The Great Mustaches of French Decadent Writers


With all due respect to Oscar Wilde, the French did Decadent literature better than any other country, and that is made totally evident in the Oxford University Press collection translated by Stephen Romer, French Decadent Tales, which is as good a primer as any on the movement considered the transition between Romanticism and Modernism.

After getting wrapped up in the collection of works by writers that “explored extreme sensation and moral transgression; drugs, spiritualism, and the occult,” it dawned on me that all that decadence had to come from somewhere.

Then I realized it: All the great French Decadent writers had really sweet mustaches.

Guy de Maupassant had a sweet mustache and soul patch combo, but also had no problem writing about ‘stache mortality like he did in “A Walk”: “he would look at his fair moustache and his curly hair in the little round mirror left behind by his predecessor. Every evening now, before leaving, he contemplated his white moustache and his bald head in the same mirror.”

“A masterpiece it was indeed, of taste, delicacy, patrician luxury, of inventiveness and resource.” Was Jules Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly talking about the hair above and directly below his lips?

Octave Mirbeau was basically a proto-Robin Thicke with lines like, “Woman is a marvelous animal,” from “The Bath.”

Léon Bloy enjoyed writing about the loves and affairs of a chesse merchant, as well as sporting a great bushy white mustache.

From “The Lucky Sixpence”: “He married her ‘between two cheeses,’ as he liked to remarked skittishly. For he was in fact a wholesale cheese merchant, and he had undertaken the solemn act of matrimony between a memorable delivery of Cheshire and an exceptional delivery of Parmesan.”

To be a true French Decadent, you had to have a great mustache like Pierre Louÿs, but you also had to have your priorities straight like his character Monsieur le President Barbeville in “A Case Without Precedent”: “these days he would more often open an old book than a young blouse.”

Catulle Mendès went full-on beard.

You think Villiers de l’Isle-Adam is thinking heavily about combing his beard? We do.

Although he was not included in the collection, Joris-Karl Huysmans and his amazing facial hair could not be left out of this conversation.