From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Symbolist movement in literature has its roots in The Flowers of Evil (1857) by Charles Baudelaire. The aesthetic was developed by Stephane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine during the 1860s and '70s. During the 1880s, the esthetic was articulated through a series of manifestoes and attracted a generation of writers. The works of Edgar Allan Poe, which Baudelaire greatly admired and translated into French, were a significant influence and the source of many stock tropes and images.
Symbolism's cult of the static and hieratic adapted less well to narrative fiction than it did to poetry. Joris-Karl Huysmans' 1884 novel À rebours (English title: Against Nature) contained many themes which became associated with the Symbolist esthetic. This novel in which very little happens is a catalogue of the tastes and inner life of Des Esseintes, an eccentric, reclusive antihero. The novel was imitated by Oscar Wilde in several passages of The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Paul Adam was the most prolific and most representative author of Symbolist novels. Les Demoiselles Goubert co-written with Jean Moréas in 1886 is an important transitional work between Naturalism and Symbolism. Few Symbolists used this form. One exception is Gustave Kahn who published Le Roi fou in 1896. Other fiction that is sometimes considered Symbolist is the cynical misanthropic (and especially, misogynistic) tales of Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly. Gabriele d'Annunzio wrote his first novels in the Symbolist vein.
The same emphasis on an internal life of dreams and fantasies have made Symbolist theatre difficult to reconcile with more recent tastes and trends. Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's drama Axel (rev. ed. 1890) is a definitive Symbolist play; in it, two Rosicrucian aristocrats fall in love while trying to kill each other, only to agree to mutually commit suicide because nothing in life could equal their fantasies. From this play, Edmund Wilson took the title Axel's Castle for his influential study of the Symbolist aftermath in literature.
- see Symbolist poetry
Symbolist literary reviews
A number of important literary publications were founded by Symbolists or became associated with the movement; the first was La Vogue founded in April 1886. In October of that same year, Jean Moréas, Gustave Kahn, and Paul Adam began Le Symboliste. One of the most important Symbolist journals was Le Mercure de France, edited by Alfred Vallette, which succeeded La Pléiade; founded in 1890, this periodical lasted until 1965. Pierre Louÿs founded La conque, a periodical whose Symbolist leanings were alluded to by Jorge Luis Borges in his story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. Other Symbolist literary magazines included La Revue blanche, La Revue wagnérienne, La Plume and La Wallonie.