Decadence is a tern coined in the 19th century to describe an artistic movement. It was initially used to describe writers of the mid-19th century in France, such as Baudelaire. By the century’s end, decadence was in use as an aesthetic term across Europe.
The “Decadent movement” expresses excess and artificiality found in society and reflected in art. The word itself connotes ‘falling away’ or decline. In relation to art and literature, it has notions of refinement; valuing of artificiality over nature, and in transgressive modes of sexuality, which were all themes of a rapidly modernizing society.
The term became especially noteworthy in ‘The Decadent Movement in Literature’ (1893), an essay by Arthur Symons. Symons described decadence as ‘a new and beautiful and interesting disease’. Some view it as a result of a modernizing society valuing manmade advances over the simplistic natural order.
Bradley, Matthew. “Decadence”. In obo in Victorian Literature. 21 Sep. 2020. <https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199799558/obo-9780199799558-0021.xml>.
Burdett, Carolyn. “Aestheticism and Decadence.” The British Library, 17 Feb. 2014, www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/aestheticism-and-decadence.