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Chapter 22 - Decadence in the Time of AIDS

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2020

Alex Murray
Affiliation:
Queen's University Belfast
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Summary

The 1980s and 1990s saw a dramatic increase in popular and critical attention to Decadence, largely due to the growing awareness that the trials of Oscar Wilde had been an important milestone in the development of queer identity. Wilde was prosecuted for a lifestyle more than anything else, and the 1890s development of a set of queer cultural tropes and social practices began the process of publicly articulating non-normative sexual identity. This chapter charts the interest in Decadence and aestheticism in this period, paying particular attention to how the lives of Wilde and his circle spoke to the context of the time, particularly the HIV/AIDS crisis. This chapter looks at the role Decadent writing played in the literature of the period, studying in particular Peter Ackroyd’s The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (1983), David Hare’s play The Judas Kiss (1998), and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library (1988) and The Line of Beauty (2004). The recovery of Decadence at the fin de siècle of the twentieth century seemed to signal that the modernity of the twenty-first century could locate its origins in the radical attitudes and practices of the Decadent 1880s and 1890s.

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Decadence
A Literary History
, pp. 394 - 407
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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