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The Aesthetic and Decadent Movement of the late 19th century spawned the idea of "Art for Art's Sake," challenged aesthetic standards and shocked the bourgeosie. From Walter Pater's study, "The Renaissance to Salome, the truly decadent collaboration between Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, Karl Beckson has chosen a full spectrum of works that chronicle the British artisti The Aesthetic and Decadent Movement of the late 19th century spawned the idea of "Art for Art's Sake," challenged aesthetic standards and shocked the bourgeosie. From Walter Pater's study, "The Renaissance to Salome, the truly decadent collaboration between Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, Karl Beckson has chosen a full spectrum of works that chronicle the British artistic achievement of the 1890s. In this revised edition of a classic anthology, "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" has been included in its entirety; the bibliography has been completely updated; Professor Beckson's notes and commentary have been expanded from the first edition published in 1966. The so-called Decadent or Aesthetic period remains one of the most interesting in the history of the arts. The poetry and prose of such writers as Yeats, Wilde, Symons, Johnson, Dowson, Barlas, Pater and others are included in this collection, along with sixteen of Aubrey Beardsley's drawings. CONTENTS John Barlas - Oblivion / The Memphian Temple / The Dancing Girl / Beauty's Anadems / The Cat Lady / Terrible Love / My Lady's Bath Aubrey Beardsley - The Ballad Of A Barber / The Story of Venus & Tannhauser (with illustrations) Max Beerbohm - A Defence of Cosmetics / A Letter To The Editor / Diminuendo Olive Custance (Lady Alfred Douglas) - Peacocks (A Mood) / The Masquerade / Hyacinthus / The White Statue / Statues / Candle-Light Lord Alfred Douglas - Apologia / Two Loves / Impression De Nuit / Rejected / Ode To My Soul / The Dead Poet Ernest Dowson - Nuns Of The Perpetual Adoration / Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae / O Mors! Quam Amara Est Memoria... / Villanelle Of Sunset / Extreme Unction / Exile / Benedictio Domini / Spleen Michael Field - From Baudelaire / The Poet / A Dance Of Death / La Gioconda / A Dying Viper John Gray - On A Picture / Poem / A Crucifix / Parsifal Imitated From The French Of Paul Verlaine / Femmes Damnees / The Barber / Le Voyage a Cythere / Mishka Lionel Johnson - The Cultured Faun / The Church Of A Dream / Mystic And Cavalier / To A Passionist / In Honorem Doriani Creatorisque Eius / The Destroyer Of A Soul / The Dark Angel / Nihilism / A Decadent's Lyric Richard Le Gallienne - To The Reader / The Decadent To His Soul / Beauty Accurst / Sunset In The City / A Ballad Of London / The Boom In Yellow Arthur Symons - The Decadent Movement In Literature / Emmy / Maquillage / Morbidezza / Prologue: Before The Curtain / Prologue: In The Stalls / To A Dancer / La Melinite: Moulin Rouge / Javanese Dancers / By The Pool At The Third Rosses / Hallucination: I / Violet: Prelude / From Stephane Mallarme: Herodiade / Being A Word On Behalf Of Patchouli / Preface To The Secons Edition Of London Nights Oscar Wilde - The Decay Of Lying: An Observation / Salome / Phrases And Philosophies For The Use Of The Young / Symphony In Yellow / The Harlot's House / Impression Du Matin / Helas / The Ballad Of Reading Gaol Theodore Wratislaw - Opoponax / Satiety / Frangipani / Palm Sunday / Orchids / White Lilies / Sonnet Macabre / Hothouse Flowers William Butler Yeats - The Lake Isle Of Innisfree / The White Birds / Rosa Mundi / To The Rose Upon The Rood Of Time / O'Sullivan Rua To Mary Lavell / The Secret Rose / The Song Of Wandering Aengus / Aedh Wishes For The Clothes Of Heaven APPENDIX Walter Pater - from Studies In The History Of The Rennaisance Joris-Karl Huysmans - from AGAINST THE GRAIN Robert Smythe Hichens - from THE GREEN CARNATION Mostyn Piggot - The Second Coming Of Arthur (A Satire Of The Yellow Book) from Silverpoints


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The Aesthetic and Decadent Movement of the late 19th century spawned the idea of "Art for Art's Sake," challenged aesthetic standards and shocked the bourgeosie. From Walter Pater's study, "The Renaissance to Salome, the truly decadent collaboration between Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, Karl Beckson has chosen a full spectrum of works that chronicle the British artisti The Aesthetic and Decadent Movement of the late 19th century spawned the idea of "Art for Art's Sake," challenged aesthetic standards and shocked the bourgeosie. From Walter Pater's study, "The Renaissance to Salome, the truly decadent collaboration between Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, Karl Beckson has chosen a full spectrum of works that chronicle the British artistic achievement of the 1890s. In this revised edition of a classic anthology, "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" has been included in its entirety; the bibliography has been completely updated; Professor Beckson's notes and commentary have been expanded from the first edition published in 1966. The so-called Decadent or Aesthetic period remains one of the most interesting in the history of the arts. The poetry and prose of such writers as Yeats, Wilde, Symons, Johnson, Dowson, Barlas, Pater and others are included in this collection, along with sixteen of Aubrey Beardsley's drawings. CONTENTS John Barlas - Oblivion / The Memphian Temple / The Dancing Girl / Beauty's Anadems / The Cat Lady / Terrible Love / My Lady's Bath Aubrey Beardsley - The Ballad Of A Barber / The Story of Venus & Tannhauser (with illustrations) Max Beerbohm - A Defence of Cosmetics / A Letter To The Editor / Diminuendo Olive Custance (Lady Alfred Douglas) - Peacocks (A Mood) / The Masquerade / Hyacinthus / The White Statue / Statues / Candle-Light Lord Alfred Douglas - Apologia / Two Loves / Impression De Nuit / Rejected / Ode To My Soul / The Dead Poet Ernest Dowson - Nuns Of The Perpetual Adoration / Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae / O Mors! Quam Amara Est Memoria... / Villanelle Of Sunset / Extreme Unction / Exile / Benedictio Domini / Spleen Michael Field - From Baudelaire / The Poet / A Dance Of Death / La Gioconda / A Dying Viper John Gray - On A Picture / Poem / A Crucifix / Parsifal Imitated From The French Of Paul Verlaine / Femmes Damnees / The Barber / Le Voyage a Cythere / Mishka Lionel Johnson - The Cultured Faun / The Church Of A Dream / Mystic And Cavalier / To A Passionist / In Honorem Doriani Creatorisque Eius / The Destroyer Of A Soul / The Dark Angel / Nihilism / A Decadent's Lyric Richard Le Gallienne - To The Reader / The Decadent To His Soul / Beauty Accurst / Sunset In The City / A Ballad Of London / The Boom In Yellow Arthur Symons - The Decadent Movement In Literature / Emmy / Maquillage / Morbidezza / Prologue: Before The Curtain / Prologue: In The Stalls / To A Dancer / La Melinite: Moulin Rouge / Javanese Dancers / By The Pool At The Third Rosses / Hallucination: I / Violet: Prelude / From Stephane Mallarme: Herodiade / Being A Word On Behalf Of Patchouli / Preface To The Secons Edition Of London Nights Oscar Wilde - The Decay Of Lying: An Observation / Salome / Phrases And Philosophies For The Use Of The Young / Symphony In Yellow / The Harlot's House / Impression Du Matin / Helas / The Ballad Of Reading Gaol Theodore Wratislaw - Opoponax / Satiety / Frangipani / Palm Sunday / Orchids / White Lilies / Sonnet Macabre / Hothouse Flowers William Butler Yeats - The Lake Isle Of Innisfree / The White Birds / Rosa Mundi / To The Rose Upon The Rood Of Time / O'Sullivan Rua To Mary Lavell / The Secret Rose / The Song Of Wandering Aengus / Aedh Wishes For The Clothes Of Heaven APPENDIX Walter Pater - from Studies In The History Of The Rennaisance Joris-Karl Huysmans - from AGAINST THE GRAIN Robert Smythe Hichens - from THE GREEN CARNATION Mostyn Piggot - The Second Coming Of Arthur (A Satire Of The Yellow Book) from Silverpoints

30 review for Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890's: An Anthology of British Poetry and Prose

  1. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

    So this won't be my usual endless review that anthologies get - mostly because the majority of the work here is poetry and as I've said before, I've never felt like I've found my feet with poetry - which doesn't mean I didn't read it, just that I'm not sure I would have much worthwhile to say about it. Given that: Second tier for those in a rush - this is a perfectly serviceable collection of material associated with the Decadent and Aesthetic movements in England - so serviceable, in fact, that So this won't be my usual endless review that anthologies get - mostly because the majority of the work here is poetry and as I've said before, I've never felt like I've found my feet with poetry - which doesn't mean I didn't read it, just that I'm not sure I would have much worthwhile to say about it. Given that: Second tier for those in a rush - this is a perfectly serviceable collection of material associated with the Decadent and Aesthetic movements in England - so serviceable, in fact, that it serves as a primary texts for many universities. You could do worse by picking this up if you wanted to see how the Fin de siècle manifested in England or give some context to a reading of Oscar Wilde. And then, further: As I was ramping up to speed with my new reading list for the next year (or two), I had deliberately chosen to turn my focus back to the Decadents. A while back (sadly, before Goodreads), I had worked my way through the excellent series of Decadent translations offered by Dedalus (The Dedalus Book of Decadence: Moral Ruins, The Second Dedalus Book of Decadence: The Black Feast, The Dedalus Book of Russian Decadence: Perversity, Despair and Collapse, The Dedalus Book of Roman Decadence: Emperors of Debauchery, The Dedalus Book of German Decadence: Voices of the Abyss), but never got around to obtaining The Dedalus Book of English Decadence: Vile Emperors and Reptiles. So (despite a printing error in my copy that reproduced pages 140-141 as blank), I figured this would make a good placeholder before I dove into Dedalus' translation of Against Nature... And it does. But what I found here was that the English strain of the movement was notably different than the suicidal depression of the Russians or the violent perversity of the Germans or the blunt eroticism of the French. The introduction of this collection does a very good job of placing British Decadence in its context, pointing out that it was but one thing happening at the time (as Modernism was waiting in the wings) and, while not stating it as fact, giving some indications of approaching the conjoined and related terms of Decadence, Symbolism and Aestheticism (morbid perverseness versus spiritual vision versus exultation of beauty, at least as far as I can sense). Walter Pater takes Théophile Gautier's "art for art's sake" and sets a stage for a rejection of Romanticism & Realism and the battle against Naturalism, supporting the belief that Art should be beautiful and separated from social concerns and matters "of the moment", while looking to notorious "fleshy" Spasmodics like Swineburne or the indecent work of Baudelaire for predecessors in the cause. "Art for art's sake" was an idea alien to the temperament of the classicist Parnassian poets of England, who felt art should have a moral point. Thus, recording the subjective, intense, lived experiences and noting always the artificiality of civilization (and how indulging this artificiality shows one's power over and struggle with Nature, which previously was exalted by the Romantics as an absolute to be returned to) become the hallmarks of the Decadents (of course, sexual "perversity" was also subsumed into this "anti-nature" approach - interestingly, the introduction goes a bit into the rejection of Oscar Wilde by many at the time, often not because of his homosexuality but because of his shameless self-promotion!). Also interesting was the endless arguments over whether decadent writers do/should live as they write, part of the eternal conflict between ideas of life and style. But, to me, much of the material the English Decadents produced and which is collected here has a self-aware quality - sometimes overly concerned with how shocking it is being, and carefully calculated to scandalize the expectations of the classic schools of the time. The focus on artificiality, while interesting, also has a bit of a studied, intellectual air (as a critic once quipped - "the French Decadents were explorers of the human spirit, the English merely tourists"). Also, it is in examining the English decadents that one cannot escape the class and anti-democratic aspects of the movement - if the rejection of Naturalism hadn't already made that apparent (who but the very wealthy have the time to spend hours dressing themselves and dickering over hothouse flower cultivation?) - but still, this further pushing open of the envelope sets the stage for Modernism and varied underground movements to follow - almost every aspect of 20th Century art owes something to the ground broken by the Decadents (heck, in the excerpts from Silverpoints, you can even observe the creation of the idea of a book designed only as an unreadable "art object," with no text, only margins! Surrealists and Warholians take note!) And now a few notes - things that caught my eye and mind: John Barlas - an overly passionate, mentally ill Socialist who died in an asylum - has a lot of poetry here where beauty and love is conflated with violence, murder and death. Aubrey Beardsley - "The Story of Venus & Tannhauser" (aka "Under The Hill") is extremely interesting in its dedication to perverseness. Perfectly clothed dandy Tannhauser enters the underworld of Venusberg and romances the goddess Venus. Venusberg is a mythological, decadent fairyland of eroticism and the story is filled with endless aesthetic, hyper-attenuated details of clothes, perfumes, bathing habits, meals, sculpture, music and landscape. Everything is ornamented in an erotic way and the whole is populated by licentious (and vaguely sinister) characters. A play is presented that is decidedly "meta" in character and a feast is attended in animal masks before the start of a vast orgy (coyly but sensuously described, especially bodies). I was surprised at how aggressively gender fluid the story is, and at the vast range of "perversity" hinted at: fetishes, bestiality, transvestism, even scatology - the use of terms like "boys" and "girls" for some of the attendants [all presumed to be fairy folk] may give modern readers pause, however). I especially liked a bit near the end contemplating Venusberg's enormous, ever-changing, "still and urgent" lake and the "other gardens, other gods" it may hide on its distant shore. Oddly charming! Max Beerbohm - his essay "A Defense of Cosmetics" is a song & dance in celebration of artifice (a very "arch" reader could and should do an audio reading of this - it would be great!), arguing that cosmetics are frowned upon because they are false and disguise the individual, but this is exactly why they should be encouraged! He posits that Women are not reduced in their social stature by being expected to "repose" and remain idle, as this inaction gives them the time and luxury to think for themselves, while cosmetics allow women to, essentially, become art objects for others - and thus they can be contemplated as things of beauty (masks) and not sources of anxiety (people), thus unraveling the "confusion of soul and surface". The essay is followed by Beerbohm's "Letter to the Editor" in which he sarcastically defends his notorious essay. Alfred Bruce Douglas - while I liked most of his poems presented her, I really enjoyed his "Impression de Nuit", with its images of London at night, and men moving through it like thoughts in a giant brain. Ernest Dowson - his poem "Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae" ("I was not what once I was in kind Cynar's day") seems to be the paraphrased source for Robert E. Howard's suicide note: "...but when the feast is finished and the lamps expire..." I also felt his "A Last Word" has a lot of resonance with the Edward Ka-Spel-penned song by the band THE LEGENDARY PINK DOTS called This Hollowed Ground. Lionel Pigot Johnson - his essay "The Cultured Faun" ridicules the aesthetic extremes and the predictability of the Decadents (who reject previous rejections), as well as the artifice of dabbling with Catholicism and borrowing the horrors of the streets from "our Parisian friends." Also interesting how his "In Honorem Doriani Creatorisque Eius" praises Wilde, only for his later "The Destroyer Of A Soul" to renounce Wilde (the destroyed soul presumed to be that of Alfred Bruce Douglas). Richard Le Gallienne - is another author here who is critical of a number of Decadent tropes. His "To The Reader" warns that Decadence is "destroying art", and his "The Decadent To His Soul" sees the movement as physicalist and anti-spiritual. His poems "Sunset In The City" and "A Ballad Of London" are beautiful, the former a poetic vision of the titular event, the latter a celebration of night in the city, examining the dank rotting depths of London and acknowledging all who have dwelt in the city before (and positioning Paris as London's opponent!). Oscar Wilde - "Salome" had long been on my "to read" list and I'm glad I finally got to it, as it gives us the sexualized femme fatale at her most...er...fatale. The hints of pedophilia in Herod, Salome's rejection of riches and power (not to mention her own life) for satisfaction, it's all very powerful and topped with a stunning last line! "The Harlot's House" has touches of Poe's "The Conqueror Worm" (as well as Thomas Ligotti and THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES) in its reflections on the silhouettes of a mechanical soiree. "The Ballad of Reading Goal" (another "to-read" entry) records Wilde's observation, while in prison, of a murderer condemned to death - it is moving and quite a powerful comment on the death penalty. Finally, I reread the essay "The Decay of Lying" as I was now in the right head-space to contemplate it fully and its expansion of Gautier's "art for art's sake" into "art for artifice's sake". Essentially, it's Wilde's barbed answer to the rise of the Naturalist/Realist movement in literature (Zola, etc.), which eschewed imagination and flights of fancy for close observations of the prosaic world, people and the environment's effect on them. Wilde believes this approach is terrible and sketches out what he believes literature (and almost almost all art) should consist of, how it should proceed and what its goals should be - art's broad falseness, in fact, makes it *superior* to life, he argues. Sui generis, inventive and imaginative, essentially - "effective lying" is the ultimate creativity and Wilde criticizes all current writers and even Shakespeare (before acknowledging the fantastic aspects that appear in Shakespeare). Wilde is witty (duh), charming, intelligent and erudite - there's a good argument to be made that he is deliberately overstating his case so as to have expected criticisms of its excesses built right into the text. Even more interestingly, one can find here the roots of the endless, stupidly repetitive arguments between "Lit" and "Genre" that still plague us even now (although Wilde would scoff at using the fantastic to comment on social issues). W.B. Yeats - "The White Birds" has some nice capturing of weariness of certain aspects of decadence and the dream of a random existence.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bronwyn

    Text book from an Victorian lit class I took in 2005. Haven't been able to part with it since. Text book from an Victorian lit class I took in 2005. Haven't been able to part with it since.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeannie Patricia

    I took a course under the same title with Roger Lathbury at George Mason, around 1990. I wish I could audit the course and do it all over in 2013.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Domhnall

    This is a useful little book, supplying a necessary context in which to appreciate Yeats, Wilde and some lesser writers, not only by means of a selection of relevant writing but also an informative introduction. Apart from Wilde and Yeats, contributors include Lord Alfred Douglas, Lionel Johnson (including the Dark Angel), Arthur Symons and in an appendix a lengthy passage from Walter Pater. ...Swinburne, who deserves more than anyone before him the distinction of being called “the first Decaden This is a useful little book, supplying a necessary context in which to appreciate Yeats, Wilde and some lesser writers, not only by means of a selection of relevant writing but also an informative introduction. Apart from Wilde and Yeats, contributors include Lord Alfred Douglas, Lionel Johnson (including the Dark Angel), Arthur Symons and in an appendix a lengthy passage from Walter Pater. ...Swinburne, who deserves more than anyone before him the distinction of being called “the first Decadent in England.” ... Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads was universally condemned – the Athenaeum said that Swinburne was “unclean for the sake of uncleanness” and a letter from Dublin threatened him with castration... In the first essay on Baudelaire to appear in England, Swinburne in 1862 defended him by taking the position of l’art pour l’art. “The critical students there in France ... seem to have pretty well forgotten that a poet’s business is presumably to write good verses, and by no means to redeem the age and remould society.” The Romantics – emotional and flamboyant – pursued an ideal of love rooted in the natural relations of the sexes; the Decadents – intellectual and austere – sought new sensations in forbidden love, for sexual depravity revealed a desire to transcend the normal and the natural. Although the young Aesthetes found in Rossetti and in Keats, whom the Pre-Raphaelites had “discovered,” a devotion to beauty and to the world of imagination, and in Swinburne an extraordinary sensibility ... it was in Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873) by Walter Pater, the Oxford don, that they discovered their “golden book”. Pater became known as the apostle of art for art’s sake – he had unfortunately used the term in his “Conclusion” – with all the misunderstanding that term is heir to. He was however, concerned with moral development through art... “One critic has remarked that while the French Aesthetes and Decadents were explorers of the human spirit, the English were merely tourists. Like most epigrams, this has partial truth. But the English Aesthetes and Decadents command our attention by their determination to transform their lives into works of art, to center the meaning of life in private vision in order to resist a civilization intent on debasing the imagination and thus making man less human. The courage to do this was considerable – then, as it is now – and the danger of failure made life a perilous, though extraordinary adventure.”

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    Starting book

  6. 4 out of 5

    Avd.Reader

    I simply love this anthology. The Decadent or Aesthetic period is one of the most interesting in art history. The collection includes Arthur Symons' famous essay 'The Decadent Movement in Literature', Oscar Wilde's 'Ballad of Reading Gaol' and 'Salome - A Tragedy In One Act', Max Beerbohm's 'Defense of Cosmetics', Aubrey Beardsley's erotic 'Story of Venus and Tannh_user', poetry by W. B. Yeates, John Gray, Michael Field, Richard Le Gallienne, and Ernest Dowson, as well as excerpts from Walter Pa I simply love this anthology. The Decadent or Aesthetic period is one of the most interesting in art history. The collection includes Arthur Symons' famous essay 'The Decadent Movement in Literature', Oscar Wilde's 'Ballad of Reading Gaol' and 'Salome - A Tragedy In One Act', Max Beerbohm's 'Defense of Cosmetics', Aubrey Beardsley's erotic 'Story of Venus and Tannh_user', poetry by W. B. Yeates, John Gray, Michael Field, Richard Le Gallienne, and Ernest Dowson, as well as excerpts from Walter Pater's 'Studies in the History of the Renaissance' and from Joris-Karl Huysmans 'Against the Grain'. Also included are sixteen of Aubrey Beardsley's drawings. A yellow book indeed.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mymonah

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Intriguing and cheekily gripping. Love the way Beckson collated the different literature and the criticisms as well. All tied in well and some clear developments of the time really shone through. This isnt just lots of decadent works in one place but rather a show of what was going on in literature at the time.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

    The poetry and essays are interesting from an academic point of view, but apart from the Yeats and Johnson, I found them mostly boring: not my kind of poetry.

  9. 4 out of 5

    [Name Redacted]

    A childhood favorite, with gorgeous illustrations from Aubrey Beardsley! I can't recommend this book highly enough. A childhood favorite, with gorgeous illustrations from Aubrey Beardsley! I can't recommend this book highly enough.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  12. 4 out of 5

    Maddie Lowman

  13. 4 out of 5

    Erica

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jas Silver

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kylie

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Gillett

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anne Lire

  18. 4 out of 5

    gavroche

  19. 5 out of 5

    Megan

  20. 4 out of 5

    Academy Chicago

  21. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gwen

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mike Hetteix

  24. 4 out of 5

    Angela

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tara Aveilhe

  26. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ashglass

  28. 4 out of 5

    Maili

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rhea Faith Smith

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lara Martini

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