Somebody taking the ‘Frodo Lives’ movement a little too seriously, I suppose…
And it’s easy for me to mix up the movements, precisely because of that overlap. The Symbolist aspects of the fin-de-siecle, and on the decadence side, Flaubert’s later work (I have Salammbo and The Temptation of St. Anthony in mind) and Baudelaire (I read Baudelaire as a decadent), are meh. Besides Huysmans and some of Wilde (Dorian Gray, who is des Esseintes for kids, and some of the poety), I find none of it particularly successful.
I have not read Flaubert, yet. I wonder at your dismissal of Baudelaire, though – is it because you don’t like the style, or that he isn’t evil enough for your taste? Fleurs du Mal, in spite of the title, isn’t really a plunge to the depths of debauchery like A Rebours; instead, it’s simply very human, and sometimes even rather Christian (De Profundis Clamavi comes to mind, reminiscent of both the Psalms and John Donne). Translation might also matter, if like me you don’t read a lick of French. I have a copy of the Dillon/St Vincent Millay translation, and love it well – plus it has the original text too, even though it looks like so much beautiful gibberish to me. I’ve seen some real clunkers from other translators.
This all perhaps might be because much of the decadent work I’m familiar with seems to rely far too much on straight shock. Salammbo is a 300-page slasher nightmare that gives evil none of the glamour Dorian and Floressas do (St. Anthony is more successful), and Baudelaire is blandly repellent in a similar way as de Sade is (not that they’re particularly literarily related, I just get the same sense from them): like a teenager spray-painting obscenities on a wall in an attempt to subvert the dominant paradigm.
Having read the entire 120 Days of Sodom, I suspect de Sade never really grew up beyond the age of fourteen or so. It reads like bad fanfiction, and has none of the depth or character of the Decadent works I’m familiar with. Des Esseintes was motivated by boredom, Maldoror by hatred, Dorian Gray by fear, Clara by a twisted sense of beauty – all human emotions! Baudelaire too is thoroughly human: joyous, despairing, loving, loathing, passionate. The four protagonists of 120 Days are nothing more than animals, and instead of providing any involvement or examination of the characters of the four, de Sade leaves them about as interesting as a pile of gravel.
Oh yes, if you haven’t read it already, definitely check out Mirbeau’s The Torture Garden.
In a rush. Ought to be at someone’s party. If am unclear, query more. Also, note to self: look up “brefophagy”. Probably will have to wash eyes with acid afterwards, but knowledge is power.
Have fun at the party! By the way, ‘brephophagy’ means ‘eating babies’.