Nineteenth-Century Literary and Artistic Responses to Roman Decadence

Hurst, Isobel. 2019. Nineteenth-Century Literary and Artistic Responses to Roman Decadence. In: Jane H. Desmarais and David Weir, eds. Decadence and Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 47-65. ISBN 9781108426244 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

This chapter examines the nineteenth-century cultural interest in Roman decadence, curious in view of the many historical figures who typified such Roman virtues as dutifulness to family and the gods, self-sacrificing patriotism, heroic manliness. To focus instead on the extravagance, weakness, and sexual deviance of the emperors was to exhibit the perversity for which decadent culture is renowned. A sense of belatedness, a feeling that the greatness of the past is gone forever, connects the Silver Age and the late-nineteenth century, inspiring a pessimistic world view but also a freedom from the artistic and linguistic restrictiveness of a self-consciously great era. Yet the transition from virtuous to dissolute impressions of Rome is not simply a phenomenon of the fin de siècle: the subversive insinuations of melancholy, self-indulgence, effeminacy, extravagance, embellishment, and foreign influences in the literature of the Golden Age resonate with romantic sensibilities and react against imperial ambitions to destabilize exemplary images of Rome throughout the nineteenth century.

Item Type:

Book Section

Identification Number (DOI):


literature, art, Roman decadence, Pater, Alma-Tadema, Flaubert, Huysmans, nineteenth century

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


22 August 2019Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

26 Jul 2019 14:54

Last Modified:

11 Mar 2021 14:18


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