French Decadence in a Global Context

BookFrench Decadence in a Global Context

French Decadence in a Global Context

Colonialism and Exoticism

Francophone Postcolonial Studies, 13


August 1st, 2022





Decadence is seldom looked at in the context of colonialism, and yet its heyday in the 1880s and 1890s is directly contemporary with the expansion of France’s modern colonial empire. Ever a slippery signifier, Decadence figures alternately as pro-colonial, anticolonial and apolitical. This edited volume gives a sense of the sheer range and diversity of intersections between colonialism and Decadence, from anticolonial anarchist writers to colonial discourse, from nineteenth-century women writers to our contemporary, Michel Houellebecq. Different chapters explore these intersections in the cultural imagination of dance, the novel, travel writing, historiographical theory, and literary networks. Decadence is often seen as an essentially metropolitan, urban movement, but this study identifies key spaces elsewhere, from fin-de-siècle Saigon to India in the heyday of French colonialism, from Byzantium to ancient Persia. Although the colonies were held up by some as an antidote to the threat of French decline, other writings reveal anxiety that the antidote might itself be a form of poison. Colonial contact might exacerbate degeneration, whether through cultural mixing or through the violence of colonial aggression itself. A profound anxiety about French identity and France’s so-called mission civilisatrice is played out through the imagery, the style and the pose of Decadence.

Author Information

Julia Hartley is a Lecturer in Comparative Literature at King’s College London. Wanrug Suwanwattana is a Lecturer in French at Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand. Jennifer Yee is a Professor of Literature in French at the University of Oxford.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
Introduction: French Decadence in a Global Context: Colonialism and Exoticism
Jennifer Yee
Chapter 1
Bibelotic Buddhas: Decadence and its Critics
Sam Bootle
Chapter 2
Sous-mission and the mission civilisatrice: Houellebecq’s Parody of Empire and Decadence
Jenai Engelhard Humphreys
Chapter 3
Gender, Decadence, and Orientalism in Jane Dieulafoy’s Journal de fouilles and Parysatis
Julia Hartley
Chapter 4
Anti-colonial exoticism in Mirbeau’s Jardin des supplices
Richard Hibbit
Chapter 5
Decadent and Anti-Decadent Networks of the Belle époque: littérature coloniale as a Rhetorical Alliance
Vladimir Kapor
Chapter 6
The Anarchist Denunciation of Decadent Colonialism: Georges Darien, Octave Mirbeau, and Jules Vallès
Aurélien Lorig
Chapter 7
Judith Gautier, La Conquête du Paradis or L’Inde éblouie: when French colonization becomes an Indian epic
Valérie Magdelaine-Andrianjafitrimo
Chapter 8
Exoticism and the Threat of Contagion: Danger or Therapy for Decadent Dance
Hélène Marquié
Chapter 9
Decadent Colonial Saigon in Fin-de-siècle French Literature
Wanrug Suwanwattana
General Bibliography
Notes on Contributors