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  • The Songs of Hugo Wolf
    Posted on Jan 19, 2021
    Audiences still find Wolf difficult. They flock to Liederabende devoted to the songs of Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann or Strauss; but Wolf, one of the greatest of all Lieder composers, they find difficult. Touring North Germany with the Italienisches Liederbuch, Helmut Deutsch once found the songs described by the press as „fast vergessene Lieder“ (‘almost forgotten songs’), and although complete performances of the Italian Songbook are relatively common in Great Britain, entire recitals devoted to Wolf’s other songs are rare. Fischer-Dieskau relates in Hugo Wolf…
  • Decadent London and the origins of cinema
    Posted on Jan 13, 2021
    ‘Let’s admit it: France invented cinema’ – thus proclaimed the director of the Cannes Film Festival, who also happens to head the Institut Lumière in Lyons, on 28 December, celebrating the ‘first public film show to a paying audience’ on that day in 1895. This has been repeated so often that it’s widely accepted as historical ‘fact’, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.1 Somehow, France and cinema seem to belong together, just as ‘Decadence’ seems quintessentially French, even though it was unquestionably an international movement. But if London was where Rimbaud’s and Verlaine’s stormy…
  • Looking for mistakes in Proust
    Posted on Jan 4, 2021
    Marcel Proust, Scheherazade by Konchalovsky When we launched the special lockdown blog back in March 2020 I undertook to read In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust in the C.K. Scott Moncrieff & Terence Kilmartin English translation. Nine months later and I am pleased to report that I have now completed the first of the three volumes, representing just over 1,000 pages. As well as reading the novel, I have also been catching up on some of the secondary literature about the author. The most recent addition to this is Proustian Uncertainties, a short book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Isra…
  • Blogging in Lockdown – a review of the year
    Posted on Dec 29, 2020
    During what has been the strangest of years, the R&V blog has proved a great silver lining on an otherwise dark bank of clouds. I initially expected that these blogs would be read only by a handful of people, and that the response to them would therefore be muted. So, it has been wonderful to see the number of readers increasing every month, with some blogs attracting well over 300 substantive readers, many of them accessing the content online or via social media. Even better have been the many heart-warming messages from R&V members thanking us for the blogs, and telling us what a dif…
  • Contemporary Decadence: Subversion and Social Consciousness
    Posted on Dec 15, 2020
    As established in Jane Desmarais and David Weir’s introduction to Decadence and Literature (2019), ‘decadence’ is a multidisciplinary critical concept that is relative to contemporary ideas about decline and decay. Discourse of decadence manifests most strongly at moments of unease about socio-historical transition and relates to extremes of taste, passing into the realms of the distasteful or the overly extravagant. Social decadence seemingly surrounds us in the West today, and the concept of decadence offers a way of understanding creative responses to contemporary anxieties over social, pol…
  • An etching of Paul Verlaine by Anders Zorn
    Posted on Dec 8, 2020
    This time last year, before anyone dreamed of lockdowns, the AHRC-funded project, Decadence and Translation, led by myself and Stefano Evangelista, was drawing to a close. As part of our final event at the University of Glasgow, we were lucky enough to secure a visit to the storage facilities of the Hunterian Museum and Gallery at Kelvin Hall. I’ve written about this previously on the project website (here), where you can see some footage of our visit too. I thought I would take the opportunity of the anniversary of our visit to write a little more about the particular image that caught the ey…
  • Lafcadio Hearn, Untranslatable Japan
    Posted on Dec 2, 2020
    We all know how crazy suddenly everyone became about Japan. After the country’s enforced opening to foreign trade in the 1850s, Japanese culture seduced the European artistic crowd, converting many literary figures into enthusiasts and collectors. Stunning Japanese prints, fabrics and netsuke were a novelty, they were relatively affordable, and they radiated sophistication and cultural ambition. Zola got himself painted by Manet with a Japanese print pinned on the wall. Painters’ models started wearing kimono and posing against the backdrop of decorated screens. Whistler made Chelsea look Japa…
  • Literature and place: Rimbaud in Charleville-Mézières and beyond
    Posted on Nov 25, 2020
    If you’re reading this, I’ll wager that you have made a trip to at least one place – perhaps many places – associated with a favourite writer. Maybe you’ve been to Shakespeare’s Birthplace, or one of the Maisons Victor Hugo in Paris or Guernsey, or the Keats-Shelley House in Rome. You might have visited a house with a blue plaque outside, or a statue or other monument commemorating a literary figure. Maybe you’ve even put on your best Regency glad rags for the Jane Austen festival in Bath. What are we doing, when we engage in these various different types of literary tourism, and what do we h…
  • Getting away from Rimbaud in County Cork
    Posted on Nov 18, 2020
    About 5 years ago I went to Cork in Ireland for a long weekend of cycling. I had been working hard on something related to the charity and was looking forward to getting away from the French poets for a while. The cycling is quite tough. County Cork specialises in concave hills which seem to go up for ever without ever resolving themselves into a ridge. However, we were lucky with the weather. The countryside was washed in bright greens and the sun sparkled on the ridges of the ocean. One day we cycled out to Cobh (formerly Queenstown) where the coast road passes alongside the famous deep-wate…
  • Arthur Rimbaud and King Menelik of Shoa
    Posted on Nov 11, 2020
    From 1875 onwards, Rimbaud completely gave up the practice of poetry, he became ‘a living amputee of poetry’, as Stéphane Mallarmé put it. Having left Europe, he crossed the Suez Canal and after looking for work ‘in all the ports of the Red Sea’, he disembarked in Aden in August 1880 and ended up hired by a coffee trading house, Mazeran, Viannay, Bardey & Co. From the end of November 1880 to December 1881, then from April 1883 to March 1884, he lived on the other side of the Red Sea, in the town of Harar, in Ethiopia – in what was then called Abyssinia.  In Harar Rimbaud worked for the sa…
  • The Rest is Literature: In memoriam Derek Mahon
    Posted on Nov 3, 2020
    The Northern Irish poet Derek Mahon, who sadly passed away on 1 October 2020, was a great admirer of decadent and symbolist literature. I had coincidentally scheduled a lecture on Mahon’s poetry for the following week and, with great regret, was able to point my students toward the recent obituaries that provided an overview of Mahon’s life and work. Thinking about this blog, the lines that first leapt out to me, grimly, were from his ‘Rue des Beaux Arts’, a poem from Mahon’s 1997 volume The Yellow Book that weaves together a sympathetic portrait of Oscar Wilde’s last days exiled and destitu…
  • Arthur Machen’s Decadent Ornaments
    Posted on Oct 27, 2020
    It being Halloween this seemed a good moment to consider decadence, magic, and the occult in the work of the Welsh writer and mystic Arthur Machen (1863-1947). For a marginal figure, he receives an extraordinary amount of attention. In part due to the efforts of The Friends of Arthur Machen, ‘a fellowship dedicated to celebrating Machen and his work’,1 he has remained in public consciousness since the 1980s, especially among fans of horror and weird fiction, and his short stories appear frequently in anthologies of supernatural fiction. However, in recent years Machen has entirely emerged fr…