Tooth Decay: Edgar Allan Poe and the Neuro-déca"dent"isme of Villiers and Huysmans

This essay studies dental motifs in fin-de-siècle decadent fiction, including Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's L'Ève future and especially Huysmans's À rebours, in the double context of neurological medical discourses (Beard, Charcot) and the transatlantic history of dentistry in France and the United States. By way of Poe's and Redon's neuropathological visions, tooth-rot in Villiers and Huysmans becomes revalued as part of a modern aesthetic sensibility, a refined reaction against the effects of American consumerism and base materiality. From the supplemental artifice of dentures to the fleur phéniqué used to treat neurasthenia and neurosyphilis, teeth embody decadent reflections on corruptibility, nervosisme, and art.