Symbolism,Decadence and the Fin de Siecle

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This is a comparative and interdisciplinary book exploring a variety of perspectives on the artistic culture of France, and its neighbours, in the period 1870-1914. Part One centres on France, and assembles essays on the prose, poetry and painting of Symbolism and Decadence, on avant-garde dance and performance, on women's writing and on early cinema.

Part Two explores the relations between France and several cultures in which the debt to France was amply and originally repaid-ranging from the Anglo-Celtic "Rhymers' Club" to the Italian "Crepusculari". The essays consistently point beyond the late nineteenth-century and into the twentieth, as they explore the multiple beginnings-as well as the false starts-that characterize the period. All foreign language quotations are translated.

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Editorial Reviews

Modern and Contemporary France

“A valuable reference work on a number of aspects of the period—a collection of useful essays” –Modern and Contemporary France, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2002

Modern Language Review

“This impressive collection of fifteen essays offers a richly suggestive exploration of the multiple manifestations of Symbolism and Decadence and sheds new light on exchanges between the French avant-garde and their European neighbours. The studies are not limited to the purely literary, but take in a wide range of cultural manifestations which includes the dance, theatre, painting, music and film . . . The volume succeeds in providing a thoughtful, wide-ranging overview of this complex period and will appeal especially to all who are interested in aesthetic cross-currents. Not the least attractive feature is its choice of telling illustrations.” –Modern Language Review, Vol. 97:2, 2002

New Zealand Journal of French Studies

“Subtitled 'French and European Perspectives', this volume is written essentially by British scholars. Nine of the fifteen focus on France, while the other six explore the various ripples which spread from Paris to Brussels, Vienna, Berlin, Madrid, Rome and beyond. To widen the perspectives in this way is no mere nod towards today’s increasingly integrated Europe, but a strong recognition that literary movements have often moved without passports and beyond language frontiers . . . This is an ambitious and impressive collection, with substantial endnotes and a five-page index.” –New Zealand Journal of French Studies, Vol. 23, No. 1

PN Review

“The joy of the book is its delightful range of subjects and their inevitable interrelations . . . This is a very important book, and one that should certainly not be left to French Studies alone. It goes a long way towards making sense of a period of literary production that has suffered either from relentless simplification or from meaningless vaguening. The caricature of French Symbolism and Decadence, a product of the English ‘Nineties, the Wilde- and Moore-filtered naughtiness and aestheticism, corresponds little to the riven, multifarious and highly differentiated cultural field McGuinness’s book reveals to us. His finely written introduction provides ample background and context and offers some illuminating judgements, and the book itself is handsome and beautifully produced. In short, its substance and its methodologies are various and interdisciplinary, and its scope is consequently of vital importance to anyone interested in cultural modernity.” –PN Review, Vol. 142, 2001

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780859896467
  • Publisher: University of Exeter Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2000
  • Series: European Studies
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 9.80 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Patrick McGuinness is Fellow and Tutor in French at Jesus College, Oxford.
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Table of Contents

Introduction Patrick McGuinness


1 - Mallarmé and the 'siècle finissant'
Peter Dayan, Reader in French, University of Edinburgh

2 - Disinterested Narcissus: The Play of Politics in Decadent Form Jennifer Birkett, Professor of French, University of Birmingham

3 - Experiment in Women's Writing in the fin de siècle Alison Finch, Reader in French, University of Oxford

4 - The Poetry of Symbolism and Decadence Clive Scott, Professor of French, University of East Anglia

5 - The Kinaesthetics of Chance: Mallarmé's Un Coup de dés and avant-garde Choreography Dee Reynolds, Professor of French, University of Manchester

6 - Villiers, Verne, Lumière: The Business of Immortality Ian Christie, Professor of Film Studies, Birkbeck College, London

7 - Text and Image, Allegory and Symbol in Gustave Moreau's 'Jupiter et Sémélé'
Peter Cooke, Lecturer in French, University of Manchester

8 - Between Medicine and Hermeticism: 'the' Unconscious in the fin de siècle Jeremy Stubbs, Lecturer in French, University of Manchester


9 - Primitivism, Celticism and Morbidity in the Atlantic fin de siècle Scott Ashley, Former Lecturer in History, University of Birmingham

10 - Belgian Symbolism and the Question of Belgian Identity Patrick Laude, Professor of French, Georgetown University, Washington, DC

11 - Temporary Aesthetes: Decadence and Symbolism in Germany and Austria Robert Vilain, Lecturer in German, Royal Holloway, University of London

12 - The War of the Wor(l)ds: Symbolist Decadent Literature and Discourses of Power in Finisecular Spain

Richard Cardwell, Professor of Hispanic Studies, University of Nottingham
13 - French Symbolism and Italian Poetry, 1880-1920

Shirley Vinall, Senior Lecturer in Italian, University of Reading

14 - From Mallarmé to Pound: the 'Franco-Anglo-American' Axis Patrick McGuinness

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