Decadence in England and France

The end of the 18th century and the end of the 19th century were tough times for France and England respectively. France was going through the French Revolution during the late 18th century and had a government that was failing to meet the needs of its people. England was bracing itself for the end of their Queen’s reign in the late 19th century. As a way to cope with the oncoming changes that were to befall both countries, people turned to decadence. During these times, decadence lead to an indulgent lifestyle that focused on the consumption of material goods and experiences that would make a person feel good. The decadent lifestyle that people adopted is present in Sofia Coppola’s movie Marie Antoinette and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Within Coppola’s movie, Marie Antoinette was the person who was leading a decadent lifestyle. Marie Antoinette, portrayed by Kirsten Dunst, indulged in clothes, food, and a rich, social life as seen in the trailer for the movie. Meanwhile, Dorian Gray indulged in a life of sin. Both characters demonstrate the turn to decadence and reveal the consequences that come with living life in this style.


In the trailer for Marie Antoinette, it is clear that Dunst’s character lives a life of decadence once she becomes Queen. As seen between the 1:00-1:15 mark, Marie Antoinette turns to decadence as a way of coping with her new position. All of the shots in this section of the trailer reveal the different ways Marie Antoinette has turned to decadence in her life. She is consuming things physically through cakes and other pastries, financially through gambling, and materially through the jewelry and multiple pairs of shoes that flash by in the trailer. These three aspects of decadence are seen as luxurious, but this lifestyle is revealed to catch up to the Queen. Between the 1:20-1:25 mark, it is shown that these habits of the Queen have rubbed other people the wrong way. The “people of France are hungry” and the portrait that depicts Marie Antoinette with the phrase ‘Queen of debt’ across it demonstrate the consequences that come with living a life of decadence. While Marie Antoinette is having a fabulous time in her castle, the people she is supposed to be leading are suffering. What the trailer ultimately reveals is that a life of decadence has its limits and that there are negative consequences to every indulgence.

While Marie Antoinette has to face the consequences of her actions, as seen in the end of the trailer with the angry mob, one person who is not ready to do so is Dorian Gray. Once Dorian realizes his portrait can bear the consequences of his decadent lifestyle choices, he jumps at the chance to live a life of sin: “Eternal youth, infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joy and wilder sins – he was to have all these things. The portrait was to bear the burdens of his shame: that was all” (117). This is the moment when Dorian is letting go of his responsibility and is passing it to his portrait. Instead of dealing with the consequences of his decadent lifestyle himself, his portrait will “bear the burdens of his shame” for him. The phrases “wild joy” and “wilder sins” reveals the impending life of decadence that Dorian will live. The idea of Dorian partaking in a “wild” lifestyle suggests that there will be nothing to rein in his actions. He is free and loose to do whatever he pleases, an idea that fits well with decadence. There is also no time limit in sight for his lifestyle choices, which is seen through the words “eternal” and “infinite.” Dorian Gray is ready to live a decadent lifestyle, consequences be damned.

The turn to decadence in France and England originated from a place of fear. France was trying to pretend that everything was fine financially and politically when it wasn’t. Meanwhile England was trying to cover up their anxieties over the impending change in reign and the rise of industrialization. Both Marie Antoinette and Dorian Gray partook in the decadent lifestyle through the consumption of food, vice, and luxury. Marie Antoinette demonstrates the consequences that come with living a decadent lifestyle whereas Dorian Gray has yet to face the effects of his actions at this point in the novel.