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Chapter 17 - Russian and Czech Decadence

The Fall of Rome and the Destruction of Sodom

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2020

Alex Murray
Affiliation:
Queen's University Belfast
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Summary

Decadents believed their civilization had reached its peak and was on the brink of collapse. The only solution was the destruction of civilization by ‘barbarians’ who would bring ‘fresh blood’ to humanity. Eventually their civilization would also grow old and weaken, and a new cycle would begin. The archetypal model for this trope was the collapse of the Roman Empire. Paul Verlaine’s famous poem ‘Languor’ exemplifies this Decadent motif, on which Joris-Karl Huysmans also elaborates. The first part of this chapter illustrates how Verlaine’s poem directly influenced Valery Bryusov’s ‘The Coming Huns’, a touchstone of Russian Decadence. One of the many variants of the ‘Roman Paradigm’ was the destruction of Sodom, a motif examined in the second half of the chapter, focusing on the poetry of Jiří Karásek. Karásek wrote the first homoerotic verse in Czech literature under the influence of Oscar Wilde, whom he bravely defended as de facto editor of the Decadent journal The Modern Revue. Thus this chapter focuses on two variants of the trope of civilization’s collapse, one influenced by French Decadence and the other by British Decadence.

Type
Chapter
Information
Decadence
A Literary History
, pp. 305 - 321
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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