Romantic writers had found in Christianity a poetic cult of the imagination, an assertion of the spiritual quality of beauty in an age of vulgar materialism. The decadents, a diverse movement of writers, were the climax and exhaustion of this romantic tradition. In their art, they enacted the romance of faith as a protest against the dreariness of modern life. Ellis Hanson teases out two strands--eroticism and aestheticism--that rendered the decadent interest in Catholicism extraordinary. More than any other literary movement, the decadents explored the powerful historical relationship between homoeroticism and Roman Catholicism. Why, throughout history, have so many homosexuals been attracted to Catholic institutions that vociferously condemn homosexuality? This perplexing question is pursued in this elegant and innovative book.
Late-nineteenth-century aesthetes found in the Church a peculiar language that gave them a means of artistic and sexual expression. The brilliant cast of characters that parades through this book includes Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, J.-K. Huysmans, Walter Pater, and Paul Verlaine. Art for these writers was a mystical and erotic experience. In decadent Catholicism we can glimpse the beginnings of a postmodern valorization of perversity and performativity. Catholicism offered both the hysterical symptom and the last hope for paganism amid the dullness of Victorian puritanism and bourgeois materialism.
Whoever comes to this book would do well to leave facile preconceptions behind...What is most refreshing about Hanson's approach is that he takes the spirituality [of the writers he examines] every bit as seriously as he does their aesthetic. Indeed he sees the two as inextricably bound...At a time when many people would rather be thought of as invalids than sinners, it is stimulating to read a work that takes seriously the notion that the urgings of the flesh can serve as a foundation for spiritual growth...That one makes the acquaintance, along the way, of Firbank's 'absurdly named Pope Tertius II' is only one among many added bonuses in a book as entertaining as it is learned.
Decadence and Catholicism examines the intersections of Catholic, aesthetic and erotic discourses, particularly in the works of J.K. Huysmans, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde. There is a long chapter devoted to each of these three 'decadents,' as they have been familiarly described, a representation with which Hanson has no quarrel. He then considers several lesser-known authors: John Francis Bloxam, John Gray, André Raffolovich, Frederick William Rolfe, Montague Summers and Ronald Firbank. Hanson's precise, vivacious and often witty style enhances the quality of his overall scholarship. In his treatment of each writer, he mingles biography and summary with full, varied and deeply textured interpretation.
Hanson examines 19th-century aesthetes who found in the Roman Catholic Church an outlet for artistic and sexual expression. Many writers, such as Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, and Walter Pater, have been attracted to the improbable mixture of chaste devotion and homoeroticism that exists in the materialistic Church...Hanson studies these writings of sexual pleasure as an important element of religious experience as well as a source of inspiration for the writers.
- 448 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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