The Decadent Movement

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the British phase of a movement that spread across Europe in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. Influenced by Charles Baudelaire and by Walter Pater, these Decadents rejected the mainstream Victorian view that art needed a moral purpose, and valued instead the intense sensations art provoked, celebrating art for art’s sake. Oscar Wilde was at its heart, Aubrey Beardsley adorned it with his illustrations and they, with others, provoked moral panic with their supposed degeneracy. After burning brightly, the movement soon lost its energy in Britain yet it has proved influential.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Neil Sammells 2 episodes
    Professor of English and Irish Literature and Deputy Vice Chancellor at Bath Spa University
  • Kate Hext No other episodes
    Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Exeter
  • Alex Murray No other episodes
    Senior Lecturer in English at Queen's University, Belfast

Reading list

  • The Decadent Short Story: An Annotated Anthology
    Kostas Boyiopoulous, Yoonjoung Choi, Matthew Brinton Tildesley (eds.) (Edinburgh University Press, 2015) Google Books →
  • Language and Decadence in the Victorian Fin de Siecle
    Linda Dowling (Princeton University Press, 1986) Google Books →
  • The Invention of Oscar Wilde
    Nicholas Frankel (Reaktion Books, 2021) Google Books →
  • Decadence: The Strange Life of an Epithet
    Richard Gilman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979) Google Books →
  • Decadence in the Age Modernism
    Kate Hext and Alex Murray (eds.) (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019) Google Books →
  • Wilde's Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy, and the Most Outrageous Trial of the Century
    Philip Hoare (Arcade Publishing, 2017) Google Books →
  • Against Nature
    Joris-Karl Huysmans (trans. Robert Baldick, Patrick McGuinness) (Penguin, 2003) Google Books →
  • The Hill of Dreams
    Arthur Machen (Pinnacle Press, 2017) Google Books →
  • Literature and the Politics of Post-Victorian Decadence
    Kristin Mahoney (Cambridge University Press, 2015) Google Books →
  • Making Oscar Wilde
    Michele Mendelssohn (Oxford University Press, 2020) Google Books →
  • Decadence: A Literary History
    Alex Murray (ed.) (Cambridge University Press, 2020) Google Books →
  • Studies in the History of the Renaissance
    Walter Pater (Oxford University Press, 2010) Google Books →
  • The Spectrum of Decadence: The Literature of the 1890s
    Murray G.H. Pittock (Routledge, 1993) Google Books →
  • Women Who Did: Stories by Men and Women 1890-1914
    Angelique Richardson (ed.) (Penguin, 2005) Google Books →
  • Wilde Style: The Plays and Prose of Oscar Wilde
    Neil Sammells (Longman, 2000) Google Books →
  • Passionate Attitudes: The English Decadence of the 1890s
    Matthew Sturgis (Pallas Athene, 2011) Google Books →
  • Selected Symons
    Arthur Symons (ed. Roger Holdsworth) (Carcanet, 1974)
  • Decadence: A Very Short Introduction
    David Weir (Oxford University Press, 2018) Google Books →
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
    Oscar Wilde (Oxford University Press, 2008) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: m0011lrn

Episode page:

Auto-category: 820.9 (English & Old English literatures)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, in the 1890s the decadent movement flickered with a bright green flame in British culture with Oscar Wilde at its heart.