Spring 2021: A Renaissance of Decadence

The Decadence never died. It simply continued, as the name would suggest, to decay. Now, more than a century after this movement ceased moving, it is certainly safe, and may be quite diverting, to take a turn through the ruins. Particularly since we, as readers of science fiction and fantasy never really abandoned this ground.

The Medusa, the Fatal Woman, Byzantium, the Divine Marquis, the whole Romantic Agony, not to mention the ecstasy, has continued in the fantasy and horror genres—most unabashedly in paranormal romance, while science fiction itself, even when its Science was at its hardest, was never far from deliquescence. Philip K. Dick and William Gibson brought the back the gnostic house of horrors which was always implicit in SF. From FTL drive to AI, it was always about transcending the mortal condition. If that went past you too fast, let us note that the light sabres and The Force in Star Wars show that you can’t escape sword and sorcery, not even in a galaxy far far away.

So it is entirely appropriate that we feature a detail from Sydney Long’s 1897 Spirit of the Plains in the masthead, particularly in an issue with works by two Celtic Revival poets.

The notion of an Australian Symbolist painter is already amusing, but unsuprising if one thinks about it. Living among a people whom even Texans find refreshing, the realm of the fantastic seemed like a necessary antidote. And thus we arrive at this Art Nouveau interpretation of the Australian bush, into which a classical nymph has somehow wandered. The success of this image kept Mr. Long scribbling flamingos till he was well tired of them.

His other Symbolist classic is this 1897 Spirit of the Plains

—in which the body language of the gentleman fauna shows a certain ambivalence to the ladies. A conundrum which seems adequately explained by his succès de scandale, the 1894 By Tranquil Waters

One must follow this link to the Art Gallery of New South Wales to get a really good look at it. It was generally felt that the image was a bit on the erotic side, though no one in Australia was quite sure how this was possible, since the picture only showed boys.

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