What is Aestheticism in Literature

What is Aestheticism

Aestheticism is an art movement supporting the emphasis of aesthetic values more than other themes for literature, fine art, music and other arts. In other words, this movement was based on the principle that pursuit of beauty and elevation of taste was the main aim of art. The foundation of aesthetic movement is considered to be formulated in the 18th century by Immanuel Kant. This is an anti-Victorian movement which had post-romantic roots.

This aestheticism used the concept of art for art’s sake. The original concept “l’art pour l’art” is attributed to the French novelist Théophile Gautier. This rejected the concept that art has a moral or ethical value and a didactic purpose. The followers of this movement believed that art should only be beautiful.

What is Aestheticism in Literature

In English literature, the aesthetic movement gained momentum in the late 19th century. Although Pre-Raphaelite movement is taken as a separate movement from aesthetic movement, aestheticisms was also influenced by its predecessor.

Aesthetic writers gave free rein to their imagination and fantasy. Their main purpose of their literary works was the pursuit of beauty. Since the followers of the movement didn’t believe in the didactic purpose of literature, they did not accept the views of John Ruskin, George MacDonald, and Matthew Arnold who believed that literature should convey moral messages. Freedom from social and moral functions, the pursuit of beauty, and the emphasis of the individual self in the judgment of taste can be termed as hallmarks of this movement. The literary works of this movement are characterized by the immense use of symbols, sensuality, suggestion rather than statement, and synaesthesia effects (correspondence between words, colors, and music). Oscar Wild’s novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is one of the most well-known examples of aestheticism in the 19th-century literature.

What is Aestheticism in Literature

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), John Addington Symonds (1840-1893), Vernon Lee (1856-1935), Arthur Symons (1865-1945), Ernest Dowson (1867-1900), Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) are some writers that belonged to aesthetic movements. Most of these writers followed the concept art for art sake not only to their work but to their personal lives as well; they lived extravagant lives and were devoted to the cult of beauty and art. They believed that life should copy art.

The later period of aesthetic movement is associated with the emergence of the decadence or decadent movement and the early symbolism.


  • Aestheticism was an anti-Victorian movement that took place in the 19th century.
  • It was based on the foundation that pursuit of beauty and elevation of taste was the main aim of art.
  • It dismissed the notion that art should have a moral or social purpose.
  • It is also associated with decadence and early symbolism.
  • Heavy use of symbols, sensuality, suggestion rather than statement and synaesthesia effects are some characteristics of aestheticism. 

Image Courtesy: 

“Oscar Wilde Sarony” By Napoleon Sarony – Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public Domain) via

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

Related pages

ekphrasis poetry examplesalligator snout shapedifference between accuracy and precision in chemistryhow to correct auntieswhat is the definition of trannyidentify adjectives in sentencesexpository descriptive narrative and persuasivecompare alternating current with direct currentaliphatic compounds listmicrofillamentcollenchyma and parenchymalife cycle of pteridophytaalpha and beta amylasenonmetallic mineraldifference between concentrated and dilutedefinition of penetrancewhat are morphemes and phonemesanybody grammarwhat does protoplasm dodifference between intensive and reflexive pronounnew zealand flag australian flag differencesparallelism in literature examplesgrams and pulsesmoment of inertia simple definitionaristotelian tragedydifference between primary and secondary pulmonary hypertensionrelationship between bits and bytesdifference between doctorate and phddifference between custard and ice creamboson theoryparallelism in poetry definitionmonocots and dicots differencetypes of delusions and hallucinationsyagi omnidirectional antennalight reactions vs calvin cyclethe scattering of light by colloidal particles is called thepost modernism vs modernismzygote embryo and fetussimilarities between glycogen and celluloseis saturn a inner or outer planetpolypropylene copolymer vs homopolymerbravery definitiondefinition of autosomeribose versus deoxyribosefinite and nonfinite verbswhat are the disadvantages of selective breedingiupac name for sucrosethe difference between supper and dinnercaste and class definitiondistinguish between syntax and semanticsdefinition for valence electronmetric vs imperial tonchromatid pairosazone crystalswhat are diploblastic animalsdipole-dipole forces examplesdefinition of tension and compressionmerits of city lifehomophones homographsvalency of elements in periodic tablechampagne differencesdistinguish between heterogeneous and homogeneous mixtureslabrador versus golden retrievergold foil experiment by rutherfordwhat is literal imageryagonists vs antagonistsdiastereoisomer definitionwhat is breadth in mathsdeist theistmicropylethe difference between metals and nonmetalswrought iron vs cast irondefinition of destructive interferencewifi and wimax differenceallomorphs in englishintrons vs exonsdifference between cathedral and churchdistinguish between infrasound and ultrasound waves