Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 September 2020
This chapter considers the importance of life writing to the development of Decadent literary production and to the afterlives of the Decadent movement. Beginning with Walter Pater, we explore the creative approach Decadent writers took to biography and the imagined fictional life. If Wilde, Pater, and John Addington Symonds established the pattern of Decadent life writing, Charles Ricketts and Laurence Housman deployed its practices and politics as they recalled Wilde’s tragic downfall and early death. In the early years of the twentieth century the history of British literary Decadence was still very much contested, and alongside life writing emerged the memoir and the period study that framed the 1890s in relation to the literary innovations of modernism. The creative approach to Decadent life writing waned in the second half of the twentieth century as professional literary critics sought to develop authoritative versions of Decadent biography, a practice seemingly at odds with earlier Decadent practices.
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