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Decadence and Catholicism

Decadence and Catholicism

Ellis Hanson

ISBN 9780674194465

Publication date: 02/01/1998

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.

Praise

  • 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.

    —Frank Wilson, Philadelphia Inquirer

Author

  • Ellis Hanson is Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University.

Book Details

  • 448 pages
  • 1 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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