Fin de Siècle

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The fin de siècle [ ˌfɛ̃ dəˈsjɛkl ] (in further spelling Fin de siècle ; French for "end of the century"), also called decadentism , describes an artistic movement in the period from around 1890 to 1914. The name has a connotation with the Term of decadence and refers to the fact that the fin de siècle was a cultural movement that made cultural decay its object.

Origin of the term

The term " fin de siècle " was first mentioned in 1886 in the French magazine Le Décadent . In 1888 a comedy by Francis de Jouvenot and H. Micard was performed under this title. In 1891 , Hermann Bahr published a volume of short stories under this title in German-speaking countries .

Although the term was coined in France and refers to a specifically French way of life at that time, Fin de Siècle is also used throughout Europe to denote the general state of mind before the First World War.

Historical environment

The time before the First World War was marked by an awareness that an era had finally come to an end.

The positivism in science and naturalism in literature had the ideology of objectivity favors and a mood of progress, and the engineering sciences were on the rise. Sigmund Freud researched hysteria . In contrast, the world order of the Ancien Régime, with the predominance of the nobility, was still medieval at its core, and the Middle Ages were constantly used to justify it. The industrialization and the freedom of trade had old social structures but changed, the church had lost influence and a ubiquitous nationalism led to conflicts.

The time was characterized by a fluctuation between optimism, euphoria for the future, diffuse fear of the future and regression, apocalyptic mood , tiredness of life, world pain , fascination with death and transience, easy life , frivolity and decadence. A general crisis gripped the leading social classes because basic values ​​of social life appeared to be endangered. As an overreaction of the European ruling classes to the phenomena of the crisis and in a "great fear that circulated among the rulers", a continuous military build-up took place: "Militarization took on a dimension that was beyond historical comparison."

A feeling of powerlessness became characteristic of intellectuals, artists and writers because they were attracted and repelled by a large city society dominated by market law and anonymous masses on the one hand and by a world increasingly marked by science and technology on the other. They fled to other aesthetic worlds. A subculture or counterculture to bourgeois life emerged with the cult figures bohemian , dandy , snob and femme fatale . They despised the " Philistines ", philistines and petty bourgeoisie .

Social Darwinism and Friedrich Nietzsche's criticism of the bourgeois life of his time, against which he called the superman onto the scene, which was partially supported by the nobility, formed out of a mixture of insecurity and arrogance . The historian Arno J. Mayer described this as follows:

“Formulas from the arsenal of social Darwinism and Nietzschean philosophy were part of the general worldview in the higher spheres of politics and society between 1890 and 1914. Because of their anti-democratic, elitist and militant tendencies, they were ideally suited as ideological aids with which the indomitable backward-looking elements of the ruling and ruling classes could, as it were, elevate and intellectualize their deep-rooted and ever lively anti-liberalism (...). "

The French diplomat Arthur de Gobineau had predicted the death of the “superior” man, the white race, in his experiment on the inequality of human races (1853–1855). The book, a major work of racism , closes with a pessimistic end-time description that deeply impressed Richard Wagner and some of his followers:

"The nations, no, the human herds, drowsy in dull solitude, will henceforth live numbly in their nothingness, like ruminating buffaloes in the standing puddles of the Pontine swamps ."

A picture of the mood for Germany can be traced in the history of the literary salon of the Munich publishers Elsa Bruckmann and Hugo Bruckmann . There, for example, Norbert von Hellingrath , who was close to the George Circle , gave lectures in 1915 in the uniform of Hölderlin , who was a participant in the World War , in which he named Hölderlin leader of a secret Germany . In the guests of this salon, members of the cultural and intellectual elite, aesthetic modernism and future National Socialism met.

In Austria-Hungary , which was on the verge of collapse, there was a heyday of art and literature in Vienna, Viennese modernism .

Forms of expression

The fin de siècle found its artistic expression in diverse and contradicting movements. Symbolism first turned against an image realism and against excessive objectivity in literature. Paul Verlaine's Les poètes maudits was a role model . Based on this, there was also a symbolism in the visual arts, which was founded by painters like Paul Gauguin .

Especially in the art nouveau art nouveau , which was seen as overcoming the overpowering historicism , a paradoxical simultaneous turn towards the elitist and the popular became apparent. The Impressionism as the late Romantic period in music and the beginnings of the avant-garde in all areas of the arts are at the time of de siècle Fin emerged.

Claude Debussy's opera Pelléas et Mélisande is also associated with the fin de siècle , as is Rainer Maria Rilke's poem Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke or the Vienna Secession building by Joseph Maria Olbrich .

In relation to literature, one also speaks of decadence poetry . It was replaced by Expressionism around 1910 .


  • Wolfgang Asholt, Walter Fähnders (Ed.): Fin de siècle. Stories, poems, essays (= Reclams Universal Library . Vol. 8890). Reclam, Stuttgart 1993, ISBN 3-15-008890-9 .
  • Peter Demetz (Ed.): Fin de siècle. Czech novellas and short stories. With a foreword by Peter Demetz. Afterword by Marek Nekula. Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-421-05251-4 .
  • Francis de Jouvenot: Fin de siècle. Pièce en quatre actes. Ollendorff, Paris, 1888; German new edition: Edition Libri, Düsseldorf 2000, ISBN 3-934268-02-1 .


  • Christiane Barz: Flight from the world and faith in life. Aspects of decadence in Scandinavian and German modern literature around 1900. Edition Kirchhof & Franke, Leipzig 2003, ISBN 3-933816-20-3 .
  • Alexandra Beilharz: The Décadence and Sade: Investigations into narrative texts of the French Fin de Siècle. M&P, Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 3-476-45161-5 .
  • Jens-Malte Fischer: Fin de siècle. Commentary on an epoch. Winkler, Munich 1978, ISBN 3-538-07026-1 .
  • Jens-Malte Fischer: Twilight of the Century. Views of a different fin de siecle. Zsolnay, Vienna 2000, ISBN 3-552-04954-1 .
  • Sabine Haupt, Stefan Bodo Würffel (ed.): Handbook Fin de Siècle. Kröner, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-520-83301-3 .
  • York-Gothart Mix (Ed.): Naturalism, Fin de siècle and Expressionism (1890-1918) (= Hanser's social history of German literature from the 16th century to the present. Vol. 7). Carl Hanser, Munich, Vienna, ISBN 978-3-446-12782-1 ; dtv, Munich 2000, ISBN 978-3-423-04349-6 .
  • Winfried Wehle , Rainer Warning (ed.): Fin de siècle (= Romance colloquium. Vol. 10). Fink, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-7705-3711-4 .


  1. Fin de Siècle in Duden-Online
  2. ^ Arno J. Mayer, Adelsmacht und Bürgerertum. The crisis in European society 1848–1914 , Munich 1984, p. 301; 309
  3. See Claudia Becker, Fin de siècle . In: Harenberg Lexikon der Weltliteratur , Vol. 2, Dortmund 1989, p. 948 f.
  4. Cf. Gerd Stein (Ed.): Cultural figures and social characters of the 19th and 20th centuries , 4 volumes. Fischer TB, Frankfurt 1985: Vol. 2: Dandy, Snob, Flaneur. Eccentricity and decadence ; Vol. 3: Femme fatale, vamp, blue stocking. Sexuality and domination ; Vol. 4: Philistines, petty bourgeois, philistines. Normality and self-assertion .
  5. Arno J. Mayer (1984), p. 286.
  6. Eric Eugène: Wagner and Gobineau ( Memento from January 18, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  7. Norbert von Hellingrath, Hölderlin and the Germans. Lecture , in: Norbert von Hellingrath, Hölderlin- Vermächtnis, Munich 1936, pp. 123–153, here pp. 124f.
  8. ^ Wolfgang Martynkewicz: Salon Germany. Spirit and Power 1900-1945 . Structure, Berlin 2009 ISBN 3-351-02706-0 review