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 Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasa

Hasanthi is a seasoned content writer and editor with over 8 years of experience. Armed with a BA degree in English and a knack for digital marketing, she explores her passions for literature, history, culture, and food through her engaging and informative writing.