Decadence By Ingelbien, Raphaël
Decadence was a word used to refer, often disparagingly, to late-19th-century European writers and artists whose credo of ‘‘art for art’s sake’’ (Dictionary of Art Historians) went hand in hand with an open disdain for morality and for the values of their own societies. Often associated with modern French literature and its influence, decadent tendencies were observed in many different countries. In England, its main representatives were Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) and various figures who were inspired by French examples and by the aestheticism of Walter Pater (1839–1894). Its main features were a cult of beauty, refinement and artificiality; a fascination for the paradoxical, the bizarre, the exotic and the perverse; and an iconoclastic attitude towards dominant values. While manifestations of decadence did earn a place in fin-de-siècle London culture, the phenomenon did not survive the spectacular fall of Oscar Wilde in 1895, but some of its ideas and attitudes point forward to modernism.