The Decadent movement in literature was a short-lived but influential style during the latter half of the 19th century. It is most associated with French literature, and Charles Baudelaire was perhaps the foremost figure of the Decadent movement. Decadent writers used elaborate, stylized language to discuss taboo and often unsavory topics, such as death, depression, and deviant sexualities.
The word Decadent arose in the literary world as a disparaging assessment from critics. As an adjective, with a lowercase d,
Decadent literature encompasses poetry, novels, and short fiction. It was in part born out of the Romantic movement, which sought to effect emotions in the reader, but also a revolt against Romanticism's glorification of nature. The Decadents favored art and artifice over the natural world, and in this respect were closely aligned to the Symbolist and Aesthetic movements of the same period. The Gothic offshoot of Romantic fiction, especially the work of Edgar Allen Poe, was a major inspiration to the Decadents. In fact, Baudelaire translated Poe's works into French.
Decadent novelists include Joris-Karl Huysmans, Theophile Gautier, and Octave Mirbeau. In addition to Baudelaire, notable poets of the genre include Arthur Rimbaud, Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, and the Comte de Lautréamont. The French Decadents gained a following in English literary circles in the late 19th century, and a few English writers adopted the Decadent style. Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley were the foremost English Decadents. Wilde famously incorporated Huysmans' A Rebours into his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray; though he did not name the book, his readers undoubtedly recognized it from the description.