SCANDINAVIAN R5B, Section 1: Reading and Composition: Perennial Decay: Literary Decadence in the North

MWF 8-9 , . Instructor: Ben Bigelow

Units: 4

Course Supervisor: Prof. Linda Rugg

GSI: Benjamin Bigelow,

All Reading & Composition courses must be taken for a letter grade in order to fulfill this requirement for the Bachelor’s Degree. This course satisfies the second half or the “B” portion of the Reading and Composition requirement.


Decadence was a literary style that flourished in Europe around the end of the nineteenth century. Taking a cue from a number of influential histories of the late Roman Empire, decadent writers perceived an important correlation between the Roman Empire on the verge of extinction and aristocratic European culture at the fin de siècle, and fashioned themselves in the mold of the perverse, pleasure-seeking, doomed citizens of the late Empire. This kind of literature fixated on the aristocratic, sensitive, highly educated individual’s pursuit of pleasure in the midst of social and cultural decay. Though the decadent literary fashion gained the most traction in France (Baudelaire, Huysmans, Verlaine, Bourget), influential decadent novels were also written in the UK (Stoker, Wilde), Italy (D’Annunzio), and Germany (Mann). Less well-known are the Scandinavian forays into decadent literature, by the likes of Johannes Jørgensen and Herman Bang (Denmark), Henrik Ibsen and Arne Garborg (Norway), August Strindberg, Gustaf af Geijerstam, and Hjalmar Söderberg (Sweden). In this class, we will study several of the seminal Continental specimens of decadent literature and investigate how this literary style was imported to the north—what adaptations and adjustments were necessitated by this importation, and how did the Scandinavian authors frame their own efforts to write under an “adopted” literary style?


This course is designed to help students develop proficiencies in literary analysis, close reading, critical thinking, scholarly research, and composition through class discussions, active reading, and a series of challenging writing assignments of varying lengths.



Arne Garborg, Weary Men (Northwestern UP, ISBN: 978-0810116009)

Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and Other Stories (Signet Classics, ISBN: 978-0451530325)

Hjalmar Söderberg, Doctor Glas (Anchor, ISBN: 978-0385722674)

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Three Stories (Penguin Classics, ISBN: 978-0143106142)


Other course readings are available on the course bCourses site


Prerequisites: Successful completion of the first half or “A” portion of the Reading and Composition requirement. Students may not enroll nor attend R1B/R5B courses without completing this prerequisite.