Book review: Lesbian Decadence, written by Nicole E. Albert, translated by Nancy Erber and William Peniston

Lesbian Decadence: Representations in Art and Literature of Fin-de-Siècle France features a rare collection of illustrations from the “decadent period” which began in Paris in the 19th century. The original collection was compiled by French author Nicole Albert and published in 2005 under the title “Saphisme et Decadence Dans Paris Fin-De-Siécle.” After a reprint in 2016 by Harrington Park Press, the book won the Goldie award for Anthology/Collections (Creative Non-Fiction) from the Golden Crown Literary Society. Translated by Nancy Erber and William Peniston, the reissue is an expanded edition that now includes a number of rare photographs and cartoons from the original author’s private collection — many are not publicly available anywhere else.

Bill Cohen, the cofounder of Harrington Park Press — a publishing group that focuses on less-explored scholarly topics relating to the LGBT community — told BuzzFeed News in an interview that although same-sex activities were not criminalized in France at the time, “lesbians were still viewed by psychiatrists as disordered souls.”

“Moralists pitied them. In popular society, however, lesbianism was flaunted,” he explained. “Some paintings, no doubt, shocked the public in the early 1900s.”

Here are a just a few of the revealing illustrations from newspapers, novels, and magazine covers of the day, alongside excerpts from the book.

View the PDF below to read the entire article.

Reviewed by Sarah Karlan