Juliet Simpson, Professor of Art History and Visual Culture, delivered a riveting lecture on 12th February, 2021 to students on the ‘Victorians and Empire’ and ‘Modernism’ modules. The session was moderated by Dr Thomas Knowles. The talk aimed to investigate the influence of Decadent literature on late nineteenth-century culture and explore its intertwined relationship with Modernism. After a brief introduction, Professor Simpson began by engaging with the concept of the ‘dream’ and its importance in establishing a new space for writers. She then discussed the ‘dandy’s eye view’ in regards to Baudelaire’s metamorphic ideas of the urban and the influence of his legacy on Paul Bourget’s essays on Decadence and Psychology. That was followed by an explanation and evaluation of the various characteristics of ‘Decadent stye’ and its evolution.
Professor Simpson then discussed J.K. Huysmans’ ‘Breviary of Decadence’ and provided an in-depth analysis into his book Against Nature, its features and effect upon artists like Gustave Moreau and writers like Oscar Wilde, especially focusing on The Picture of Dorian Grey. Moreover, she talked about Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte and its use of photography to depict themes of solipsism, darkness, perversion and imagery.
Students were fascinated by the ideas and themes discussed and an interactive Q&A session followed the lecture. Dr Knowles joined in for this. Students asked intriguing questions and received helpful answers about subjects regarding the relationship between empire, colonialism and Decadent literature. There were also questions about particular characters from the texts discussed and Professor Simpson provided her thoughts and ideas about them. What students found exceptionally useful was the direct influence of the topics discussed upon other literary periods and the avenues this inter-relation would provide for further research.