Decadence and the Critique of Modernity

Desmarais, Jane H.. 2019. Decadence and the Critique of Modernity. In: Jane H. Desmarais and David Weir, eds. Decadence and Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 98-114. ISBN 9781108550826 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Decadence and Literature explains how the concept of decadence developed since Roman times into a major cultural trope with broad explanatory power. No longer just a term of opprobrium for mannered art or immoral behaviour, decadence today describes complex cultural and social responses to modernity in all its forms. From the Roman emperor's indulgence in luxurious excess as both personal vice and political control, to the Enlightenment libertine's rational pursuit of hedonism, to the nineteenth-century dandy's simultaneous delight and distaste with modern urban life, decadence has emerged as a way of taking cultural stock of major social changes. These changes include the role of women in forms of artistic expression and social participation formerly reserved for men, as well as the increasing acceptance of LGBTQ+ relationships, a development with a direct relationship to decadence. Today, decadence seems more important than ever to an informed understanding of contemporary anxieties and uncertainties.

Item Type:

Book Section

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature
English and Comparative Literature > Decadence Research Unit


22 August 2019Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

16 Jan 2019 15:36

Last Modified:

23 Aug 2019 11:51


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