explain what is meant by the Symbolist movement in Literature?

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mmms1981 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century movement. It had its beginnings in the 1850s in France, and lasted until the end of the 19th century. The movement was originated with the publication of Les Fleurs du mal (1857), by Charles Baudelaire, but the works of Edgar Allan Poe, which Baudelaire translated into French, were the ultimate source of inspiration. The aesthetic of the movement attracted a generation of writers - Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud…-, and exerted a profound influence on 20th century literature, allowing the transition from Realism to Modernism in Western literature. Reacting against the rationalism and materialism that had come to dominate Western European culture, symbolist writers proclaimed the validity of pure subjectivity and the expression of an idea over a realistic description of the natural world. These literary ideals developed as a reaction against the dominance of positivism, which emphasized the importance of objectivity, rational thought, and the use of a scientific method. Symbolist authors sought to convey very idiosyncratic states of consciousness, resorting to the use of metaphorical language and emphasizing the inherent musicality of language. They fostered the use of vers libre (free verse), and modernized the existing form of the prose poem.


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