Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 September 2020
British Decadence was, in large part, inspired by the poetry and prose of France. The cross-Channel traffic in advanced literature saw extremes of Francophobia and Francophilia in the British press, with writers such as Émile Zola having translations of their work censored and attacked in the House of Commons while receiving rapturous receptions when lecturing in London. A central figure in this traffic of Decadent literature was the poet Paul Verlaine, whose dissolute life scandalized the British public. As this chapter demonstrates, British writers took from their French counterparts both formal innovation and an antagonistic approach to moral orthodoxies. Verlaine’s queer sexuality and relentlessly self-scrutinizing approach to poetry came to symbolize for a generation of young English writers an intoxicating possibility of a poetic revolution against cultural hegemony. Verlaine’s lecture tour of England in late 1893 represents the highpoint of the British obsession with French décadence before the Wilde trials saw progressive literature retreat into the margins.
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