As Fin de Siècle, also decadentism, a life-feeling as well as an artistic and cultural movement between the years 1890 and 1914 is designated. The Fin de Siècle influenced the literature, music and art of the time, but it can not be described as a separate literary epoch, but rather as a setting that reflected different styles. Thus, this Decadentism decisively influenced Symbolism, Art Nouveau and Impressionism, Aestheticism, and similar avangardist tendencies, which even partially contradicted their content. In terms of content, the movement revolves around the cultural decline and can also be understood as a counter-movement to naturalism, which, especially in art and literature, considered the scientific and scientific design of empirical reality as an ideal.
The term Fin de Siècle is based on the title of the play of the same name, a play in four acts from 1888 by Francis de Jouvenot and H. Micard. However, the word sequence was first used in 1886 in the journal Le Décadent. According to this, the term was first and foremost used in France around the turn of the century, but subsequently it was used as a designation for an entire European phenomenon: namely, the general feeling of life shortly before the First World War.
The word sequence is thus also derived from French, and can be translated at the end of the century, with the alternative name (decadentism) taking up a further and important aspect of the current. This term is derived from the noun decadence. Decadence is defined as the decay and decline of a society, whereby changes within society or culture are regarded as causation and are assumed to be lost.
An essential feature is consequently a mood of downfall, which can be seen in numerous works of that time. This was mainly due to the approaching epoch which marked the end of a century. This tendency to decay manifested itself in a pessimistic view of the world, a strong weariness of life, but to the same extent a sprawling genius-seeking, and thus in future euphoria, but equally as a future, as well as a turn against progress and consequently against naturalism.
Characteristics of Fin de Siècle
As the cultural movement of the Fin de Siècle was reflected in many areas of art and was rather a kind of a feeling of life, the individual characteristics of the movement can only be described very superficially and can be demonstrated in various forms. Accordingly, the following overview is the attempt to give a comprehensive overview of key features.
Overview: The characteristics of Fin de Siècle at a glance
The name Fin de Siècle originally came from France and was first and foremost fashion in Paris, especially in Paris. In the 1890s, the term was also used in Germany, marking the survival, the rotten, the decline of the century at the turn of the century, and the western high culture. Originally the term was the title of a musical play, which was premiered in 1888. Furthermore, the Austrian writer Hermann Bahr published a novella volume under this title in 1891.
The years around the turn of the century (1890 – 1914), which were characterized by the mood described above, are mainly characterized by enormous stylistic plurism. This means that numerous cultural, artistic and literary movements emerged simultaneously, mutually fertilized, and sometimes even contradicted one another. Deputies can be called Jugendstil, Impressionism, Symbolism and Decadence.
Nevertheless, these different stylistic and cultural movements have one thing in common: namely, the objective of overcoming naturalism and naturalistic tendencies – focusing on the image of an objective reality and representing social conflicts, the world being faithful to nature, scientifically accurate.
In order to understand the most important features of the movement, it must be noted that at that time the technical development progressed rapidly and inexorably. In the United States, an enormous process of modernization began, which soon spread to other centers of power in the European world. This degree of techno – logy grew at an unprecedented pace, so that the German Empire changed from a strongly agrarian country to a modern industrial state tremendous speed. This can be exemplified by the example of the steel industry: here new production processes have increased productivity by 25 times.
As a result of these new technical possibilities, which soon spread to many areas of life, individual industries, some of which had been overtaken, lost their importance and people had to adapt themselves to the development, whereby old social structures were broken through industrialization and freedom of trade. In order to find a job, it attracted people to the cities, so there were massive landflights, an unfamiliar narrowness in the cities themselves, and an enormous population growth.
In addition, the political stage was also changing and faced with the rapid technological development, as old and well-tried structures predominated. Politics was still dominated by the aristocracy, with the Church losing its influence, and a burgeoning nationalism among the citizens led to conflicts with this system. Consequently progress was omnipresent, but hardly manifested itself in political activity.
All these points: progress on the one hand, the resulting questions and changes, as well as the familiar and familiar on the other, led to wide-spread sensations, which manifested themselves in varying feelings of the artistic movements.
Thus, in Fin de Siècle, on the one hand, there is a future anxiety caused by social insecurity, but to the same extent a great future of the future, which celebrated modern progress. In addition, the time was marked by a wavering between departure and ending moods, the weariness of life and world pain, but also the fascination of death and transience, longevity, frivolity and decadence. This contradiction, however, is also one which can be seen in the works of that time, which makes it impossible to name general characteristics.
The literati and artists of the Fin de Siècle were therefore more likely to be impotent. This was due to a world that was rapidly changing – the anonymous masses lived in the metropolis, the natural sciences promoted technical progress, which seemed equally attractive and repulsive. Many intellectuals therefore created artistic counter-worlds and lived as a subculture against bourgeois life.
In the literature this development can be felt especially in prose. Real situations were often shown, often characterized by a personal narrator. In order to present the protagonist’s conflict with the outside world and to make it tangible, the inner monologue or the narrative in the stream of consciousness is a typical stylistic device in the literary program of the Fin de Siècle (cf the figures of the figures). In lyricism, free rhythms predominate, which do not hold on to metrical patterns or rhyme patterns and try to capture moment.
Characteristic of the art of this time is, moreover, a winged word that originated around the turn of the century in France: L’art pour l’art, which can be translated appropriately with art for the sake of art. These words illustrate another characteristic of the time: art should arise for the sake of the thing itself and without hindsight to the later application, a possible business or a benefit for the artist. Victor Cousin and Théophile Gautier are still in doubt as to who shaped these words.
The Fin de Siècle in the literature
As already described, the Fin de Siècle is rather a sensation that shaped the artistic activity around the turn of the century. However, since this feature was expressed in different styles, partly contradictory works, which were also influenced by different currents, there is not one style or the one characteristic that influenced literature and art.
However, there are some authors who are more frequently associated with the literature of this period, as well as literary figures, whose oeuvre is often characterized by the features presented. In connection with the literary program one speaks, however, less frequently of the literature of the Fin de Siècle than of the so-called decadence poetry, which was then replaced by Expressionism in 1910, but marked many works around the turn of the century.
This decadence is characterized by anti-moral, anti-bourgeois and anti-realist tendencies and is marked by a sense of life, beauty, decline and decline, but also genuineness and is vehemently, partly polemically and cynically, against industrialization and scientification as well as the future euphoria of four people. Consequently, the sensations which have already been described can also be demonstrated in the literature, and here, too, there is a reciprocity between the loss of life and the weariness of life, and between decline and departure.
Typical representatives are Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Rainer Maria Rilke, who can also be attributed to Impressionism or the symbolists Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. Anton Chekhov, Gabriele d’Annunzio, Maurice Maeterlinck, Jens Peter Jacobsen, Oscar Wilde, Peter Altenberg, Thomas Mann and his older brother Heinrich Mann can also be mentioned.
These authors played with the subjects described and processed the general sensations, but on the other hand also showed some similarities in style. In numerous works, the narrator is very much in the background, which makes them the characters themselves that portray the narrated world, often expressing themselves through a stream of consciousness and an inner monologue. Furthermore, the literature is often characterized by pessimism and melancholy. For example, in Oscar Wildes Bunbury (1895):
ALGERNON: I hope tomorrow will be a nice day, Lane.
LANE: That’s it, sir.
ALGERNON: Lane, you are a pessimist through and through.
LANE: I’m doing my best to satisfy you, sir
Furthermore, numerous works are characterized by the fact that they try to present the reality objectively and to convey the sensations unfiltered and pure. Consequently, the lyric contains moments and impressions, which are presented abruptly. It was often less a question of representing reality than what the poet is about to see and perceive at the moment. In addition, action and figures often appear to be a mystery, some of which are broken with accustomed narrative structures.
Representatives and works (selection)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Pelléas et Mélisande (Opera, 1902)
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
An Ideal Husband (Comedy, 1894)
Being serious is everything or Bunbury (1895)
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
The Way of Love and Death of Cornet Christoph Rilke (1912)
The Panther (Dinggedicht, 1902/1903)
Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907)
Against the Line (1884)
Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929)
Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)
Paul Verlaine (1844-1896)