The symbolist movement in literature originated during the 1850s in France and lasted until about 1900. Symbolism exerted a profound influence on twentieth-century literature, bridging the transition from Realism to Modernism. Symbolism also exerted a strong influence on the arts, including theatre, painting, and music. The symbolists sought to convey very personal, irrational, and dream-like states of consciousness, relying heavily on metaphorical language to approximate, or symbolize, an eternal essence of being that, they believed, was abstracted from the scope of the five senses. These literary ideals developed as a reaction against the dominance of positivism, which emphasized rational thought, objectivity, and scientific method. Symbolism also represented a reaction against Realism and Naturalism in literature, which sought to accurately represent the external world of nature and human society through descriptions of objective reality. Stylistically, the symbolists emphasized the inherent musicality of language, developed the use of vers libre (free verse), and modernized the existing form of the prose poem. The symbolists were greatly influenced by the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, whose Les fleurs du mal (1857; Flowers of Evil) embodied many of their literary ideals. In addition to Baudelaire, the central figures of French Symbolism are the poets Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud. French Symbolism affected international literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in particular, inspiring the Russian symbolist movement, which developed in the 1880s. The literature of Germany, Great Britain, Japan, the United States, and Turkey was also influenced by Symbolism. Though poetry dominated the symbolist movement, great works of fiction and drama were also written by adherents of Symbolism.
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