Foreign fantasy: from decadence to catastrophe

This is a follow-up to my previous list of non-Anglophone fantasy literature, and it picks up where the other one left off: the works included here were written between 1880 and 1939. While every periodization is somewhat arbitrary, I believe there are good reasons to consider these six decades together, especially if we are interested in literature of the fantastic. In fact, I regard this period as a golden age of the uncanny and supernatural, a time of extraordinary flourishing of literary imagination that produced several masterworks of unparalleled quality.

The advent of the Decadent and Symbolist movements heralded a new aesthetic of the marvelous and the excessive, in contrast to the respectable realism of previous generations. The introduction of Freudian psychoanalysis shook the arts and sparked new interest in eroticism and the hidden dimension of the unconscious mind. The existential and social anxieties caused by the tragedy of the first world war and the political turmoil leading up to the second resulted in expressions of macabre and grotesque imagery, as well as feelings of the crumbling of any stable reality. Finally, a popular culture in the form we are familiar with emerged, along with a new type of dime fiction designed to thrill and unsettle the reader.

The list includes both works of “legitimate” artistic literature that are considered defining classics of the era, as well as some potboiler fare. Neither type of fiction can be easily mapped onto familiar categories applied to English-language writings, such as “ghost story”, “horror”, “weird fiction”, or “dark fantasy” (the interested reader can read elsewhere about the fine distinction between the Anglophone concept of “fantasy”, the French le fantastique, and the Russian fantastika). There are fanciful stories inspired by folklore legends and fairy tales; examples of proto-magical realism; visionary and hallucinatory tales guided by dream logic; social satires employing fantastical concepts to make caricatures of their targets; narratives infused with fashionable ideas of spiritualism, theosophy, and the occult; and finally some truly bizarre oddities that defy categorization.

I did, however, exclude works that can be straightforwardly classified as early science fiction or political speculative fiction. As a result, there are no Karel Čapek novels, no Mountains Seas and Giants by Alfred Döblin, no We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, and no Lesabéndio by Paul Scheerbart. Perhaps I’ll’ devote a future list to them. I should also mention that I didn’t have the heart to omit Seven Gothic Tales by the Danish author Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), even though the book was originally written in English.

I also published two equivalent lists for pre-1940 dark fantasy and horror fiction in English: one with novels and one with short stories and novellas.

The list