The Symbolist Movement in Literature

The Symbolist Movement in Literature, first published in 1899, and with additional material in 1919, is a work by Arthur Symons largely credited with bringing French Symbolism to the attention of Anglo-American literary circles. Its first two editions were vital influences on W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot—a note that, for nothing else, would assure its historical place with the most important early Modernist criticism. Richard Ellmann has contributed an Introduction to most modern editions.

While The Symbolist Movement in Literature was first published in monograph book form in 1899, its origins can be traced back to previous essays and articles published by Symons. In 1893, Symons' article The Decadent Movement in Literature appeared in the November volume of Harper's New Monthly Magazine. This ten page article touched on many of the authors subsequently discussed in "The Symbolist Movement in Literature", such as Huysmans, Maeterlinck, Verlaine and Villers de L'Isle-Adam. The 1893 essay also mentioned the English writers Pater and Henley.

A few years later adverts were placed for The Decadent Movement in Literature to be published imminently as a book in its own right. In 1896, an advert appeared in The Savoy, which Symons served as literary editor for and Leonard Smithers published. The advert, placed by Smithers himself (for he was hoping to publish it), stated the book to be 'in preparation'. In 1897, Smithers placed an identical advert in his bijou edition of Pope's Rape of the Lock. One assumes that Symons was working on an expanded version of his 1893 article, to be published in a single volume under the same name. How and when Symons decided to change the title word of 'Decadent' to 'Symbolist' is unclear. What is clear, however, is that between 1893 and 1899, Symons' own perception of and sensibility towards literary Decadence changed.

Many of the essays in the 1899 edition of The Symbolist Movement in Literature were initially published as individual articles between 1897 and 1899 in periodicals such as The Star or The Athenaeum, before being revised and collated for the final monograph.

Symons's book is a collection of short essays on various authors. A list of contents is useful, among other reasons, for determining the time and trace of its influence. Eliot, for instance, would not have read about Baudelaire in his 1908 edition. Essays on English authors were added for Symons's 1924 Collected Works.

Arthur Symons was a close friend of Yeats, and the mutual influence was probably just as much one of conversation as of letters. Its dedicatory note (to Yeats) opens:

This page was last edited on 5 October 2017, at 21:26.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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