The term "fin de siècle" is commonly applied to French art and artists as the traits of the culture first appeared there, but the movement affected many European countries. The term becomes applicable to the sentiments and traits associated with the culture as opposed to focusing solely on the movement's initial recognition in France. The ideas and concerns developed by fin de siècle artists provided the impetus for movements like symbolism and modernism.

The themes of fin de siècle political culture were very controversial and have been cited as a major influence on fascism. The major political theme of the era was that of revolt against materialism, rationalism, positivism, bourgeois society and liberal democracy. The fin-de-siècle generation supported emotionalism, irrationalism, subjectivism and vitalism, while the mindset of the age saw civilization as being in a crisis that required a massive and total solution.

Fin-de-siecle, le is a name covering both what is characteristic of many modern phenomena, and also the underlying mood which in them finds expression. Experience has long shown that an idea usually derives its designation from the language of the nation which first formed it. This, indeed, is a law of constant application when historians of manners and customs inquire into language, for the purpose of obtaining some notion, through the origins of some verbal root, respecting the home of the earliest inventions and the line of evolution in different human races.

Fin-de-siecle is French, for it was in France that the mental state so entitled was first consciously realized. The word has flown from one hemisphere to the other, and found its way into all civilized languages. A proof thus that the need of it existed. The fin-de-siecle state of mind is to-day everywhere to be met with; nevertheless, it is in many cases a mere imitation of a foreign fashion gaining vogue, and not an organic evolution. It is in the land of its birth that it appears in its most genuine form, and Paris is the right place in which to observe its manifold expressions.


No proof is needed of the extreme silliness of the term. Only the brain of a child or of a savage could form the clumsy idea that the century is a kind of living being, born like a beast or a man, passing through all the stages of existence, gradually ageing and declining after blooming childhood, joyous youth, and vigorous maturity, to die with the expiration of the hundredth year, after being afflicted in its last decade with all the infirmities of mournful seniity.

Men were aware of throbbing pulses, they were conscious of unweakened capacity for enjoyment, and found it unmitigatedly appalling to perish together with the world, when there were yet so many flagons to drain and so many lips to kiss, and when they could yet rejoice so vigorously in both love and wine. Of all this in the fin-de-siecle feeling there is nothing.

... the concluding paragraph of this chapter, it may be clearly seen that I had in my eye only the upper ten thousand. The peasant population, and a part of the working classes and the bourgeoisie, are sound. I assert only the decay of the rich inhabitants of great cities and the leading classes. It is they who have discovered fin-de-siecle, and it is to them also that fin-de-race applies.

Quite otherwise is the fin-de-siecle mood. It is the impotent despair of a sick man, ...the envy of a rich, hoary voluptuary, ... the mortification of the exhausted and impotent refugee from a Florentine plague. This fashionable term has the necessary vagueness which fits it to convey all the half-conscious and indistinct drift of current ideas. Just as the words '*freedom,' 'ideal,' 'progress' [* 'My thought I hasten to fulfil.'] seem to express notions, but actually are only sounds, so in itself fin-de-siecle means nothing, and receives a varying signification according to the diverse mental horizons of those who use it.

The surest way of knowing what fin-de-siecle implies, is to consider a series of particular instances where the word has been applied. It means a practical emancipation from traditional discipline, which theoretically is still in force. To the voluptuary this means unbridled lewdness, the unchaining of the beast in man; to the withered heart of the egoist, disdain of all consideration for his fellow-men, the trampling under foot of all barriers which enclose brutal greed of lucre and lust of pleasure; to the contemner of the world it means the shameless ascendency of base impulses and motives, which were, if not virtuously suppressed, at least hypocritically hidden; to the believer it means the repudiation of dogma, the negation of a super-sensuous world, the descent into flat phenomenalism; to the sensitive nature yearning for aesthetic thrills, it means the vanishing of ideals in art, and no more power in its accepted forms to arouse emotion. And to all, it means the end of an established order, which for thousands of years has satisfied logic, fettered depravity, and in every art matured something of beauty.

Exerpts from: Degeneration, Max Simon Nordau, [1849-1923], (1895): Subject: Degeneration; Literature, Comparative.




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WHAT IS FIN DE SIECLE ?

A meaningless phrase, not new, but lately suggestive of everything new and odd.

The phrase was evolutionized in the golden dust that whirls along the social avenues of the city of Notre Dame.

It has made its debut in many of the leading European journals and magazines, and threatens to become the lable for all mental and artistic efforts of the coming years.

All, young or old, regardless of color, creed, and sex, who rush head over heels with new ideas towards the 20th century are, hommes et femmes fin de siecle.

Who are its leading representatives? Young authors and artists with an indescribable enthusiasm who are modest enough to give in that the importance of their own efforts is limited, but who assert without exception that they are the prophets of something (nobody knows what) glorious to come.

They are a set of strange young men, dreamers and visionaries -- often morbid, broken-hearted, and poor, always nervous and impossible in society, whose first and last endeavor is to do something original, however odd and erroneous it may be. In great despair they rush about on the stage of life and yell: "My life, my life, for an original idea !"

Some are imbeciles but masters of technique, other philosophers but botchers.

And society, with luscious eyes, secretly nibbles away at their forbidden fruit, while the fin de siecle poets, who are disgusted with wearing a mask, are considered candidates for the insane asylums.

I will tell you some of their characteristics.

There is in them a confusion of suppressed ideas, impulses, sardonic smiles, narcotic dreams, chronic mental catarrhs, ascetic efforts, godlike ideas, and the most absurd eccentricities and mannerisms which hurt Winkelmaniac esthetics like the electric light our eyes.

They indulge in an adoration of the nude in life and art, they are introducing a new religious worship, and make the boldest investigations into all sciences, and, in particular, into psycho-physiology.

And to what end? To wipe away the inconsistent theories of the past, to nail all great men of times gone by to the cross of judgment, to find out whether they are Christlike or like Dysmas and Stegas.

They will no longer allow systems of philosophy and great literary works to be developed from a certain fundamental idea, supposed "infallible" by one auguring mind.

They want everything -- mud and diamonds, the slightest suggestion of a thought as well as sublime actions that benefit all mankind. They soar to the stars, and meditate on the buttonholes of their shirts. Not satisfied with their tangible existence, they want to trace their origin into the mystery of mysteries that are weaving in ever changing visions around the throne of infinite eternity.

How did they rise so suddenly ! Oh, there have been mighty pioneers for the fin de siecle movement. Only to mention a few among the dead, Wagner, Schopenhauer, Walt Whitman, Taine, Rossetti, Darwin, Poe, Manet; and among the living, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Monet, Puvis de Chavannes, Zola, Nietsche, etc. This mighty age began with Napoleon and Goethe and apparantly will end with fin de siecle art and Utopian aspirations.

With gigantic strides we will pass through the coming centuries! The rough diamond of our globe will be cut, and recut, ground and polished, until it has the sublime transparency of Japanese crystal balls.

Fin de Siecle to work, develop men arid women worthy of the 20th century ! Let us go from darkness to light, from light to darkness, and again, to light, to the light of lights !

Critic fin de siecle.

What Is Fin de Siecle? The Art Critic. Vol. 1, No. 1 (Nov., 1893) [Note: As written without corrections, contains ocr errors. The content closely resembles Degeneration, Max Simon Nordau, [1849-1923], (1895)


The Scream (1893), an expressionist painting by Edvard Munch is a prominent cultural symbol of fin de siècle era.

Fear and God do not inhabit the same space.


Read More: Fin de siècle [From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]