• Decadent Imaginations: The Role of Illustrations in the Books of Joris-Karl Huysmans and Marcel Schwob

    Helene Huet (see profile)
    French literature, Books, History
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    Conf. Loc.:
    San Juan, Puerto Rico
    Conf. Date:
    decadence, George de Feure, Auguste Lepère, Book history, Illustration
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    At the end of the nineteenth century, illustrations played a crucial role in the history of books and literature. Debates were raging over the role of images in relation to texts: should they be decorative, without any connection to the text, as the writer and painter Maurice Denis argued in 1890 in the review Art et critique? Or should the illustrator interpret the text and render visually his or her interpretation, as Octave Uzanne – bibliophile, writer, and creator of luxurious illustrated books – argued? In the case of two books by the Decadent writers Joris-Karl Huysmans and Marcel Schwob, I argue that it was illustrators, working in close collaboration with authors and publishers, who helped shape Decadence, a late-nineteenth century French literary and artistic movement. They did so, I contend, by rendering visually the Decadent themes described in the books. In A rebours (1903) and La porte des rêves (1899), the artists Auguste Lepère and George de Feure creatively interpreted the texts of these works, allowing readers to escape to a Decadent world of nightmares and dreams, femmes fatales, decay, and death. This world was complimentary, but by no means identical, to the textual world of Decadence: writers and illustrators interpreted and rendered differently what Decadence meant to them. By linking text and images, the book becomes un tout, a whole, and enhances our understanding of this fin-de-siècle literary and artistic movement. But this paper also has significance to literary scholars more broadly, contributing to larger conversations about the role of illustrations in literary meaning and movements.
    Last Updated:
    4 years ago


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