Aubrey Beardsley wrote The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser during the fin de siècle, the end of the Victorian Era. This decadent work, following Baudelaire's credo "art for art's sake first of all," portrays sex and sexualities in a playful manner. In addition to mocking conventional Victorian moral codes, and parodying pornographic conventions, The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser also supports Foucault's idea that the Victorian Era witnessed a diffusion of sexualities.
The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser was originally toned down and modified for publication in 1897 in The Savoy, a magazine that Beardsley served as art editor, under the title of Under The Hill. According to Stanley Weintraub, Venus and Tannhäuser was "the literally undisciplined and Rabelaisian original. But the longer manuscript's [Venus'] first eight chapters had sufficed for only four refashioned chapters of the purified and playfully footnoted Savoy text [Under the Hill]" (168).
Venus and Tannhäuser is a decadent work, though the term "decadent" is difficult to define. As Elaine Showalter notes, the term had antithetical connotations at the end of the century. On the one hand, it was "the pejorative label applied by the bourgeoisie to everything that seemed unnatural" (169). But artists who embraced decadence as an aesthetic credo " . . .rejected all that was natural and biological in favor of the inner life of art, artifice, sensation and imagination" (170). Heather Henderson and William Sharpe note that these opposing connotations are typically combined in standard definitions of the term, since "In most cases the word [decadent] suggested an ultra-refined sophistication of taste allied wit...
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...ory of Venus and Tannhäuser." Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890's: An Anthology of British Poetry and Prose. Ed. Karl Beckson. Chicago: Academy, 1981. 9-46.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Vol 1. New York: Vintage, 1978.
Gillette, Paul J. Introduction. The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser. By Aubrey Beardsley. New York: Award, 1967. 21-67.
Henderson, Heather, and William Sharpe. "Aestheticism, Decadence, and the Fin de Siècle." The Longman Anthology of British Literature: The Victorian Age. Ed. Heather Henderson and William Sharpe. New York: Longman, 1999. 1936-1938.
Showalter, Elaine. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle. New York: Penguin, 1990.
Weintraub, Stanley. Beardsley: A Biography. New York: Braziller, 1967.
Zatlin, Linda G. "Beardsley Redresses Venus." Victorian Poetry 28.3-4 (1990): 111-124.
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