At the Altar of Decadence: A Review of Decadent Catholicism and the Making of Modernism

Decadent Catholicism and the Making of Modernism
by Martin Lockerd
(Bloomsbury, 2020, 231 pp., $115)

Over the last quarter-century or so, scholars of literary modernism have focused less and less on how the modernists “broke away” from, say, romanticism or naturalism or 1890s decadence. The byword now is continuity, not rupture; the aim is to demonstrate how such artistic and intellectual currents persisted, often as unacknowledged yet crucial elements of modernist concerns and aesthetics. In his terrific new book Decadent Catholicism and the Making of Modernism, Martin Lockerd joins such efforts to “challenge the truism of modernist newness” (10). He does so by demonstrating that the British modernists hardly broke free of their immediate precursors—Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, and other writers of the fin de siècle—but instead carried these writers’ decadent spirit forward, even (and sometimes especially) when they disavowed the affiliation.