The gender of decadence: Paris-Lesbos from the Fin de Siècle to the Interwar Era

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Paris from 1900 to 1940 experienced a remarkable revival of artistic culture, including surrealism in poetry and painting, poetic realism in cinema, and much more. Parallel with these developments are the lesser-known but equally remarkable activities of the ‘women of the left bank’ who gave expression to same-sex concerns in both their poetry and their lives and so form the socio-cultural tradition known as ‘Paris-Lesbos’. The tradition is one legacy of fin-de-siècle decadence whose principal practitioners are Renée Vivien (pseudonym of Pauline Tarn), translator of Sappho and decadent poet, and Natalie Barney, the multi-millionaire heiress and unashamedly self-proclaimed lesbian whose literary connections and love affairs placed her at the centre of the legend of ‘Paris-Lesbos’. Their work involves a complex intersection of decadence, ‘sapphism’, and ‘sapphic fiction’ and includes the feminist and lesbian reappropriation of Sapphic decadence at the turn of the century and a later revival of the decadent mystique of the lesbian as a ‘femmes damnée’ in the 1920s and 1930s.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDecadence and Literature
EditorsJane Desmarais, David Weir
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781108550826
ISBN (Print)9781108426244
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2019

Publication series

NameCambridge Cultural Concepts


  • gender
  • decadence
  • longworth
  • sapphic fiction
  • lesbianism
  • mystique
  • sexuality
  • realism
  • Vivien
  • Barney


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