the notion that the urgings of the flesh can serve as a foundation for spiritual growth...That one makes the acquaintance, along the way, of Firbank's 'absurdly named Pope Tertius II' is only one among many added bonuses in a book as entertaining as it is learned.
— Frank Wilson
America
Decadence and Catholicism examines the intersections of Catholic, aesthetic and erotic discourses, particularly in the works of J.K. Huysmans, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde. There is a long chapter devoted to each of these three 'decadents,' as they have been familiarly described, a representation with which Hanson has no quarrel. He then considers several lesser-known authors: John Francis Bloxam, John Gray, André Raffolovich, Frederick William Rolfe, Montague Summers and Ronald Firbank. Hanson's precise, vivacious and often witty style enhances the quality of his overall scholarship. In his treatment of each writer, he mingles biography and summary with full, varied and deeply textured interpretation.
— Paul C. Doherty
Library Journal
Hanson (English, Cornell Univ.) examines 19th-century aesthetes who found in the Roman Catholic Church an outlet for artistic and sexual expression. Many writers, such as Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, and Walter Pater, have been attracted to the improbable mixture of chaste devotion and homoeroticism that exists in the materialistic Church. The perplexing question is: Why are so many homosexuals attracted to Catholic institutions that condemn homosexuality and, as a rule, are not permitted to sublimate? This seduction expresses itself in the decadent writings of the Victorian writers, and Hanson studies these writings of sexual pleasure as an important element of religious experience as well as a source of inspiration for the writers. Scholarly in tone, this is for larger literary collections.Leo Vincent Kriz, West Des Moines Lib., Ia.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674194465
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Ellis Hanson is Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University.
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Table of Contents

Introduction

The Dialectic of Shame and Grace

Perfect Wagnerites

Christianity as Paradis Artificiel

Verlaine's Amour

In Praise of Shame

Huysmans Mystérique

Unconscious Unction

Conversion Hysteria

Christianity by the Back Door

Refined Thebaids

Pater Dolorosa

Pater Noster

Renaissance and Resurrection

Virgin Marius

Monkish Miracles

The Temptation of Saint Oscar

Christ for Christ's Sake

Ritualism and Dandyism

Seduction and the Scarlet Woman

The Confessional Unmasked

Priests and Acolytes

Fragrant Prayers

Father Silverpoints

Pio Corvo

Saint Oscar Redivivus

Conclusion

Notes

Index

Illustrations

The Wagnerites, by Aubrey Beardsley

The Ascension of Saint Rose of Lima, from Aubrey Beardsley's Under the Hill (1895)

Engraving of Charcot at the Salp&#234tri&#232re

Drawing of Saint Philip, from Charcot and Richer's Les Démoniaques dans l'Art (1887)

The Crucifixion (1512-1516), by Matthias Grünewald (detail)

Salomé Dancing before Herod (1876), by Gustave Moreau

"Height of Fashion" (1866), from Punch

"Selling off!" (1851), from Punch

John and Salomé by Aubrey Beardsley, from Oscar Wilde's Salomé (1892)

"A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" (1877), from Punch

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