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The Decadent Image

The Poetry of Wilde, Symons, and Dowson

Kostas Boyiopoulos

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Explores culturally significant encounters between sensuality and artificiality in the poetry of Wilde, Symons, and Dowson

This book enquires into the problem of venerating artificiality and the inaccessibility of beauty associated with it whilst engaging in the sensuous, immediate experience as it is advocated by Walter Pater. It examines for the first time together poems by three protagonists of the 1890s: Oscar Wilde, Arthur Symons, and Ernest Dowson. It sees their poems as sites where the self sensually collides with or is immersed in their artifice. This is understood through the shift from Aestheticism to Decadence, which is marked by a greater emphasis on heterodox erotic experience. This study examines Wilde’s early poetry and its role in triggering this shift. It shows how the idea of an erotic encounter with artifice reaches its apex in Symons, and how in Dowson it ripens into vexed non-encounters.

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Series Editor’s Preface
List of Abbreviations
1. Introduction: Sensual Text, Textual Sense: Aestheticism to Decadence
2. ‘That love-enraptured tune’: Eros and Art(ifice)
3. ‘Charmides’ and The Sphinx: Crashing into Objets d’Art
4. Strangeness and the City: The Self among Fragmented Impressions
5. Bianca’s Body: Nerves and the Flâneurie of Flesh
6. ‘A Little While’: Expiration in Suspension
7. Closely Apart: Aestheticising the Non-encounter
8. Coda: Modernist Responses

About the Author

Kostas Boyiopoulos is Teaching Associate at the Department of English Studies, Durham University. His main research specialisms are fin-de-siècle Decadence and Aestheticism, and Anglo-Continental literary transactions. He is a co-editor of The Decadent Short Story: An Annotated Anthology (Edinburgh UP, 2014) and the essay collection Decadent Romanticism (Ashgate, 2015). He has published a number of articles on late Victorian and Modernist topics.


Kostas Boyiopoulos’s study of three poets of the English Decadence offers a lively, illuminating exploration of the strangely textualised fetishisms at work in their verse. Valuably attentive to grammar and verse-form, this account of Wilde, Symons and Dowson captures the defining irresolutions and paradoxes of Decadent poetry.


- Chris Baldick, Goldsmiths, University of London

The Decadent Image is a valuable contribution to Decadence studies and offers students and teachers of late-Victorian poetry a series of forensic readings of some of the best Decadent poetry in the English language.

- Jane Desmarais, Goldsmiths, University of London, The Review of English Studies

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