This is all most people think of now when they hear the word Decadence: chocolate. 

Advertisements for rich chocolate, fudge and cheesecake have thoroughly claimed the term and removed it from any historical context, be it Nero’s or Huysmans’s. This is peculiar, because the word still carries at some level the moral connotation it always has – that of Sin, of decay through indulgence in excess. In fact, the language of Sin is often brought up explicitly in dessert advertisements – ‘sinfully delicious,’ ‘chocolate temptations,’ ‘go ahead, indulge.’ We have chocoholics, Death by Chocolate and devil’s food cake – sweets associated with addiction, death and Satan. Outside of a church, this is one of the only places you still hear the language of Sin in our secular capitalist culture. In the 19th Century, all the pleasures of the body were still sinful – fancy clothes, rich food, perfumes, liquors, sex, sensual art. People still indulged in them, but they knew they were sinning. But the marketplace has realized that the pleasures of the body sell, and a bunch of Platonist Victorian moralizing doesn’t help sales. That culturally-shared strict moral universe that lent rhetorical power to the concept of Decadence (which was never all that evil anyhow) is no more. 

Yet we still call it up when we talk about chocolate. Chocolate remains as this dainty little secular Sin. Look at the way it’s presented: those cursive script fonts suggest both expensive extravagance and a ‘feminine’ kind of delicacy. The cultural imperative to police women’s bodies and food intake, the mania for weight loss and dieting, a kind of ascetic self-denial, is the secular stand-in for religious morality. Chocolate is a confection, having no nutritional, practical purpose other than enjoyment (much like all of the Decadent’s pleasures – incense, sex, flowers, ornamental prose, art for art’s sake). Therefore when the presumed-female consumer chooses to buy chocolate products, she’s sinning against the dogma of secular asceticism just because she wants to eat some gratuitous sweet stuff, and will most likely feel guilty. So such advertisements coax and cater in their whispering tones, acknowledging with giddy complicity that a transgression as severe as Sin is being committed, but that it’s okay to indulge yourself – for this special occasion. You can eat dessert, God forbid, without feeling guilty, so long as it’s ‘Healthy Decadence,’ as Devin Alexander’s show is titled. 

Having typed out that monumental contradiction in terms, I realize that language itself has become so distorted and meaningless as to approach a nadir of decay that might even give des Esseintes some perverse pleasure… though then again, probably not. I hereby declare this blog finished. The trial of Oscar Wilde put the first nail in the exquisitely carved coffin of the Decadence, World War I put most of the rest in, and a diet book hammered in the final one. 

I am unable to stomach the strangely paradoxical hypocrisy and prosaic prating of this artless epoch any longer. I mean to, as best I can, sequester myself from it. Where? In the tranquility of some Trappist cloister, haunted by solemn, silent prayers? In the deaf, dumb and blind drunk depravity of an alcoholic stupor? In the luminous halls of the Palace of Symbols, resplendent with every exotic flower and every esoteric key, where the ghosts of history are confused with the monsters of myth, where the devils of piety dance with the angels of perversity, attended by a glimmering, glorious court – all the strange phantasms and fabulous chimeras of Art? No matter where! So long as it’s out of the world.

UK Decay - Decadance
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UK Decay, “Decadance,” For Madmen Only, 1981.

UK Decay were an early ‘80s punk band now hailed as ‘proto-goth’ who used Symbolist artwork, in this case Jan Toorop’s The Disintegration of Faith, and were often described as ‘Decadent.’ This identification was largely due to them preferring to treat the imaginative themes of madness, artifice, perversion and supernatural dread while Thatcher’s fin de siècle England rotted around them. But I contend that there was also a formal aspect at play. If the first wave of punk can be, by way of historical analogy, equated with Romanticism – in its valorization of the raw and the natural in a deliberately colloquial vernacular – the later Decadent trend that UK Decay exemplified, along with Sex Gang Children and Bauhaus, saw this idiom grow refined, mannered and self-consciously strange. The arrangements are alternately spastic and languorous, curiously structured, deliberately theatrical and ornamented to the point of being unnerving – classic hallmarks of a style in decay. Paul Bourget’s contention that Decadent style involves a sacrifice of the coherence of the whole for the indulgent ingenuity of the part is applicable to UK Decay – the instruments seem to be forever struggling for independence from one another as they eschew any conventionally satisfying rock ‘n’ roll progressions in favor of deliciously disconnected fragments.

Christian Jank, concept for Schloss Falkenstein, Ludwig II’s proposed final castle, 1890 [top].

Herb Ryman, concept for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, 1953 [bottom].

The Walt Disney theme parks are not the first thing that would occur to most people when considering the legacy of the Decadence. But despite the Sin and Satanism being substituted for family-friendly magic, and the pessimistic Continental elitism being substituted for sunny American populism, Disney is based around two of the most fundamental principles of the Decadence: artifice and fantasy. I think of des Esseintes’s ‘trip to London’ in Huysmans’s À Rebours, achieved by a rainy day, reading Dickens and eating English food at an English pub in Paris, or of his dining room done up as a ship’s cabin, complete with a system of aquariums behind port-hole windows. “By these means he was able to enjoy quickly, almost simultaneously, all the sensations of a long sea-voyage, without ever leaving home…travel, indeed, struck him as being a waste of time, since he believed that the imagination could provide a more-than-adequate substitute for the vulgar reality of actual experience…artifice was considered by des Esseintes to be the distinctive mark of human genius.” How des Esseintes would’ve admired Epcot, where one can meander through fragments of countries reduced to emblematic motifs seen utterly through the eye of imagination, briefly immerse oneself in little replicas of their architecture, sample palatable interpretations of their food and drink, and have gone on a world tour in a matter of hours with minimal exertion and all the unpleasant reality edited out.

In this way, Disney is able not simply to fictionalize real places, but to realize fictional ones – a kind of summation of the Symbolist project, making Ideas like Fantasy, Adventure and Nostalgia not only perceptible to the senses, but physically inhabitable. 

It’s well known that Disney’s castles were inspired by Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein, and the Bavarian king’s Schloss Linderhof, with its French Rococo palace, Atlantean quasi-Blue Grotto, Moorish Kiosk and Moroccan House, was a clear precursor to Disney-style around-the-world fantasy architecture. Indeed, Walt Disney was in a sense the American Ludwig. A consummate dreamer obsessed with realizing his dreams, not content to animate them in features like Fantasia (a veritable index of Symbolist motifs from flowers to sorcerers to demons to nymphs to fauns), he endeavored to build them. The result is a bizarre land founded on the Decadent supposition that beautiful artifice is preferable to disappointing authenticity, and haunted by the specters of fin de siècle art: Fantasyland is a Burne-Jones, the Polynesian Hotel is a Gauguin, even the unsettling monolithic sphere of Spaceship Earth could’ve sprung from the mind of Kubin or Redon. 

Lobby card for Charles Bryant’s Salome, 1923 [top].

Babylon from D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, 1916 [bottom left].

Pola Negri in George Fitzmaurice’s Bella Donna, 1923 [bottom right].

What is the legacy of the Decadence? Who has inherited its spirit? It can be argued that Surrealism picked up the torch of Symbolism, abandoning the comprehensible mythological symbols but preserving the dream-like strangeness, and it can even be argued that the Psychedelic art of the 1960s owes its existence primarily to the eye-catching, twining, undulating lines of Beardsley and Mucha. But I contend that the legacy of the Decadence can be best seen outside of the art world proper.

Perhaps its truest successor was the culture of Silent Age cinema. In the late ‘teens and early ‘20s, the European avant-garde was still licking its war wounds, but Hollywood was comparatively unaffected, and was just inaugurating its own new aristocracy: film stars. They were a thoroughly gaudy and artificial counterpart to traditional high society, in a sense living out the Decadent fantasies of the previous century that were only finally making it to America. Hollywood was their New Babylon, a made-up affair full of fantasy architecture – here a Spanish villa, there a fairytale Tudor, or Swiss chalet, or Arabian palace. All of the Decadent preoccupations were present: narcissism, self-mythology, the cult of beauty, a medium based around artifice and masquerade, luxurious mansions full of gilded Orientalist curiosities, deviant, debauched parties, effete, dandified men and jewel-dripping, ambiguously foreign femmes fatales fumbling with skulls and tarot cards. The limitations of the silent medium kept at bay the encroachments of naturalism, at least for a little while, leaving cinema as a fantastical spectacle of beauty and curiosity. The necessity of obviously constructed sets foregrounded Decadent artifice, and the oversized, presentational method of silent acting made stars leap from frozen hieratic pose to frozen hieratic pose like living Gustave Moreaus.

Nazimova’s 1923 adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome represents the most obvious continuity. With its sensuous, stylized Art Nouveau sets and costuming, florid theatricality and exotic, dangerous feminine as ultimate aesthetic focal point, it proved that silent cinema and Decadent Symbolism were entirely compatible. 

Nicholas Kalmakoff, Astarte, 1926 [top].

Umberto Boccioni, Charge of the Lancers, 1915 [middle left].

Hugo Ball, “Karawane” and Magical Bishop costume, 1916 [middle right].

Otto Dix, The Match Seller, 1920 [bottom].

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming,” 1920.

"An inventor of fantasies is a poor creature, heaven knows, when all the world is at war."

Arthur Machen, “Out of the Earth,” 1915.

By the time Nicholas Kalmakoff painted his Astarte in 1926, his cloud-trotting goddess in hieratic Byzantine pose with her aureoled griffons must’ve seemed patently ridiculous. 

By the beginning of the 20th century, nascent Modernism with its uncompromising formal innovations and pushes toward abstraction had already trumped Symbolism’s mystical dalliances and questionable morals as the most shocking thing in art. 

Then the Great War happened. A world that had been slowly languishing of ennui was abruptly, brutally murdered. The world marched off to war in gallant, romantic posture, and was shoved into the gangrenous muck of trenches, deafened by heavy artillery, forced to crawl out into razorwire no-man’s-land prowled by tanks where it was eviscerated by machine-gun fire, and what little of it survived with poorly amputated limbs, quivering and muttering nonsense out of a Hugo Ball poem, dragged itself into the streets of ruined cities with ruined economies and ruined spirits. Nerve gas and shell shock made Biblical harlots and esoteric symbols seem suddenly painfully irrelevant. The European avant-garde reflected the new visual culture of maimed victims and death machines. The appalling technological tyranny of Futurism reveled in the kinetic thrill of the prodigious bloodbath. The desperate irrationalism of Dada gurgled and yowled in inchoate defiance of a world made too inhuman and grim to contemplate. The New Objectivity spat out cynical, jaundiced descriptions of the horrific, ugly aftermath of the War. 

The Decadence had been correct in feeling that it was living in the twilight years, in its premonitions of civilization’s doom. The world that made possible all its erotic, exotic flights of fancy did indeed die with the Great War. A movement founded around an atmosphere of impending end has built-in obsolescence, and is rendered inoperable and irrelevant when that end comes. Anyone, like Kalmakoff or Alastair, who continued in the precious, dreamy style seemed to be a delusional, insultingly escapist anachronism. To a degree, the Decadence is still overlooked in art history. It’s seen as chained to figurative painting, lost in the frivolous mists of Salomes, Sphinxes, skulls and passé sex, and simply not relevant to our more serious 20th-21st Century concerns. 

Carlos Schwabe, La Mort du Fossoyeur, 1893.
Death is an angel whose magnetic palms
Bring dreams of ecstasy and slumberous calms
To smooth the beds of naked men and poor. 
Charles Baudelaire, “Death of the Poor,” Les Fleurs du Mal, 1857.
Blessed were the dreamers whom death was merciful enough to claim before they could see the 20th Century.

Carlos Schwabe, La Mort du Fossoyeur, 1893.

Death is an angel whose magnetic palms

Bring dreams of ecstasy and slumberous calms

To smooth the beds of naked men and poor. 

Charles Baudelaire, “Death of the Poor,” Les Fleurs du Mal, 1857.

Blessed were the dreamers whom death was merciful enough to claim before they could see the 20th Century.

Paul Gauguin, Madame la Mort, 1890-91.
Why 
Should I, whose shaft has withered without bloom 
Seek fallen flowers and fruit? – leave me alone to die. 
Count Eric Stenbock, “The Shadow of Death,” 1893.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream. 
Ernest Dowson, “Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam,” 1896.
While much of the world anticipated the dawning of the new century with optimistic fervor, Symbolism and the Decadence were obsessed with death. Death loomed everywhere: the end of the century, the end of the old ways, the withering of old lines, moribund civilizations with the barbarians at the gates, death as a silent, shrouded angel, death as an ectoplasmic larva, death as murder, death as peaceful repose, death as an ignominious collapse, death as an imminent inevitability, symbols of suicide, pity, penitence, Heaven, Hell, mystical portents of the Apocalypse. 
In a time awash in magicians, this was the genuinely divinatory current, for the world would soon end. La Belle Époque’s wine and roses would be trampled in trenches, and Beauty would be slaughtered on the altar of War. Humanity would soon witness mechanized mass death so horrific and on a scale so unprecedented as to forever alter its psychic landscape as well as its geopolitical one, and render the old symbolic vocabulary obsolete and even quaint. 

Paul Gauguin, Madame la Mort, 1890-91.

Why 

Should I, whose shaft has withered without bloom 

Seek fallen flowers and fruit? – leave me alone to die. 

Count Eric Stenbock, “The Shadow of Death,” 1893.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream. 

Ernest Dowson, “Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam,” 1896.

While much of the world anticipated the dawning of the new century with optimistic fervor, Symbolism and the Decadence were obsessed with death. Death loomed everywhere: the end of the century, the end of the old ways, the withering of old lines, moribund civilizations with the barbarians at the gates, death as a silent, shrouded angel, death as an ectoplasmic larva, death as murder, death as peaceful repose, death as an ignominious collapse, death as an imminent inevitability, symbols of suicide, pity, penitence, Heaven, Hell, mystical portents of the Apocalypse. 

In a time awash in magicians, this was the genuinely divinatory current, for the world would soon end. La Belle Époque’s wine and roses would be trampled in trenches, and Beauty would be slaughtered on the altar of War. Humanity would soon witness mechanized mass death so horrific and on a scale so unprecedented as to forever alter its psychic landscape as well as its geopolitical one, and render the old symbolic vocabulary obsolete and even quaint. 

Alfred Kubin, The Way to Hell, 1904 [top].

Cabaret l’Enfer, Montmarte, circa 1890s [bottom].

“Hyacinthe appeared before me completely naked, begging me to flagellate her. She had in her hand the scourge of a canoness: seven cordlets of silk in detestation of the seven deadly sins, with seven knots to each cord in remembrance of the seven ways of mortal failure.”

Remy de Gourmont, Le Fantôme, 1893.

Severe Spring’s still with us,

But growing gentler by the hour

In breaths of air just warm enough

To make past cold keener

And recall God’s mercy…

Soul, give yourself up to the greatness of hope.

Paul Verlaine, “A Cold Wind…” Sagesse, 1880.

"Sadism and Catholicism, in French Decadent literature, became the two poles between which the souls of neurotic and sensual writers oscillate."

Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, 1933.

J.-K. Huysmans, Paul Verlaine, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Adolphe Retté, Renée Vivien, John Gray, Aubrey Beardsley, Ernest Dowson, Oscar Wilde – It’s beyond my powers to enumerate all of the Decadents who converted to Catholicism, many on their deathbeds. The relevant question is: should we see their conversions as a repudiation of their Decadence, or a continuation of it? As one might suspect, the answer varies, and probably contains a bit of both.

The Decadence always existed in a basically Catholic moral universe, was basically reactionary, and had already reconciled with all things supernatural and mystical. So when one finally tired of cavorting with Satan, as Huysmans did of his explorations of Là-Bas, or when one felt guilty about just how far one had made it down the way to Hell, as Verlaine did about his affair with Rimbaud, it made sense to retire to the bosom of the One True Church. After all, it had all the incense, ornate ritual and dreamy archaism beloved by the Decadent. It’s not a difficult step from longing for the sublime in Art to longing for it in religion. Also, Paris was suffering from a surfeit of fin de siècle Satanism – even the cabarets literally opened their jaws like the maw of the Beast – so perhaps the Decadents had to abandon Hell for Heaven, because Hell had become too popular. 

The French were ‘lapsed’ Catholics in a Catholic country returning with renewed piety to a theme that had never really left their life or work, but the English converts not raised in the faith were a bit stranger. But as Philippe Jullian points out, the English “did not go so far in the way of Satanism, possibly because the Catholic Church had an exotic charm for them, and going over to Rome was as momentous a step as becoming a Satanist for a Catholic.” The only thing that could combine pageantry, opulence, esotericism, historical fantasy, morbidity, curiously erotic guilt, sadomasochistic penitence, and belief in fantastically irrational and contradictory propositions better than the Decadence was indeed the Catholic Church. So in these converted Decadents I’m tempted to read an inseparable mix of genuine, contrite longing for the serene beauty of the Church with a final spasm of perversity, and perhaps most of all, a gloomy understanding that their time was up – that their only future lay, as Barbey d’Aurevilly put it, in death or at the foot of the cross.

Frantisek Kupka, The Black Idol (Resistance), 1903.
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.
William Butler Yeats, “Byzantium,” 1932.
“That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing.”
The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus.
William Butler Yeats is often misconstrued as a Modernist poet, but he was so profoundly shaped by the aesthetic climate of the fin de siècle, by Celtic mythology, by Spiritualism, by theosophy, and by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn that it left him painfully little in common with the likes of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden, and in fact a very poor opinion of them. Virginia Woolf relates his antipathy to the vulgar, contemporary diction of Modernist poetry: “He said that the spade had been embalmed by 30 centuries of association; not so the steam roller…Poets can only write when they have symbols. And steam rollers are not covered in symbolism – perhaps they may be after 30 generations.” This is a perfect expression of the archaist artistic philosophy of the Symbolists. They wanted Art to be exalted, ancient, esoteric, magnificent, full of rich, sensuous fantasy, a precious offering to the monolithic and arcane idol of Beauty, taking one anywhere out of the world, not rubbing one’s nose in the mire. Auden claimed that poetry should endeavor, “by telling the truth, to disenchant and disintoxicate.” Yet Yeats, as the most enduring and unrepentant Symbolist, endeavored very much to enchant and to intoxicate. Perhaps more than any other artist, he took to heart the mysticism of the 1890s, poetry for him being a magical operation with direct correspondences to a greater Hermetic system.
The era to which he belonged ended with the War. After it, the center could not hold, but he went on living and working as a mage out of time steeped in his Apocalyptic visions. 

Frantisek Kupka, The Black Idol (Resistance), 1903.

A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains

All that man is,

All mere complexities,

The fury and the mire of human veins.

William Butler Yeats, “Byzantium,” 1932.

“That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing.”

The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus.

William Butler Yeats is often misconstrued as a Modernist poet, but he was so profoundly shaped by the aesthetic climate of the fin de siècle, by Celtic mythology, by Spiritualism, by theosophy, and by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn that it left him painfully little in common with the likes of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden, and in fact a very poor opinion of them. Virginia Woolf relates his antipathy to the vulgar, contemporary diction of Modernist poetry: “He said that the spade had been embalmed by 30 centuries of association; not so the steam roller…Poets can only write when they have symbols. And steam rollers are not covered in symbolism – perhaps they may be after 30 generations.” This is a perfect expression of the archaist artistic philosophy of the Symbolists. They wanted Art to be exalted, ancient, esoteric, magnificent, full of rich, sensuous fantasy, a precious offering to the monolithic and arcane idol of Beauty, taking one anywhere out of the world, not rubbing one’s nose in the mire. Auden claimed that poetry should endeavor, “by telling the truth, to disenchant and disintoxicate.” Yet Yeats, as the most enduring and unrepentant Symbolist, endeavored very much to enchant and to intoxicate. Perhaps more than any other artist, he took to heart the mysticism of the 1890s, poetry for him being a magical operation with direct correspondences to a greater Hermetic system.

The era to which he belonged ended with the War. After it, the center could not hold, but he went on living and working as a mage out of time steeped in his Apocalyptic visions. 

Sidney Sime, The Incubus, 1899.
There was little place in the far more puritanical English-speaking world for a fully developed Decadent mode, as the 1895 sodomy trial of Oscar Wilde painfully proved.
In France, the contes cruels of Remy de Gourmont, Lorrain and Villiers de l’Isle-Adam may have occasionally employed supernatural elements, but were first and foremost extravagant literary explorations of eroticism and Sin. Such a frankly prurient approach was unacceptable in England, thus the work of writers such as Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood and M.P. Shiel was subsumed into the emergent genres of ‘horror’ or ‘weird fiction.’ This context made the sinful undercurrent of Decadence comprehensible, if not entirely excusable. It had a prescribed purpose, which was to frighten and shock for a bit of titillating amusement – an understood English tradition that dated back to the Gothic novel. This framework pacified the moralists by implying that the monsters and villains were just that – monsters and villains – rather than dubiously sanctioned angels of perversity.  
With its mannered morbidity, juvenile blasphemy and fascination with the occult, it was natural for the Decadence to sit in some proximity to horror, which became the adoptive Anglophone home for its rich, verbose prose and unsettling themes. Its legacy trickled all the way down to the adjective-caked style of H.P. Lovecraft – most obviously in “The Hound,” in which two ennui-ridden Decadents turn to aesthetically-executed grave-robbing to fill their morbid museum, “a blasphemous, unthinkable place, where with the satanic taste of neurotic virtuosi we had assembled a universe of terror and decay to excite our jaded sensibilities.” His style, famous for providing elaborate description of everything except the exact nature of the unmentionable horror at hand finds an ingenious pictorial equivalent in Sidney Sime’s The Incubus, in which finely-ornamented sheets, bed-curtains and shadows consign the daemonic defilement to one’s imagination.
While many English writers like Machen, Blackwood and Yeats refrained from dragging vice flamboyantly into their daily lives, they instead acted out their Decadent consciousness by becoming serious participants in real-life magical organizations like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn in turn birthed Aleister Crowley, a man who continued to live the dream of the 1890s long after they had ended, consolidating in his person many of the major Decadent preoccupations: eclectic, exotic occultism, outrageous, elitist self-aggrandizement and excessive, ceremonious indulgence in sex and drugs.

Sidney Sime, The Incubus, 1899.

There was little place in the far more puritanical English-speaking world for a fully developed Decadent mode, as the 1895 sodomy trial of Oscar Wilde painfully proved.

In France, the contes cruels of Remy de Gourmont, Lorrain and Villiers de l’Isle-Adam may have occasionally employed supernatural elements, but were first and foremost extravagant literary explorations of eroticism and Sin. Such a frankly prurient approach was unacceptable in England, thus the work of writers such as Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood and M.P. Shiel was subsumed into the emergent genres of ‘horror’ or ‘weird fiction.’ This context made the sinful undercurrent of Decadence comprehensible, if not entirely excusable. It had a prescribed purpose, which was to frighten and shock for a bit of titillating amusement – an understood English tradition that dated back to the Gothic novel. This framework pacified the moralists by implying that the monsters and villains were just that – monsters and villains – rather than dubiously sanctioned angels of perversity.  

With its mannered morbidity, juvenile blasphemy and fascination with the occult, it was natural for the Decadence to sit in some proximity to horror, which became the adoptive Anglophone home for its rich, verbose prose and unsettling themes. Its legacy trickled all the way down to the adjective-caked style of H.P. Lovecraft – most obviously in “The Hound,” in which two ennui-ridden Decadents turn to aesthetically-executed grave-robbing to fill their morbid museum, “a blasphemous, unthinkable place, where with the satanic taste of neurotic virtuosi we had assembled a universe of terror and decay to excite our jaded sensibilities.” His style, famous for providing elaborate description of everything except the exact nature of the unmentionable horror at hand finds an ingenious pictorial equivalent in Sidney Sime’s The Incubus, in which finely-ornamented sheets, bed-curtains and shadows consign the daemonic defilement to one’s imagination.

While many English writers like Machen, Blackwood and Yeats refrained from dragging vice flamboyantly into their daily lives, they instead acted out their Decadent consciousness by becoming serious participants in real-life magical organizations like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn in turn birthed Aleister Crowley, a man who continued to live the dream of the 1890s long after they had ended, consolidating in his person many of the major Decadent preoccupations: eclectic, exotic occultism, outrageous, elitist self-aggrandizement and excessive, ceremonious indulgence in sex and drugs.