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This review is taken from PN Review 142, Volume 28 Number 2, November - December 2001.

DECADENT DECADES Symbolism, Decadence and the Fin de Siècle: French and European Perspectives edited by Patrick McGuinness (University of Exeter Press) £37.50

At the very beginning of his introduction to this exciting volume of essays Patrick McGuinness indicates that Symbolism is as much an attitude to reading as it is to writing. His timely quotation from Mallarmé, evoking the Symbolist necessity for 'a mind open to multiple comprehension', is surely a hint to readers of this book that they will indeed have to be receptive to many forms of understanding and many modes of cultural production: poetry and fiction, cinema and dance, medicine and historiography, theatre and painting. The first part of the book focuses on the French-speaking world between c.1880 and c.1914; the second contains essays on the literatures and cultures of Italy, Belgium, Spain and Latin America, Germany and Austria and two essays, more difficult to locate: Scott Ashley's ' Primitivism, Celticism and Morbidity in the Celtic fin de siècle' and Patrick McGuinness's 'From Mallarmé to Pound: the - Franco-Anglo-American - Axis'.

It is of course, as its title suggests, a book that traces endings and beginnings, both cultural and chronological. But central to its cohering ethos is the notion that the fin de siècle is a state of mind, and as such is a phenomenon that can be traced as much in the earlier reaches of the nineteenth, and the latter stages of the twentieth centuries, in addition to the most famous 'Nineties'. So, the usual suspects are here: Mallarmé, Verlaine, de Gourmont, Huysmans, and Maeterlinck all have strong representation. But their presence is allied to, ...


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