I am writing my paper on Paris at the end of the 19th century and its urban planning, with emphasis on the 1889 exhibition and the building of the Eiffel Tower. This period is also known as fin-de-siècle Paris . In order for me to even gain the smallest grasp on my topic, I first had to gain a working definition of what the term fin-de-siècle actually meant.
The fin-de-siècle period, literally translated to end of the century–roughly the years 1880 to 1900–was characterized by great cultural and political ambivalence, an anxiety for things lost, and a longing for the new. It is characterized by a fear for society due to the idea of it being a time of degeneration, but also a feeling of hope because of the start of a new century.
The term “Fin de siècle” is most commonly associated with French artists, especially French symbolism and was affected by the cultural awareness characteristic of France at the end of the 19th century. However, the expression is also used to refer to a European-wide cultural movement. The ideas which were developed in this period went on to greatly influence the subsequent modernist movement. The major political themes of this era were those of revolt against materialism, positivism, the bourgeois society, and liberal democracy.
The fin de siècle encompasses a broader set of concerns, social and political, that often stand in tension with aestheticism.It was also a period of great cultural change including an outpouring of intellectual responses to the conflicting times from such eminent writers as T. H. Huxley, Emma Goldman, William James, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and Oscar Wilde. When talking about the fin-de–siècle in relation to art, the general meaning is of an artistic climate of sophistication, escapism, extreme aestheticism, world-weariness, and fashionable despair.