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Fin de siècle (French pronunciation: [fɛ̃ də sjɛkl]) is French for "end of the century".[1] The term sometimes encompasses both the closing and onset of an era, as it was felt to be a period of degeneration, but at the same time a period of hope for a new beginning.[2]

“Fin de siècle” is most commonly associated with French artists, especially the French symbolists, and was affected by the cultural awareness characteristic of France at the end of the 19th century. However, the expression is also used to refer to a European-wide cultural movement.[3] The ideas and concerns of the fin de siècle influenced the decades to follow and played an important role in the birth of modernism.[4]


Basic connotations

The expression fin de siècle usually refers to the end of the 19th century, in Europe, France and/or Paris. It has connotations of decadence, which are seen as typical for the last years of a culturally vibrant period (La Belle Époque at the turn of the 20th century), and of anticipative excitement about, or despair facing, impending change, or both, that 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 the fin de siècle is particularly associated with certain late 19th-century French-speaking circles in Paris and Brussels, exemplified by artists like Stéphane Mallarmé and Claude Debussy, 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 the 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."

It is not change itself that is implied in the expression fin de siècle, but 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.

A more recent example of fin de siècle can be found in the Y2K problem: the general turmoil caused by this in itself relatively insignificant technical issue becomes much more understandable when an underlying fin de siècle mechanism is acknowledged. Many other 20th (and 21st)-century phenomena, e.g. New Age and the 2012 phenomenon, could be interpreted as building on at least some fin de siècle ideas.


  1. ^ "Collection Tate. Glossary Fin de siècle"
  2. ^ Talia Schaffer (2007). Literature and Culture at the Fin de Siècle. New York: Longman, p.3.
  3. ^ Patrick McGuinness (Ed.)(2000) Symbolism, Decadence and the Fin de Siècle: French and European Perspectives. Exeter: University Press, p. 9.
  4. ^ J.Trygve Has-Ellison. Nobles, Modernism, and the Culture of fin-de-siècle Munich. In: German History 2008 26(1):1-23, p. 2.

Further reading

  • A reference text regarding the 19th century fin de siècle is Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower.
  • A reference text regarding the 19th century fin de siècle in Vienna is Carl Schorske's Fin-de-Siècle Vienna.
  • Sally Ledger's exploration of women at the fin de siecle. The New Woman: Fiction and feminism at the fin de siecle (1997)

See also

External links


Simple English

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