UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

“Art with poisonous honey stolen from France” : Oscar Wilde and Decadent imitations between England and France Posthumus, Michaela


This thesis studies national conceptions of sexuality and the geo-politics of the Decadent movement in the writing and the literary afterlife of the Irish author and critic Oscar Wilde. In his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and his play Salomé, Wilde’s French influences are immediately apparent, but their purpose demands critique. I argue Wilde’s use of French Decadence functions as a code for types of art and sexuality that were not permissible to express in the social and legal environment of England in the late 19th century. French Decadence exemplified contrasting and complementary ideas of beauty and perversity which Wilde incorporated into his own writing. From his engagement with French Decadent art arose an idealised vision of Paris as a region where individuals may practice unconventional types of art and sexuality with greater freedom in comparison to the oppressive moral atmosphere of England. In Wilde’s works, modern Paris holds affinities with the Classical Mediterranean world not only through her literature, but through her law. After 1791, sodomy was no longer a criminal offense in France: this legal circumstance in combination with the unrestrained eroticism in French art produced a tempting fantasy of sexual tolerance in France at the fin-de-siècle.

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