Constructing Decadence

Building blocks of my developing decadent worldview…  Attributed and sourced from writers and artists, mostly associated with the Decadent Movement or the fin de siècle French symbolists. You sill see some things here that are contradictory with one another.  So be it.

A work-in-progress, to be updated frequently.

Last update, 5 March 2018


From literature, poetry, drama, essays, autobiography, and more… 


The artist who dared to borrow nature’s elements would only produce a bastard work which would have neither authenticity nor style…  [Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature]


…the essential character of symbolic art consists in never approaching the concentrated kernel of the Idea in itself. So, in this art, the pictures of nature, the actions of human beings, all concrete phenomena would not themselves know how to manifest themselves; these are presented as the sensitive appearance destined to represent their esoteric affinity with primordial Ideas. [Jean Moréas, Symbolist Manifesto]


Art never expresses anything but itself.  [Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying]


All bad art comes from returning to Life and Nature, and elevating them into ideals.   [Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying]


Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.  [Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying]


They perish always without ever having been too audacious but rather not having been audacious enough. [Jean Moréas, Symbolist Manifesto]



…women gifted, in the perfection of their beauty, with souls capable of suffering and in whose depths he discerned frightful derangements, mad aspirations, grieved as they were by the haunting premonition of the dissillusionments their follies held in store.  [Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature]


Existential Struggle

The mirror is the problem of life perpetually opposed to man! Does any one know precisely what Narcissus saw in the fountain or what it was that killed him? [Rachilde – The Crystal Spider]


Human Creative Will

There is not one of [nature’s] inventions, no matter how subtle or imposing it may be, which human genius cannot create… [Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature]


I always acted as an individual, not thinking to found a society or to upset the present one. [Rachilde, Pourquoi je ne suis pas féministe]


It did not budge at all and he tapped it. The animal was dead. Doubtless accustomed to a sedentary existence, to a humble life spent underneath its poor shell, it had been unable to support the dazzling luxury imposed on it, the rutilant cope with which it had been covered, the jewels with which its back had been paved, like a pyx.  [Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature]



Man in several years is able to effect a selection which slothful nature can produce only after centuries.  [Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature]


There can be no doubt about it: this eternal, driveling, old woman is no longer admired by true artists, and the moment has come to replace her by artifice.  [Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature]


What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. Nature has good intentions, of course, but, as Aristotle once said, she cannot carry them out. [Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Living]


If Nature had been comfortable, mankind would never have invented architecture… [Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Living]



The secret lies in knowing how to proceed, how to concentrate deeply enough to produce the hallucination and succeed in substituting the dream reality for the reality itself.  [Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature]


But isn’t it necessary to believe a beautiful mask more than reality?  [Arthur Breisky, Shards of Mirrors]


…sometimes a unique figure moves in circles distorted by his clean hallucinations, his constitution; in this distortion lies the only reality.  [Jean Moréas, Symbolist Manifesto]


There is no reality apart from the things invented by an inimitable imagination.  [Marcel Schwob, Preface to Le Démon de l’Absurde]

Self Identity

They never allow anyone to see inside their souls. If they speak about themselves, they never say the truth. [Arthur Breisky, Shards of Mirrors]


…for love of you we must tolerate [mirrors]. And in return for our patience they slap us in the face with our own image, our own vileness, our own absurd gestures.  [Rachilde – The Crystal Spider]


It is of course necessary that an artist, when thus approaching these characters from the past, should have a certain courage for artistic mystification and the knowledge that he can never lie enough to reach the truth, his truth, for which he is longing. [Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic in praise of Arthur Breisky]


Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art. [Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying]


…looking-glasses are deep pits where women’s virtue and men’s peace of mind founder together. [Rachilde – The Crystal Spider]


Additional Resources

Here are some other resources to learn more about decadence for yourself.

Web Links (Scholarship)

On Arthur Breisky –

On Oscar Wilde –


Web Links (Primary Sources & Translations)

Baudelaire, Charles  – Text and Variations of Fleurs de Mal  –

Moréas, Jean. 1886.  The Symbolist Manifesto (translation)


Web Links (Tools)

French Wikipedia – The center of both the Decadent Movement and symbolist literature was France, particularly in Paris.  In case you didn’t realize, the different Wikipedia “versions” are not just different translations of the same content.  There are a lot of pages in the French Wikipedia that are important for this era and these movements that do not exist on the English site.  Also, just some different content in the pages that do exist on both.  Don’t read French?  Add a Google Translate Button (or equivalent) to your web browser.

French WikiSource – Just like with Wikipedia, it’s not just a translation of the English site.  There are some amazing documents from the period here.

Gutenberg Project – Hosts electronic versions of public domain documents.  This is an amazing resource.  They have some good stuff from this period, including some early translations.  It’s certainly hit or miss, but there’s a lot there.