The Dedalus Book of Decadence (Moral Ruins)

This one ended up being a Low Res Scan for a few different reasons.

First, I was feeling a bit lazy last January when I read it and didn’t make notes on every story.

Second, there are a lot of stories and a few poems in this book, 18 French pieces and 18 English pieces. It’s a sampler of British and French literary Decadence.

Third, a lot of the stories are quite short and a review risks spoiling their often surprise endings.

Fourth, not all of the pieces were fantastic. Since the blogging madness has to have some kind of limit, I don’t normally review fiction that isn’t fantastical in some way.

Review: The Dedalus Book of Decadence (Moral Ruins), ed. Brian Stableford, 1990, 1993.

If this book just had Stableford’s long introduction, it would still be worth reading. Stableford has been writing about weird and decadent fiction almost as long as he’s been producing critical work on science fiction. Here, he produces a useful history and definition of Decadent fiction

Decadence is a concept going back to Montesquieu’s writings on the fall of the Roman Empire, and the first true Decadent work was Charles Baudelaire’s poetry collection Fleurs de Mal in 1857. Decadent fiction was a short-lived phenomenon in France in the 1880s and works in it are sometimes cataloged in the Symbolist movement (which, in my vague understanding, involves non-realistic narratives with allegorical symbols). 

The English Decadent movement was in the 1890s, and, after Oscar Wilde’s conviction for sodomy, few people wanted to be associated with the label. 

Stableford usefully lists Decadent fiction’s primary themes: a celebration of artifice and skepticism of the Romantic ideal of nature (that virtue reposes in nature), impuissance (the feeling of powerlessness), and spleen (an angry melancholy). There was also a drug element. Sometimes, as in Théophile Gautier’s case, drugs were taken under supervision of medical men; however, in other cases, like Arthur Rimbaud seeking his “rational derangement of the senses”, they were not. 

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“The Crimson Weaver”

This week’s weird fiction is a bit of stylish fin-de-siècle decadence.

Review: “The Crimson Weaver”, R. Murray Gilchrist, 1895.a9948fe272e6c96636a62457241434b41716b42

Gilchrist’s tale is one of those bits of weird fiction that is an airy filigree of a plot bejeweled with dark stones of language that flash darkly and intermittently and are cut in odd shapes.

Short, essentially a femme fatale tale of a creature beyond our world, Gilchrist puts us in his odd world with the first line:

“My Master and I had wandered from our track and lost ourselves on the side of a great ‘edge’.”

Is the narrator an apprentice? A servant? An acolyte?

Whatever the relation of the two, they enter a sort of dark wood of error after wandering about the countryside, eating at nearly empty inns, and sleeping rough. Continue reading