Cette étude comparative met en parallèle deux romans (À rebours et The Picture of Dorian Gray). On tente ainsi de mettre en évidence la subversion des catégories traditionnelles par les deux auteurs, qui repoussent tout ce qui est banal ou honorable. Le travail est structuré en trois chapitres, qui traitent d’importants problèmes décadents : la beauté (dont l’expression est l’amour pour les vêtements, les bijoux, le maquillage, les parfums, les meubles, les fleurs), le narcissisme, le déclin et l’aliénation de l’individu.
The paper deals with two texts that were regarded as classic novels for the Decadent movement: À rebours and The Picture of Dorian Gray; the former is widely regarded as the “Bible of Decadence” which greatly influenced Oscar Wilde’s hero and led him to his downfall – “the French poisonous novel” is believed to dominate Dorian’s actions and influenced him to choose a lifestyle based on hedonism and sins. Both novels show how the protagonists relate to their own sexuality – Dorian leads an immoral life, while Des Esseintes, after having experienced numerous love affairs, is defined as lacking strength, energy and productiveness. Their histories oscillate between illness and the aesthetic contemplation of beauty. Illness in these two narratives comes under the shape of ‘mal du siécle’ (referring to the ennui, the melancholy felt by most of the young men in the Europe of the 19th century), neurasthenia (whose symptoms of anxiety, fatigue and depression were signs of the decadent sensitivity) and ultimately degeneration of bodies (which Max Nordau in his work Degeneration sees as a possible result of the contempt for traditional values and morality). Beauty, seen by the two authors as an aesthetic concept, should provide the protagonists with refined sensuous pleasure, rather than transmit moral messages; so, sensuality, the series of symbols and synaesthetic effects are meant to establish a sense of alienation, the obsession with artifice and ultimately the aversion to the natural; the contemplation of beauty takes sometimes the form of narcissism, another sign of degeneration (according to Max Nordau) which shows the psychopathological character of the culture and its moral and ethical decline. To a great extent, authors and protagonists embrace everything that is unnatural or unhealthy.