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
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2019

Publication series

NameCambridge Cultural Concepts


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