Fin de siècle  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Fin de siècle is French for "end of the century," though also implying end of an era. The term "turn-of-the-century" is sometimes used as a synonym, but is more neutral, lacking some or most of the cultural connotations described below. The expression often occurs in English prose without the accent grave.

Basic connotations

The expression fin de siècle generally refers to the years 1890 to 1914 in Europe. It has connotations of decadence which are seen as typical for the last years of a prosperous period (La Belle Époque at the turn of the 19th century), and of anticipative excitement about — and/or despair facing — impending change which is generally expected when a century or time period draws to a close. In Russia, the term Silver Age is somewhat more popular.

That the expression is in French, probably comes from the fact that fin de siècle is particularly associated to certain late 19th-century French-speaking circles in Paris and Brussels, exemplified by artists like Stéphane Mallarmé, movements like Symbolism, and works of art like Oscar Wilde's Salomé (originally written in French, and premiered in Paris) — which connects the idea of fin de siècle also to the Aesthetic movement. Also, Edvard Munch spent some of his time in Paris around the turn-of-the-century, which was his most melancholy period.

Broader sense

In a broader sense the expression fin de siècle is used to characterise anything that has an ominous mixture of opulence and/or decadence, combined with a shared prospect of unavoidable radical change or some approaching "end."

Note that it is not necessarily change itself that is implied in the expression fin de siècle, but rather its anticipation. For example, for the 19th-century fin de siècle, the most radical changes to the cultural and social order occurred more than a decade after the new century had started (most notably as a result of World War I). The Belle Époque was not even at its height in 1900, nor had the Edwardian era (almost seamlessly following the Victorian era) even started.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Fin de siècle" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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