The American Decadence website features a variety of forms of decadent literature that appeared in America 1890 to 1950. The website includes images of American decadent little magazines of the 1890s and 1920s, American decadent novels of the 1920s, examples of the “paperbacking” of American decadence from the late 1930s through the early 1950s, and American editions of popular French and British decadent writing.
The Decadent movement in literature originated in France and Britain during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Decadent literature promoted the autonomy of art (also known as art-for-art’s sake) and represented the artist figure as a martyr to art and a despiser of mainstream bourgeois culture. Thematically, decadent literature dealt with the perverse, the bizarre, the morbid, the eccentric,and the artificial and is characterized by an interest in the perverse, the bizarre, the morbid. In mood, decadence was nostalgic, pessimistic, hyper-sensitive, and world-weary, while in terms of style decadence was characterized by a high degree of self-consciousness,an interest in arcane language, and ornate and elaborate expression. In England particularly decadence was strongly tied to the development of book design as in the publications of the Bodley Head.
The major figures associated with decadence in the European context were: Charles Baudelaire (known as the “high priest” of decadence), J. K. Huysmans, Oscar Wilde, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Jules Laforgue,Artur Symons, Ernest Dowson, and Aubrey Beardsley.
Though generally considered a European movement, decadence had a substantial impact on American literature over a long period of time. Inspired by the famous British little magazine, “The Yellow Book,” hundreds of decadent little magazines emerged in America after 1894 and American publishers such as Copeland and Day, Mitchell Kennerley, Stone and Kimball, Thomas Mosher, and Small, Maynard and Co. published American editions of British and French decadents. Interest in decadence continued among certain American writers and artists into the twentieth century and, in the 1920s, decadent literature gained popularity once more. Though British and French decadence was still being published by publishers like Boni and Liveright, Alfred Knopf, E. Haldeman-Julius, there were now a considerable number of American decadents emerging including James Huneker, Ben Hecht, Carl Van Vechten, and James Branch Cabell.
Though most of these writers, for one reason or another, did not produce decadent novels after 1930, their popularity continued well into the 1950s as demonstrated by the publication of their decadent novels during the paperback revolution.
The website does not provide fulltexts of American Decadence. Instead, it focuses on the physical appearance of the texts and aims to provide detailed bibliographical information regarding the publication of decadent literature in America. Plans for the future development of this website include providing information about the distribution, reception, and circulation of this form of print.