Decadence — the literary and artistic movement that insisted on the autonomy of art, reveled in the bizarre, artificial, perverse, and arcane, and pitted the artist against bourgeois society — is most strongly associated with fin de siècle British and French culture. Rarely is it associated with America. And yet, its popularity in America may well have surpassed its popularity in either Britain or France. That decadence was among Europe's most successful cultural exports to America in the 1890s is indicated by the rash of decadent Anglophile and Francophile little magazines that emerged in America in this period. Whereas Britain and France had a handful of decadent periodicals between them, America had over one hundred and fifty little magazines in the period from 1894 to 1898, many of them inspired by European decadent periodicals. What Gelett Burgess, founder of the decadent little magazine the Lark called a “little riot of Decadence” (Epilark) erupted all over America, from major centers such as New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco to smaller centers such as Lansing, Michigan, and Portland, Maine. Described at the time variously as fadazines, fadlets, fad magazines, bibelots, ephemerals, decadents, brownie magazines, freak magazines, magazettes, dinkeys, and so on, these magazines were founded by those one contemporary, Arthur Stanwood Pier, labeled the “brilliant cognoscenti and sophisticates,” the “American Oscar Wildes and Aubrey Beardsleys” of the period (quoted in Kraus, 6).
Despite the pervasiveness of the little-magazine phenomenon of the 1890s, these magazines have been all but ignored in recent scholarship. Interest in American periodical history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries has focused largely on mass-market periodicals and the development of consumer culture as in recent studies by David Reed, Ellen Gruber Garvey, Richard Ohmann, and Helen Damon-Moore.