The Uses of Decadence: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce



Victorian melancholy disclosed its uneasiness in the concept of decadence. The word began to be used in England about 1850, as if the distentions of empire necessarily entailed spiritual decline and fall. ‘Decadent’ was not a word that Ruskin or Arnold found congenial: Ruskin preferred ‘corruption’ and Arnold ‘philistinism’ and ‘barbarism’. But decadence, with implications of the fading day, season and century, had an unfamiliar ring and gradually came to seem the right word. As if to confirm its rightness, the principal guardians of the Victorian age in statecraft and in literature ailed and then died symbolically as well as literally. Most were gone by the time the nineties started. ‘The woods decay, the woods decay and fall.’


Wood Decay High Ethic Honorific Title Pure Invention Verse Dialogue 
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© Ceri Crossley and Ian Small 1988

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