This anthology is the largest ever selection from the Decadent and Symbolist writers of the French fin-de-siècle a period whose social and spiritual ills had so much in common with those of today.
The selection is based on a series of essays on contemporary writers published as The Book Of Masks by the foremost critic and author of the period: Remy de Gourmont. (The “masks” are remarkable portrait drawings by Félix Vallotton.) De Gourmont’s essays brilliantly evoke the pre-occupations of each author, their genius and shortcomings, while simultaneously decribing, and contributing to, the literary theories of the movement. His introduction provides one of the most important overviews of Symbolism and decribes its gradual subsidence into its “dark side”: decadence. De Gourmont’s book consisted solely of essays, but the editor of this anthology has added characteristic texts from each writer to accompany them. Nearly fifty are included, ranging from the extraordinarily obscure and unjustly forgotten to the literary giants of the day. Here are the works by Gide, Mallarmé and Verlaine which have never before appeared in English.
Symbolism was a strange amalgam of the social turmoil of its times; its authors veer between an aesthetics based on simplicity and asceticism and the decadent debauches forever associated with Huysmans and Wilde. Their political associations were equally split, between Catholic piety and right-wing nationalism, and anarchist individualism taken to the point of bomb-throwing. What united these disparate writers was a desire to escape the confines of realism. They produced a fierce literature based on a renewed use of language, finely tuned, often astonishingly lush, which examines that mysterious region of the spirit that lies between inner and outer life. This collection should necessitate a complete re-evaluation of a school of writing that endured for several decades.
Authors include:Remy de Gourmont, Paul Adam, Jean Moréas, Léon Bloy, André Gide, Paul Claudel, Francis Jammes, Laurent Tailhade, Pierre Quillard, Rachilde, Alfred Vallette, Félix Fénéon, Camille Mauclair, Georges Eekhoud, Maurice Maeterlinck, Tristan Corbière, Jules Laforgue, Arthur Rimbaud, Adolphe Retté, Robert de Montesquiou, Ephraïm Mikhaël, Stuart Merrill, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Pierre Louÿs, Albert Samain, Jehan Rictus, Hugues Rebell, Jean Lorrain, Lautréamont, Éduard Dujardin, Gustave Kahn, Paul Verlain, G-Albert Aurier, Stéphane Mallarmé, Henri de Régnier, Jules Renard, Saint-Pol-Roux, Francis Poictevin, Paul Fort, Ernest Hello, Émile Verhaeren, Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, Marcel Schwob.