Category Archives: Exercises

Reflections on Our Learning in this Course (Exercise #8)

Due:  By the end of the day, Sunday, December 2, 2012.

For our last group exercise of the course, we’ll be doing some group reflection on our common learning this quarter.  In the space below (and for online visitors, in the comments section), please respond to one of the following prompts (you may do more than one different prompt if you feel so inclined).

CHOICE 1:  Pick a favorite moment, passage, or visual/audio contribution from this blog (from any of the blog posts, exercises, the Twitter role play, etc.) and reflect in writing on what that moment taught you about our class topic, about the texts, about the nature of learning in this type of course, or anything else you feel was important for you to learn.

CHOICE 2:  Self-record a brief “video essay”–no more than 2 minutes long–with your mobile phone, digital camera, or other recording device, in which you reflect on your learning in class this quarter, and post it to this blog (the easiest way to do this is via uploading your video to youtube first).  I’m leaving this option deliberately vague as a task: the video can be a self-recorded 2 minutes of you talking to the camera, you talking to other people, your voice as a voiceover to certain images or video, may include music, interviews of other people, show text and writing as you see fit, include impressions from daily life around campus, be a montage of images you’ve chosen with accompanying written text (put together as a short video, e.g. with iMovie or similar software), etc.–whatever you desire. Your goal is to give the class a glimpse of something important that you, personally, are taking away from this class, and that will be an individual thing.  Be creative!  This should be fun!


I’m grateful for the chance to acknowledge the many interesting contributions my classmates have made over the course of the past months, both in writing, on this blog, and in person, in class. It is hard to choose one contribution to single out, so I do not mean to say that this is the best or more interesting post, only that it struck me as I re-read most of the posts collected on this website, for its simplicity and directness. The post is entitled “A Wilde Family” and it relates the choice of Wilde to use the fictional voices of his sons in “The Decay of Lying” to the latent presence of families, more generally, in the case of Des Esseintes and Dorian Gray as protagonists of the novels they appear in, respectively. By bringing up the notion of family, linking it to the notion of tradition, and pointing out moments in those texts in which it is suggested that the two protagonists’ sense of sin, shame, neurosis, idiosyncrasy, deviance, perversion, what have you, may have been inherited from their family past, thus undermining the singularity of those personages. The issue of inheritance is absolutely crucial to the dominant intellectual trends of the 19th century (materialism, positivism, naturalism) and to the development of social-scientific methods to articulate the personhood of individuals, as is nicely illustrated, for example, in Peter Brooks’ recent book “Enigmas of Identity.” Moreover, it is not only a social-cultural-historical problem, but one internal to literary history, too (understood as overlapping with but not of a piece with social-cultural-historical history), one that tracks the problem of the emergence of literary style as a matter of historical epistemology (or of “the emergence of concepts,” as it has been put by some of its contemporary practitioners). In the blog post, the writer (“IPN”) asks, “How unique are Dorian and Des Esseintes? Are they truly revolutionary or are they just members of eccentric families?” The same could be asked of Decadent writing in general, to which one’s answer will inevitably bear upon the Modernist offsprings of some of these works and the register of their aesthetic temperaments. I am thankful to this post, and to the course in general, for making explicit the responsibility engendered by the burden of having to settle lineages, adjudicate and allot inheritance, and ultimately shape the course of things to come. – DJM



I was especially impressed and seduced by the post « On the Decay of Lying ,» from November 1rst, and which figures a beautiful Sestina with the words lying, mirror, veil,  art, life, and nature recurring throughout. The reason why I am choosing to write about this post today, is however not only because of the mastery and beauty of the poem, but perhaps even more because I admire the author for having chosen to express her view in this form. Although not saying anything explicitly about Wilde and his handling of these concepts, the poem has a definite Wildean feel, and successfully captures both an ethereal and mysterious atmosphere. It is like the intuition that something is slightly off, although the form and the language are so perfect, one hardly thinks twice about the relationship between the words, and what the poem is really saying (‘empty walls, which began lying,” “we erased nature,” “embraced to form a veil.”) Even more surprising to me, was that I found this poem nearly peaceful and beautiful—when, upon closer examination, what it is saying is actually quite harsh : “ lying,” “sacrifice,” “bickering,” “poignant pains,” “furious bits,” “spots of blood,” “broken,” “shattered…” and the list continues.  In a Wildean manner, the form and the content seem almost contradictory, the Sestina causing the poem to have a ‘nursery rhyme’ feel to it, what with the melody-like recurrence of words. Even though the word that appear are not beautiful in themselves, this singsong feel and the magical co-occurrence of some words appease the reader into looking past the mere harshness of the content.
I think this post and poem says a lot without trying too hard, and says it in a free, original, and heart-felt way—which is what I have been trying to work on. I tend to try to analyze everything critically and rarely let the more creative side of me express itself, especially if I have some analytical point to make about something. I even inject critical analyses in my creative writings at time. I think this poem captured Wilde’s ambiguity (form versus content, harsh topics sometimes expressed in very light manners…) in the loveliest of ways, and I think I needed to see it done to realize that something this creative can be just as –if not more—insightful, than any analytical piece.  — Post By CAN

Many of the posts I found most interesting came from our week reading Monsieur Vénus. Although I was inspired by a comment in a previous post to write about fidelity, I found the post on “Hair in Monsieur Vénus” fascinating. Hair as symbol became a recurring motif in several of the works we later read and discussing it in conversation with Rachilde’s work as well as artistic representations of the goddess Venus created a useful framework to return to later on in the course. Monsieur Vénus was the first work in which we began to examine the intersection of literature and the arts, particularly painting, which we  later discussed extensively in analyses of Against Nature, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Salome. We returned to Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, particularly the positioning of Venus’ hair, several times throughout the course. Analyzing various artistic media created a more complete representation of the Decadent movement. Because many writers in the Decadent movement relied on visual art and imagery in their narrative, a foundation in artists and important works of the period was critical to my understanding and analysis of works read this quarter. -KJO

It’s difficult to pick a single favorite moment of learning from contributions on this blog. With so many ideas in one place and all concerning a topic I find deeply interesting, I’ve inevitably found myself reading through blog posts, exercise answers from other students, and open forum contributions quite a bit. In part for this reason, the moment that I will focus on here is one of the exercises, which have the benefit of being the works of everyone in the class. I especially enjoyed the second exercise, the image and sound interpretation of “The Harlot’s House” by Wilde. I had hitherto never done anything quite like this in a class. It was fascinating to hear and see the emotional impulse that other students first felt from the poem. Learning how other students interpreted the poem through what other works it reminded them of was a way to think of other interpretations from what immediately came to mind for me in a more involved way. By simply looking at the images or listening to or watching the clips, first without reading students’ explanations for them, I was able to work out new ways of interpreting and thinking about the poem, without having them handed to me as directly. Then, I could read the students’ explanations and see if my understanding matched to theirs. When it didn’t, I was introduced to more ideas. In retrospect, this exercise seems especially important because of the nature of Wilde’s writing and the Decadent writing we have encountered, all of which defy singular interpretations.  –M.P.

Even though it may sound trivial, one moment of this class that struck me was at the beginning: I was not expecting this class to be so digital humanities oriented nor I was expecting to embody decadent and dandy-like characters in a Twitter role-play. When all this was announced during the first few class-sessions I was both astonished and worried. I had never took a part in anything alike, for –I guess– most of my professors hitherto have rather been ‘old school.’ However, I quickly found myself eager to read the different contributions of my peers and felt the responsibility to maintain my blog posts as good as possible. Symbolically, one of our first assignment entitled: “Introductions: Who and What We Are!” was, in my opinion, a very valuable moment: it is interesting to see where everybody is coming from and to see how everybody’s ideas in the blog have evolved over the course of the quarter. The fact that everybody’s ideas and thoughts are displayed on an online support is both challenging for the students and democratic. The transparency of the medium (Massive Open Online Course) serves an ideal of democratic sharing of knowledge and educational resources. Plus, it’s a very thrilling thing to know that our work has been read worldwide. -R.C.

I especially appreciated both the original distribution of depictions of Salome in art and the exercise when everyone discussed a specific depiction of Salome. The pieces of art themselves were beautiful and attested to the continuing importance of this story. Plus, I knew some of the paintings from before and really liked them. I also appreciated seeing which painting everyone chose to analyze because I always think it’s interesting to see what piques other people’s attentions and I appreciated the analysis of the paintings themselves, particularly because I had not looked at closely at some of the paintings as some of the analysts had and because I find myself sometimes struggling to analyze paintings, and so I valued the accessible analyses of the paintings. Further, I enjoyed seeing how depictions evolved over time and enjoyed contemplating how different historical moments might have informed interpretations of the Salome story, which then informed those paintings. – E.R.

My absolute favorite blog post of the quarter has to be Alcibiades’ post, “Lady Gaga – A Wildean Exploration of Art, Artifice, and Existence.” She drew Oscar Wilde out of the nineteenth century and thrust him into the twenty-first by applying his theory to contemporary popular artist, Lady Gaga. The blog entry shed new light on both figures and proved that Wilde’s aesthetics and his innovative, radical mind still lives on in our post-post-modern era. Aside from being a great exploration of Wilde’s theory of art put forward in his “Pen, Pencil, and Poison,” though, I think her post really encapsulated the kind of material an online blog allows us to work with.  Adding the actual YouTube video, for instance, not only allowed us to see exactly what Alcibiades was referring to, but also gave the post a more vibrant, interesting element that engaged the reader on an enjoyable level. It was this entertaining element that actually prompted me to share the link to her post on my friend’s Facebook wall. Spreading the post around on Facebook definitely got people outside of the class (and outside of humanities) interested in what she wrote, as well as in the ideas Wilde talks about. Appreciating and talking about Oscar Wilde this casual way with friends online was, for me, a definite highlight of the blog (and course) experience. I’m so glad something like Alcibiades’ post could be written for this class, and I definitely hope my future classes will allow for this sort of sharable creativity! – A.A.

Exquisite Corpse Interpretation

One of my favorite exercises was the very first one, where each person had to comment on a few lines from Baudelaire’s “Hymn to Beauty” and to translate these lines into his or her words. In contrast to the often challenging task of reading many lengthy journal posts, this short exercise (as well as the image and sound interpretation exercises) provided me with the instant gratification of being able to see everyone’s contribution simultaneously, as well as the bigger picture it creates. When I put together all the translations, I realized that the class created an “exquisite corpse” poem (how appropriate!) about beauty, which sounds very modern, contemporary, and in some places, quite funny. Here it is:

Hymn to Beauty – An “Exquisite Corpse” poem compiled from translations and explanations by the class
Beauty, are you from heaven or from hell?
You are both godly and diabolic,
Your gaze triggers sadness or joy,
For that reason, you could be compared to alcohol.
Looking into your eyes, I see both night and day
Smelling you, I smell the odor of a dark, damp night.
Your kiss is like medicine coming down to us through the ages
That can simultaneously cool down heroes and nurture children.

Do you emerge from the black abyss or do you come down from the stars?
Charmed destiny follows your petticoats like a dog.
Horror is charming as your other gems, murder is nothing but a quaint adornment
That teases and caresses at the service of Beauty.
Beauty, you lure a short-lived insect to its death
Then you are the warmth and brightness gracing that death.
The panting lover bending to his love
Is like a dead man yearning for his desired tomb.

What difference, then, from heaven or from hell,
O Beauty, monstrous in simplicity?
If your eye, your smile and your step opens for me the door
Of infinity that I love and never knew!
In whatever form beauty is made, it does not matter,
As long as you continue to be beautiful and entrancing,
The world will be better off and life will be more enjoyable.


What I particularly enjoyed about this class was discovering the true variance in Oscar Wilde’s work.  Before, I’d been familiar with The Picture of Dorian Gray and the plays, but I hadn’t understood that underneath the witticisms and cleverness of some of Wilde’s lighter works is a strong foundation of essays and stories, which provide a plethora of depth and complex analysis which I would never have expected.  Wilde did not merely write tales of flamboyant dandies speaking biting small talk over afternoon tea- he thought deeply about thorny ideas, and for me his most valuable and fascinating endeavor was his discourse on the meaning of art.
Though it was one of the last readings in the class, I found the most engaging and significant work of the quarter to be The Portrait of Mr. W.H.  Perhaps the line that screamed to me was “Art, even the art of fullest scope and widest vision, can never really show us the external world. All that it shows us is our own soul.”  I think this one line can be applied to any of the Wilde works which we read- in Dorian Gray, for instance, there is a literal application: Dorian actually sees his soul in the portrait.  Then there is Pen, Pencil, and Poison, in which Wilde labels a murderer’s work as “art,” finding for himself something expressive and meaningful in the manner of committing murder- an interesting point of revelation, for what does it reveal about Wilde’s own soul, when his speaker speaks of the inspiring “art” of murder.  And of course, in The Portrait of Mr. W.H., we see that art is more a mirror than a separate entity- we read into things based on our own experiences, our own predilections, our own biases.  We do not see a general significance when we look at art, so skewed are we by our own perspectives.
I think understanding this idea has now led me to understanding so much of what we have done this quarter in the class.  It is directly relevant to many of the exercises we did- for example, when we did the creative interpretations based on The Harlot’s House, each of us put forward images or videos of what we ourselves associated with the poem.  The sheer variety of what we came up with serves the argument that one single piece of art- one single paged poem- will offer specific meanings to each person who reads it.  The same was alluded to when we looked at the many renderings of Salomé in art- each artist skewed Salomé in a different fashion, because they saw in her their own idiosyncratic understanding of her plight and her actions.  And when we did the Twitter exercise with Dorian Gray characters, we picked characters and, in attempting to have them speak via our own voices, we were forced to find ourselves in them.
So I suppose what I most appreciate about our quarter’s journey through Decadent literature, and through the works of Oscar Wilde, was the way in which it affected how I view art, and also how I attempt to understand these personal views of mine. -J.S.W.

I loved the twitter role play. The part that I thought was particularly interesting was the interaction between the characters from different books. We have connected plenty of ideas in class, but in some ways the short tweets brought out similarities I hadn’t even considered before. For example, I had never thought about how Raoule and Dorian might interact, but I think they have much to talk about and would get along well. Jacques might have to run for his money. The dialogue between Dorian and Des Esseintes was also very interesting and entertaining. It was like Dorian finally meeting his idol. Throughout the class we have connected the works we read under the general umbrella of Decadence. By teasing out the similarities we start to piece together what that movement really means. I think looking at the character interactions across books was a very telling and smart way to do that. It would be so fantastic and revealing if we could really hear these characters in conversation!  IPN

Youth, death, and art – these themes recurred through our readings, discussions, and posts.  I particularly enjoyed some of the insights on these themes in the blog post entitled “Eternal Youth and momentary Pleasure” from week five.  The author points out Dorian Gray’s obsession with youth, and juxtaposes this observation with the insight that “death can be a stylistic action…which actually makes life more beautiful.”  I appreciated this passage because it points to the idea of life as art, a theme that we cultivated through our class conversations.  Life as art is full of paradoxes and contradictions, as are Dorian’s beliefs, as the author of this post indicates.  There is a decadent intrigue with death, but also with living every moment to its sensory fullest.  What really impacted me from this post was the return to “The Artist,” where “the love of man that dieth not, and a symbol of the sorrow of man that endureth forever,” is reformed into “the image of The Pleasure that abideth for a Moment.”  Here, perhaps, we come as close as we should to reconciling contradictions, such as the desire for decadent moments of life and the beauty of death.  For although many of the ideas we explored do not necessarily make sense when considered together, they can be morphed from one to the next, into a layered, contradicting, yet decadently beautiful sense.  The overwhelming pleasure that Dorian sought and the “Pleasure that abideth for a Moment” are indeed made more beautiful by their tragic, artful, end.   Perhaps this is part of the cause for the decadent obsession with death – the power of sensory pleasures diminishes in beauty if the pleasures are not transient.  Death is art as much as life.   – YG


I have to admit that I can’t pick just one favorite moment for this class; it’s truly been full of pleasant surprises. Starting with the beginning of class when we learned we were going to be using a very digital take on the humanities, throughout specific exercises, but also using different mediums to discuss literature. I was skeptical and nervous at first much like R.C. wrote in his response, but as soon as I felt I had gotten the hang of using the WordPress, Twitter etc. I quickly got very excited and interested in technology as a method of interpreting literature. One of my favorite exercises would definitely have to be interpreting text through audio and visual tools. Seeing what pictures, paintings, dances, music, and videos my classmates chose to express how they had understood and felt about a piece of literature is truly a beautiful concept to me. Maybe this is because I am a musician, and this kinesthetic take on reading is quite new and exciting for me, but I have to say I loved viewing my classmates’ contributions. The Harlot’s House exercise was especially interesting, because the imagery in Wilde’s poetry is so strong. I believe the use of the digital humanities, having now observed it and done it myself, is a stimulating way of considering literature. Not only that, but it keeps the students, accountable but also involved. Being able to view your classmates’ thoughts, and the ways in which they chose to express themselves about literature is also very helpful, inspiring even. Over all, it was not a specific exercise, or moment that I can say was my favorite, but the general setup of the class and the way in which it was so interactive. I hope to encounter this much more during my time at Stanford. -MCR

I would have to say that one of my favorite parts of the class was exercise six, where we were asked to post our favorite depiction of Salomé, or the one that we found most intriguing. I was particularly fascinated by the absolute variety in the posts, the depictions of Salomé ranged from sweet and innocent to dark and lustful. It was very interesting to see the range in styles from the very early to the later, much more provocative stages. This taught me so much about visual interpretation as a whole; my image of Salomé does not necessarily match up with that of my peers’, and that’s an important distinction to make. In addition, I loved being able to expand and alter my impression of Salomé based on the other interpretations of my classmates. Although it was quite tough to pinpoint a particular moment for me that was most pivotal in my learning, this exercise remained my favorite, and one that I will continue to think about even after the conclusion of this course. -MG

For my post on Flaubert’s  Temptation of St. Anthony, I initially was planning to write on the scene with Lust and Death. I was up to my usual procrastinating tendencies, however, and when I checked the blog, I was initially dismayed that someone had already posted on that topic. This quickly changed to sheer delight—the post, entitled, “A Conversation Between Death and Lust” by YG, was truly extraordinary. It perfectly captures the tone of the scene, and functions as a compelling extension of Flaubert’s work. I was also appreciative of the original approach; the dialogue format was refreshing. I only wish that I could have come up with this myself! I’d also like to take this time to thank the class for the wonderful discussion throughout the quarter; it has been thoroughly engaging and enlightening. Alcibiades.

Not to sound cliché, but many of my favorite moments from this class came from just being immersed in the Wildean intelligence and wit which have come to define him, both as a man and as an author. In that respect, it seems obvious that my favorite texts in the course were those which exemplified Wilde’s ability to combine vicious humor with his inimitable charm and subtlety. For example, both ‘The Canterville Ghost’ and ‘The Decay of Lying’ are superb stories which are simultaneously able to make cogent points about the state of society, but in a way that makes them eminently readable. By far the greatest compliment I could pay to Wilde, no that he would ever deign to accept my praise, is that even when savagely critiquing aspects of ‘boring’ society, his stories and poems still manage to exude a boundless energy and joy. Wilde’s prose flows straight off the page, and simply being immersed in the complexity and beauty of his prose would be enough to make me love this course. Perhaps I could capture it best in the following manner: only a Wilde story could both inspire such titles as ‘Pragmatism & Hylo-Idealism’, while also being one of the funniest stories I have ever had the pleasure of reading. As someone whose pipe (and I mean pipe) dream is to write in the field of comedy, Wilde’s stories represent the pinnacle of what it means to write ‘smart comedy’. No lowbrow jokes for Wilde, no idle waste of words, but simply a true commitment to exposing the flaws of the society which he disdained in the most intellectually absorbing way possible. So, for enabling me to pin another comedic idol onto my wall, I am truly thankful for what this course has allowed me to experience.  –DF

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Hyperlinking Wilde’s Salome (Exercise #7)

For this textual interpretation exercise, please pick a short passage (one sentence to a full speech) from Wilde’s Salome (English or French version), reproduce it here, and start annotating it by inserting hyperlinks to words, ideas, or concepts you find interesting, provocative, or puzzling.  You may also start hyperlinking one of the passages that others have already reproduced below.  Your hyperlinks can link to anything on the internet–something you have written yourself (such as a blog post on this blog or elsewhere), or any content you find online.  The goal is to use the hyperlinks to help illuminate and enrich Oscar Wilde’s Salome, so that readers who click on these links are guided in their understanding of the text.  Don’t forget to add your initials somewhere near your contribution, e.g. in brackets [PDT].

Optional:  If you like, you may add a sentence or two after the hyperlinked Salome passage, explaining what you did and why.


Due: Thursday, 11/15, by the end of the day (let me know if you need more time).

Hint:  You may choose to do Exercise #6 instead of (or in addition to) this exercise.


SCENE:  A great terrace in the palace of Herod, set above the banqueting-hall.  Some soldiers are leaning over the balcony.  To the right there is a gigantic staircase, to the left, at the back, an old cistern surrounded by a wall of green bronze.  Moonlight.

THE YOUNG SYRIAN:  How beautiful is the Princess Salomé to-night!

THE PAGE OF HERODIAS:  Look at the moon! How strange the moon seems! [1] She is like a woman rising from a tomb.  She is like a dead woman.

THE YOUNG SYRIAN:  She has a strange look.  She is like a little princess who wears a yellow veil, and whose feet are of silver.  She is like a princess who has little white doves for feet.  You would fancy she was dancing.

THE PAGE OF HERODIAS:  She is like a woman who is dead.  She moves very slowly.

Noise in the banqueting hall.

[1] Warning: may be disturbing. I was immediately reminded of this scene when we discussed the moon in class. It is a bit anachronistic, but this Surrealist interpretation of the moon conveys the sense of foreboding and madness found in Salomé. Alcibiades.



Page 590, middle of page.

Salomé: Thy hair is horrible. It is covered with mire and dust. It is like a crown of thorns (1) which they have placed on thy forehead. It is like a knot of black serpents writhing round thy neck (2). I love not thy hair… It is thy mouth that I desire, Jokanaan. Thy mouth is like a band of scarlet on a tower of ivory (3, 4). It is like a pomegranate cut with a knife of ivory (5). The pomegranate-flowers that blossom in the garden of Tyre (6), and are redder than roses, are not so red. The red blasts of trumpets, that herald the approach of kings, and make afraid the enemy, are not so red. Thy mouth is redder than the feet of those who treat the wine in the wine-press. Thy mouth is redder than the feet of the doves who haunt the temples and are fed by the priests (7). It is redder than the feet of him who cometh from a forest where he hath slain a lion, and seen gilded tigers (8). Thy mouth is like a branch of coral that fishers have found i the twilight of the sea, the coral that they keep for the kings (9)…! It is like the vermilion that the Moabites find in the Moab, the vermilion that the kings take from them (10). It is like the bow of the King of the Persians, that is painted with vermilion, and is tipped with coral. There is nothing in the world as red as thy mouth…Let me kiss thy mouth.

(1) Allusion to the spiky headdress that Jesus was forced to wear at is crucifixion, whilst the soldiers were mocking him for being a king.
(2) Reminiscent of Medusa, or of snake-charmers.
(3) The color scarlet is associated with licentiousness and adultery; take, for example, the novel “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, in which a scarlet letter is pinned to a woman accused of adultery, as a mark of shame. The Revelations, the color of the Beast and the clothing of the woman who rides on it are said to be scarlet.
(4) The “ivory tower” is an epithet used for the Virgin Mary. See
(6) In Ezekiel 28: 11-17, Satan is referred to as “the King of Tyre”.
(7) The dove is often seen as a representative of the Holy Spirit or the Church. As for their red feet, some claim that it is red as a consequence of the blood spilt by martyrs, who established the foundations of the Universal Church.
(8) I have no idea what this is alluding to. Anybody have an idea?
(9) When Perseus killed Medusa, her blood is said to have flown into the sea and formed serpentine rock formations–i.e. coral.
(10) Vermilion, otherwise known as cinnabar, is a red pigment used in paints etc. In Ezekiel, the Babylonians of Chaldea (supposedly a wicked, immoral group of people) are said to portrayed in vermilion. Moab is the historical name for a strip of land in modern-day Jordan, which had a convoluted (and often antagonistic) relationship with Israel.


(ER) from p. 584

THE NUBIAN: The gods of my country are very fond of blood. Twice in the year we sacrifice to them young men and maidens; fifty young men and a hundred maidens. But it seems we never give them quite enough, for they are very harsh to us.

THE CAPPADOCIAN: In my country there are no gods left. The Romans have driven them out. There are some who say that they have hidden themselves in the mountains, but I do not believe it. Three nights I have been on the mountains seeking them everywhere. I did not find them. And at last I called them by their names, and they did not come. I think they are dead.

[With my hyperlinks, I did primarily one of three things: 1) link to things that came to mind when seeing the word, such as the link to Brand Nubians for “Nubian” or the picture of Moses with “on the mountains” 2) link to historical info about the people speaking, as in my links to the OED or 3) link to ideas or ways of thinking about the text that came to mind, as with my link to Spivak’s essay “Can the subaltern speak,” the link to Nietzsche’s “Zarathustra” and the link to Milton’s “Lycidas.” I chose this passage because the discussion of a colonized people about their religion really interested me, as colonization generally does.]

– ER

Allusions to “Song of Songs” in Salome’s Attempted Seduction of Yokanaan

Yokanaan, I am amorous of thy body ! Thy body is white like the lilies of a field that the mower hath never mowed.[1] … Neither the roses in the garden of the Queen of Arabia, nor the feet of the

dawn when they light on the leaves, nor the breast of the moon when she lies on the breast of the sea[2]. . . .

Thy hair is like clusters of grapes, like the clusters of black grapes that hang from the vine-trees of Edom in the land of the Edomites.[3] Thy hair is like the cedars of Lebanon, like the great cedars

of Lebanon that give their shade to the lions and to the robbers who would hide themselves by day. [4] The long black nights, the nights when the moon hides her face, when the stars are afraid, are not so black… I love not thy hair. … It is thy mouth that I desire, Yokanaan. Thy mouth is like a thread of scarlet on a tower of ivory.[5] It is like a pomegranate cut with a knife of ivory. [6]The pomegranate-flowers that blossom in the gardens of Tyre, and are redder than roses, are not so red. [7]

 … Let me kiss thy mouth. [8]

 By Voland

[1] (2:1) I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.
[2] (6:10) Who is she that looketh forth as the dawn, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?
[3] (7:8)Thy stature is like to a palm-tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.
[4] (5:15) His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold; his aspect is like Lebanon, excellent as the cedars. And, (7:4) Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes as the pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim; thy nose is like the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.
[5] (7:4) Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.
[6] (4:3) Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy mouth is comely; thy temples are like a pomegranate split open behind thy veil.
[7] (6:11) I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley, and to see whether the vine flourished and the pomegranates budded.
[8](1:2) Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
From p. 587:
FIRST SOLDIER: Princess, our lives belong to you, but we cannot do what you have asked of us. And indeed, it is not of us that you should ask this thing.
SALOME: (looking at the YOUNG SYRIAN): Ah!
THE PAGE OF HERODIAS: Oh! What is going to happen? I am sure that some misfortune will happen. (1)
SALOME (going up to the YOUNG SYRIAN): You will do this thing for me, will you not, Narraboth? You will do this thing for me. I have always been kind to you. You will do it for me. I would but look at this strange prophet. Men have talked so much of him. Often have I heard the Tetrarch (2) talk of him. I think the Tetrarch is afraid of him. Are you, even you, also afraid of him, Narraboth? (3)
(1): This repeated phrase, especially in this scene, reminded me of Basil and Henry’s interaction in the beginning of Dorian Gray. Basil clearly feels that something bad will happen if Henry meets Dorian, and yet Henry ignores Basil’s worries, much as the Young Syrian largely ignores the Page’s worries.
(2): When I was reading, I looked up some background information about Herod, the Tetrarch, as I knew very little about the Biblical story.
(3): Salomé’s interaction with the Young Syrian in this scene reminded me very much of the scene in Chapter 3 of Prosper Mérimée’s Carmen when Carmen taunts José and convinces him to let the smugglers past the town gates.

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Salome: Image and Text Interpretation (Exercise #6)

For this exercise, please choose one visual representation (image, video) of Salome or John the Baptist, either from the PowerPoint in class or one that you find on your own, reproduce it here via the Upload/Insert media link in WordPress, and write a brief paragraph about it.  How does or doesn’t this specific image/video relate to Wilde’s Salome, and why?  What sort of light does your choice of image/video shed on Wilde’s play, as you understand it, by comparison or contrast?

Feel free to comment on other students’ postings, too (but keep it brief).  As always, don’t forget to add your initials to everything you post.  Enjoy!

Due: Thursday, 11/15, by the end of the day (let me know if you need more time).

Hint:  Instead of (or in addition to) Exercise #6, you may also do Exercise #7 (same deadline).


(start inserting your contributions here)

For this short contribution, I chose a painting by a ‘not very well-known’ Austrian orientalist artist, Rudolph Ernst (1854-1932). The painting is named “Salomé and the Tigers.” This very nice canvas was painted in the end of the nineteenth century. Ernst lived part of his life in Vienna and Paris and he belonged to the Academy of Fine Arts of Vienna. He studied with Anselm Feuerbach, the leading classicist painter of the German 19th-century school. He also travelled in Spain and Morocco where a certain sense of exoticism made a great impression on him. Indeed, most of his paintings draw on the aesthetic of the mysterious Orient and its trite clichés (e.g. hookah smokers, harems, imams after prayer, etc.)

In this fabulous painting, one can see Salomé going down the marble stairs. She radiates majestically and designate with her hand one of the two tigers at the foot of the stairs in a nonchalant manner. Interestingly enough, in this painting, Salomé is represented with her cloths on. There is no trace of any veil whatsoever nor there is a trace of Jokanaan’s head. The three living subjects of this canvas foreshadow an interesting geometric triangulation. Along with the magnificent horizontal yielded by the two amphorae representing elephants on both sides of the stairs, the symbolic geometry inscribes itself harmoniously in this Oriental scenery. In this painting, the artist chose to accentuate the ‘wild,’ dangerous, and potentially ‘fatal’ features of Salomé’s personality. On this score, the colors are preponderantly yellowish and dark, as if to reinforce the tigers’ stripes and the ‘croqueuse d’hommes’ (man-eater) side of Salomé. In short, I would say that Salomé is represented in this painting, so to speak, as a nineteenth-century ‘cougar.’

Tigers aren’t mentioned that much in Wilde’s Salomé. However, a quite interesting instance can be found when Salomé is rhapsodizing about Jokanaan’s mouth, which she wants to kiss: “Tes cheveux sont horribles. Ils sont couverts de boue et de poussière. On dirait une couronne d’épines qu’on a placée sur ton front. On dirait un nœud de serpents noirs qui se tortillent autour de ton cou. Je n’aime pas tes cheveux… C’est de ta bouche que je suis amoureuse, Iokanaan.  […] Elle est plus rouge que les pieds des colombes qui demeurent dans les temples et sont nourries par les prêtres. Elle est plus rouge que les pieds de celui qui revient d’une forêt où il a tué un lion et vu des tigres dorés.  […] Il n’y a rien au monde d’aussi rouge que ta bouche… laisse-moi baiser ta bouche.” -R.C.

I have added the famous early 17th century Caravaggio painting entitled “Salome with the Head of John the Baptist,” currently held at the National Gallery in London, England. The art historian Michael Fried, in his recent book The Moment of Caravaggio, the published version of his  A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, sees this work (and other Caravaggio paintings) as trying to unite within one pictorial accomplishment both immersion and specularity (the former being loosely synonymous with “absorption,” a pet concept of Fried’s, the latter loosely synonymous with “detachment”). As viewers, we wonder whether Salome (here rather “tamely” depicted, compared to the extravagances of her later, more expressionistic incarnations) is looking away, beyond the frame of the painting, because she has JUST looked at the disembodied head and, swiftly thereafter, recoiled, or because she has YET to look at the head, and is avoiding doing so, knowing what the full taking-in of the deed might entail. In noticing all this (“this” being the ambiguity of Salome’s gaze, somewhere between avoidance and acceptance), of course, we, TOO, “look away” or “avoid looking” in much the same way. Her looking away, the status of her looking away, is bound up in her agency with regard to the deed that has been committed; our looking away, the status of our looking away, is bound up in our agency as beholders, and in our determining what the painting is ABOUT or what, exactly, is being shown us. I think that the painterly immediacy and temporal unity of Caravaggio’s work stands at a suggestive contrast with the relatively more temporally extended theatrical Salome of Oscar Wilde, where, especially in written, non-performed form (if a play can be a play apart from its performance), aural rather than specular elements have the upper hand. Nonetheless, inspired by Caravaggio, we may ask ourselves from whose perspective the action in Oscar Wilde’s play takes place and, moreover, how much that perspective actively shapes our perception of Salome and her actions…how and where, in other words, the play is asking us to look, and to what extent it allows us, like Caravaggio’s painting, to look away, with or without Salome herself. DJM

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

This representation of Salomé is by the Czech photographer Frantisek Drtikol, and was taken in the 1920s. I chose it for its risqué quality, but also because of the quality of the representation as a piece of art (art in and of itself) , and finally for the way it sheds light on Drtikol’s own interpretation of Salomé’s story (art with a clear angle.) The most apparent and striking element of this representation is of course the orgasmic posture and emotions that the young woman, placed at the center and which we can easily understand to be Salomé, is conveying. The head of John the Baptist lies between her legs, and, although it is looking up, it is clearly the source of her pleasure. Upon closer inspection, however, there is much more going on in this representation than a mere sexual transgression. The subtle game of lights, which could go unnoticed if one chose to focus on the main “action” of the representation, is also noteworthy. Indeed, Salomé is trapped between darkness and light, the representation being vertically cut down the middle of the picture, which also coincides with the middle of Salomé’s head – we could argue that this perhaps portrays the typical dichotomy between reason and passion—where passion is clearly triumphing. John the Baptist’s head, however, is placed in the area of light—the white portion of the image, and one could almost say that this light is emanating from the chopped head. The picture is however somewhat stiff, despite the apparent “relachement” or releasing of emotions that seems to be happening. Indeed, her back is in a straight line, as if she were fighting back the surge of emotions running through her body, and her head alone is at an angle. Her ribs stick out the side of her stomach, showing that she is trying to retain her breath, rather than release it. Her breast point straight out, perpendicular to her back, in a missile-like representation, revealing the danger of the seductress and the figure of the woman, despite her apparent vulnerability.
What also caught my attention in this representation was its ambiguity of form. I was not sure whether it was a painting, a pencil sketch, or even a photograph. It seems that the woman is part of a picture, but that the head and the portion to the left is a drawing (pencil or charcoal.)
Finally, I like the fact that the photographer chose to “complete the story” from Wilde’s Salomé. Whereas Wilde ends the story very abruptly after Salomé gets the head of John the Baptist on a platter and kisses it, she is killed. There is some suggestion as to the fact that she has been “devirginized” of sorts, but it is all fairly ambiguous and rushed. She is dead before one can even say “John the Baptist.” In this representation, that which is suggested, that which is tacit in the story, is brought into the open. Her pleasure upon receiving the head is displayed in the most vivid and explicit way, and I am tempted to say “ha! Knew it.” – CAN

Gonna mess with me? Bring it.  That’s what this Salome seems to be saying, and she says it with blasé arrogance.  Wilde’s Salome is also a force to be reckoned with, but she is more dramatic and hysterical than this visual rendition.  In the play, she begins as seemingly innocent, and then evolves into a manipulative temptress, and ends in histrionic victory.  In contrast, the image makes it appear as though Salome performed such perverted acts frequently, and was ready to take down the next person who didn’t do as she wished; it doesn’t look like this is her first time.  However, considering Wilde’s Salome through the lens of this image allows us to think of what Salome embodies – whether seduction, lust, power, corruption, or anything else – in a more permanent sense.  This Salome looks like she will live on, and that perverted power is nothing new to her. – YG

Here, we see an image from a 2008 production of the Strauss opera of Salome put on in London’s Covent Garden theater. Immediately, the image is very striking because of the contrast between the splattered red and virginal white, two colours whose juxtaposition often signifies the ‘deflowering’ or penetrating of a supposedly virtuous female character- one could contrast this image with the ‘handkerchief spotted with strawberries’ that is seen in Othello and is used to signify Desdemona’s adultery. As well as this, this image seeks to convey Salome’s activity and her position of power in the events of the play, as she clasps the head of Jokanaan to her breast, regarding the world with what seems to be a crazed devotion. While Salome may not be a character we wish to emulate morally, this image and the play itself are exemplars of strong, active, intelligent female characters, yet they come from a time where prejudiced social constructions of gender had not yet been broken. Herodias’ page states in the play that ‘you look too much upon Salome’, and it is appropriate that this renders Salome as the object of desire, as it always made abundantly clear that she controls the desires of the men around her – note Herod’s pitiful begging for Salome to ‘dance for me, I beseech you.’ This linguistic dominance is mirrored in the image by the way Salome stands alone at the front of the stage, in a spotlight directly focused on her. Traditional masculine power has become subverted, and all that we are left with is the image of Salome, standing frightened, yet proud of the way she has taken the head of Jokanaan. Blood has been spilled, but Salome is just as much predator as she is prey, leaving the audience with only her and the grim eyes of the Prophet to stare at.- DF

This painting of Salome was done by a little-known British artist named Caroline Smith in 2010. It is a marked departure from the usual tone of Salome portrayals: instead of a somber oil painting with subdued tones, Smith uses bright, almost cartoon-ish colors. Her imagery is simplistic and geometric, rather than excruciatingly detailed, and it creates the effect of a street mural rather than a museum piece. The effect of this brightly colored, more simplistic style of painting that it creates a different, perhaps non-traditional tone around its central character. In particular, it does so by  highlighting certain elements of Salome over others. For instance, Smith keeps the body of Salome completely white: but this in turn allows the black veils and the flaming red hair to stand out as more symbolically important.  Bright red hair, for example, suggests a fiery nature, passion, even madness. Each of these things, however – even madness – suggests a level of individual freedom. Correspondingly, the black veil is obvious as it coils around her arms and between her legs. The curved lines and interweaving suggest a level of sensuality around Salome, another sign of feminine agency. What is significantly absent from the piece, however, is a sense of shame or somberness. Her unconcealed nakedness, the arms thrown above her head, and the flowing long hair suggest a kind of freedom that she revels in. You could even mistake her posture for one who is still dancing, even though the head lies on the floor beside her. The bright colors only add to this effect. This is a marked departure from Renaissance-era paintings especially where Salome is shown to be ashamed or fearful of her own act. On the flip-side, however, the moon (or sun) glares at her with a judging look, and the sky is full of watching eyes. The viewer gets the sense that negativity comes from these surrounding gazes – but not from the conscience of Salome herself. As this is a more modern painting (done by a female artist), perhaps Smith is gesturing on some level at Salome’s bold possession of agency – and the corresponding condemnation of that agency by others. – [A.A.]

The component of Wilde’s play “Salome” that I would like to see visually represented most would be the dance of the seven veils. As we discussed in class, Wilde merely writes, “SALOME dances the dance of the seven veils,” (600). The dance itself is really left up to the imagination of the reader or director of the play. I searched “Salome dance of the seven veils” in Google images to see what kind of visual representations were provided. The majority, like the image above, pictured a woman (almost always very scantily clad) with a large piece of cloth twirled around her body. The dance is obviously supposed to be very sensual. This poster for the Salome opera uses this seductive dance as the hook to draw audiences in. I think this would be a similar stage representation to what Wilde would have created. In his play, Wilde delves mainly into Salome’s experience and her motives. For Salome, her reason for wanting Jokanaan’s head is because he scorned her love and desires. Her passions seem to drive her actions. She channels this energy into her seductive dance because she knows that it will convince Herod to give her whatever she wants. She uses her sexuality, expressed in this dance, to get revenge. I would be interested to see what a Renaissance version of this play would be and what the dance of the seven veils would look like. If the paintings are any indication, I think the dance would be very different, more prude and less sensual, than later versions such as this one. How would Herod’s obedience be explained without an overt sexual component?  IPN

Onorio Marinari’s painting, called Salomé with the Head of the Baptist, was particularly striking to me. Unlike most of the nineteenth century depictions of Salomé, she is fully clothed, but at least for me, this does not seem to detract from the intensity and sensual mood of the portrait. I think my favorite part of this picture is the face of Salomé: beautiful, expressive, but also tender and innocent. She is clutching the face of John the Baptist tenderly, which is interesting seeing as she was the one who requested him to be killed. If one didn’t know the story of Salomé, perhaps he or she might consider Salomé to be a sympathetic character in the play after looking at this portrait.

Accompanied by the attached piece “Vision of Salomé” (Archibald Joyce), we can almost visualize the delicate and beautiful yet still very powerful Salomé slowly swaying to the music in the dance of the seven veils. Like Salomé herself, this piece may seem light and carefree (it is in fact a waltz) initially, but eventually we see that maintains a darker subtlety underneath the thin façade. It seems almost fitting to me that this song was featured in the 1997 movie Titanic, because it is a beautiful piece that is foreshadowing of a horrible event to come. -MG

This is a short video of the “Dance of the Seven Veils” from the Royal Opera House production of Salomé. It is interesting to note how this short clip deviates from the plot of Wilde’s play as well as from the way we might have imagined this dance. First, as the stage upon which to perform her dance, Salomé chooses none other than Jokanaan’s cistern (covered by cage-like bars). She performs a striptease dance around the opening of this cistern while throwing the removed garments directly into Jokanaan’s cell. This slight embellishment of the plot is quite powerful because now the “Dance of Seven Veils” is no longer for Herod’s eyes alone, but is also meant for Jokanaan, whose entrapment in the cistern forces him to witness Salomé’s dance. She twirls her garments above the cistern, provoking him as a trapped wild animal. The second interesting element here is that while the dance is undoubtedly erotic, it is so in a grotesque way, and not a youthful and common way. The directors of this operatic production clearly imagined a different kind of Salomé – one with jerky movement, a wild, ungraceful and neurotic sexuality. I find this use of artistic license convincing and faithful to the decadent character of the play.   (Voland)

Dance of the 7 Veils

I spent some time on YouTube looking at clips of different productions of the Salomé opera, because I was very curious to see what the Dance of the 7 Veils has been made to look like.  As we discussed in class, the dance is mentioned in a very short and almost comically unnoticeable sentence of stage directions- and yet we know from context that it is one of the most significant moments of the entire play.  There were many interesting versions of the dance- but I found it interesting that in this version, there were 6 other women in veils, making Salomé, quite literally, the 7th veil.  This sort of image is very different from other clips, in which Salomé dances on her own.  While aesthetically, the addition of the 6 ladies is very appealing- we get to see a beautiful synchronization of motion- I think the productions in which Salomé dances alone are more accurate.  Herod wishes to see Salomé dance, not Salomé and her six handmaids- I think it is important that she alone transfixes Herod by her physically aesthetic movements.  In any case, all of the clips were interesting to watch- I’d encourage others to look at the many different videos on YouTube to get a better idea of what this elusive dance might actually look like. -J.S.W.

This image of Salome, painted by Titian in 1515, predates Oscar Wilde’s play by almost four centuries. From Titan’s painting, the viewer gets a sense of Salome unrecognizable in Wilde’s drama. Wilde portrays Salome as a femme fatale, a seductress who uses the Dance of the Seven Veils to manipulate her stepfather into ordering the beheading of Jokanaan, whom she claims to love. In this painting by Titian, Salome is dressed fairly modestly, her pose and looks echoing those of pious women. Although she carries John the Baptist’s head on a platter (often left out of representations around Wilde’s time), she looks away, her gaze upon something to the viewer’s right. Another child-like figure appears to Salome’s right, gazing up at her. Neither look at the head of John the Baptist. Although Salome’s expression comes across as nearly mournful, we get none of the necrophiliac undertones evident in Wilde’s Salome. In Titian’s representation, Salome comes across as a chaste, Biblical figure rather than the femme fatale Wilde depicts. -KJO


I found this piece to be immediately striking—it is a sculpture of white marble, simply entitled Salomé.  Jan Van Oost, a Flemish artist, created it in 1990, and it was displayed in the Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, until it was stolen earlier this year. This piece is particularly notable because it completely shatters our conception of Salomé: pre 19th century, she is conventionally depicted as a pious ingénue, devout and demure, deceived by her incestuous mother; post 19th century, she is the femme fatale, naked and nubile, Huysman’s “goddess of immortal Hysteria.” Despite the wildly different interpretations, nearly all artistic renderings of Salomé emphasize her physical form. Van Oost radicalizes Salome by removing her, and in this, he suggests that her body is not as important as her actions. This gives a new level of complexity to Salomé’s agency.

Nevertheless, Van Oost is faithful to the Wildean tradition: there is a sense of unrequited longing as Salomé attempts to access Jokanaan. It is interesting to note that Salomé reaches towards Jokanaan’s eyes, and not his lips. Jokanaan’s “pomegranate” mouth was the initial source of her desire, but in her final monologue, Salomé bemoans the fact that Jokanaan never “saw” her or “looked” at her. This seems to suggest that an emotional connection may have been more important than the physical one.  Van Oost recognizes this and captures it quite accurately.

Furthermore, Van Oost juxtaposes life and death by representing Salome through the outstretched hand and Joakanaan through the skull. Van Oost purposely skews the chronology: in the Wilde version, Salomé is killed nearly instantly after she is presented with Jokanaan’s still-dripping head on the charger; there could not be enough time for it to entirely decay. This  creates a stark and unsettling contrast between the flesh-covered fingers and the bare cranium. And though Salomé appears more robust than Jokanaan, her hand is severed, which suggests that this moment is captured after both are dead.

Ultimately, Van Oost provides a new, revolutionary perspective on Wilde’s Salomé. I’d be really interested to hear other responses/reactions in the comment section.


This interpretation of Salomé’s dance comes from a 1923 silent film based on Wilde’s Salomé. The Art Nouveau feel of the scene, and most of the film, from what I’ve watched, has a similarly surreal atmosphere to the play. Everything feels slow and many movements or sequences are repeated or echoed (such as the four dancers surrounding Salomé and the collection of dancers wearing large hats), similar to the pace of the play and Wilde’s frequent use of repeated and echoed phrases. This clip shows, however, a distinctly more emotional element to Salomé’s behavior than is demonstrated in the play. As Salomé begins the dance in this clip, she has a look of absolute terror. As her dance progresses, she begins to look more wild, culminating in her spinning around and throwing herself on the floor, all while covered in a veil. From the play, it would seem that Salomé is rather fearless, and so her look of fright feels out of place to me. The wildness of her dancing is also in tension with the slow, steady manner she demonstrates in the play after having danced, when she demands from Herod the head of Jokanaan. At the same time, however, the emotions of Herod and Herodias seem quite appropriate. Herod looks absolutely desperate, rocking in his chair and staring with unhidden glee and fascination at Salomé’s dancing. Herodias will barely look at Salomé, her tense body language and angled position demonstrating a clear disapproval for the dancing. Above all else, this clip feels like a dream, just as almost all of Wilde’s play does. Though the emotions displayed in the clip during the dance are much more exaggerated than in Wilde’s work, this does not take away from the overall ambiance, which is quite similar to the original play. -M.P.


In this image we see Salomé leaning towards the severed head of John the Baptist.  The photo first appeared in Le Monde, the Parisian newspaper in 1987 claiming it was Oscar Wilde himself, in drag, dressed as his own character. For years the photo was thought to be of him, and many considered it to be an homage to Sarah Bernhardt, or a bold statement of sexual liberty. Disappointingly, the picture is not of Oscar Wilde, but of a Hungarian opera singer—Alice Guszalewicz. It was Merlin Holland, who expressed the first doubts regarding the photo, and said “My skepticism was founded on the fact that the nose was too beaked and aquiline and the lips weren’t full enough. Whatever anyone has said about Oscar and his naughtiness, he wasn’t the sort of person who would dress in women’s clothing and have himself photographed. It’s too vulgar.” You must admit though, that the resemblance between the two is uncanny. However disappointing this may be, the fact that people would assume this actually was Oscar Wilde, is indicative not only of his sexual tendencies, his decadence, but also his boldness. It’s almost as if it needs to be him to come to life, the opera singer just seems androgynous in the most asexual of ways and bland.


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Brainstorming Interpretation Questions for “Pen, Pencil and Poison” by Oscar Wilde


Today’s brainstorming is not about initial statements or opinions about the text we’ll be discussing, but instead about questions.  Please think of one or two excellent question(s) you think we should ask of this text today in order to investigate and discuss it as fully or deeply as possible.  Time: 2 minutes.

Here are the questions students came up with spontaneously, at the beginning of class: 

How does one classify this essay?  Is it biography? A form of creative nonfiction? How does Wainewright relate to Wilde? –KJO

Why did Oscar Wilde choose to write about this particular man, Thomas Wainewright?  -CAN

Why is the subtitle “Study in Green”? –IPN

Are Wilde’s appeals to “truth” in the essay meant to refer to an objective truth?  -MP

On what grounds can art be defined and judged?  -YG

Why does Wilde choose to write about Wainewright given that his literature alone is not worth remembering? –LN

Why is the biography of Wainewright, especially the discussion of his poisoning others, juxtaposed with his ideas about art and passages about art in this paper?  -ER

In what manner is Wainewright’s art affected by his dark past?  -?

Are the critic and description of works of art somehow similar to prose poetry? What about the art of poisons?  -RC

Why is it that Oscar Wilde puts poisoning or murder on the same artistic pedestal as writing or painting? –MCR

Why does Wilde leave the description of Wainewright’s crimes to the very end of the essay?  -LH

Why is the revelation of the poisoning so casually inserted and given little significance? –DF

What is the relationship between art and criminal activities, specifically, Wainewright’s criminal activities?  -MG

To what extent does Wilde believe the act of writing or or creating art is just as poisonous as the act of poisoning?  -JSW

Why construe this piece as a “memoir” that claims “facts” (p. 1106) rather than as a more overtly fictional work, as he did in “Decay of Lying”? –AA

What does Wilde mean when he suggests that the aim of art is to have “a style so gorgeous that it conceals its subject”?  -Alcibiades

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Storify of Our Literary Twitter Role Play: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Please click on this link to get to the Storify of our public literary Twitter role play about Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

It took place on Friday, October 26, 2012, under the hashtag #digwilde.

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Twitter Role-Play: The Picture of Dorian Gray (Exercise #4)

This week, we’re having a little fun with our readings while engaging with The Picture of Dorian Gray in a playful, dramatic way: a PUBLIC ROLE -PLAY!

Please participate–IT’S EASY, AND ALL ARE WELCOME! 

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26 … 10 days after Oscar Wilde’s birthday:


THE TASK: Pick a fictional character from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (or alternatively, from Huysmans’ Against Nature, or Rachilde’s Monsieur Vénus) and tweet a brief  statement (140 characters or less) addressed to Dorian Gray.   Give Dorian a piece of your mind!  Tell him what you think of him and his actions, lament or rejoice at his demise, assure him of your sympathy, flirt with him, insult him, adore him, ask him about his private doings, offer help, offer goods, give advice, heckle or praise, etc. etc., whatever tickles your fancy–tell Dorian what you’ve always wanted to tell him but never dared to say in public–until now! Your statement should sound pretty typical of your chosen character and include your character’s name at the beginning (examples below).

Possible fictional characters you might want to consider impersonating are

  • Lord Henry Wotton, Basil Hallward, Sibyl Vane, Alan Campbell, Hetty, Gladys, Lady Henry (from Dorian Gray)
  • Des Esseintes, a Jesuit priest, Miss Urania (from A rebours)
  • Raoule de Vénerande, Raittolbe, Jacques, Aunt Ermengarde, Marie Silvert (from Monsieur Vénus)
  • or any other character from these three novels you’d like to impersonate in order to “talk back” to Dorian

HOW TO PARTICIPATE:  Sign into  Compose one or as many tweets as you like to participate (maximum length 140 characters total, including spaces and punctuation).  Include the name of your chosen character at the start, and the hash tag #digwilde at the very end of your tweet (make sure you include a space before the #). Post your tweet any time on Friday, October 26, 2012.

As an alternative, if you are not a Twitter user:  your fictional character may leave Dorian a comment in the “Comments” section below, or send him an email at

Be creative, be bold, be daring.  Snark, wit, and nostalgia are all welcome.  If you’re lucky, Dorian Gray will personally reply to you via our direct and personal line to the fictional and real dead, @wildedecadents!

Here a few practice tweets we already published last week (general statements by fictional characters in the novel), to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Basil: This is too much. Next time, I’m painting a landscape. #digwilde
  • Basil: If I am to truly appreciate my art, then I must not be left in a hansom cab, guys. #digwilde
  • Basil: The simpletons in this world have it the easiest. With nothing to look forward to, they’ll never be disappointed. #digwilde
  • James “Jim” Vane: Does anyone else not trust rich people?#99percent #digwilde
  • Lord H: If I didn’t exist, they would’ve had to invent me. #digwilde
  • Dorian Gray: Spent the longest time in the closet today: couldn’t decide what to wear for the Opera tonight. #digwilde


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Linking The Picture of Dorian Gray and Huysmans’ A rebours (Exercise #3)


For this interpretive reading exercise, please pick one passage (one sentence or up to one paragraph long) from both Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and from Huysmans’ A rebours (Against the Grain; Against Nature) that importantly links the two novels, in your opinion, for example with regard to common themes, characters, moods, ideas, style, plots points, etc.   Insert your passages below (indicate from which novel), and add a very brief explanation of the type of link you see.  

Public visitors to our blog are welcome to participate via the “Leave Comment” option below!

Page 156 of Dorian Gray :
“As for being poisoned by a book, there is no such thing as that. Art has no influence upon action. It annihilates the desire to act. It is superbly sterile. The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame. That is all”
Page 65 of Against Nature :
” The reading of the Latin works he loved, works almost all composed by bishops and monks, had undoubtedly played a part in bringing on this crisis. Enveloped in a convent-like atmosphere that was scented with the heady, intoxicating perfume of incense, his nerves had become overwrought and, through associations of ideas, these books had, in the end, repressed the memories of his life as a young man, and brought back into the limelight these memories of his childhood years with the Jesuit Father.”

Explanation:  I find the juxtaposition of these two passages particularly interesting for two reasons. The first, is that both passages bring forth the question of the role of art : what is its impact ? What is its purpose? Is it that “beautiful things mean only Beauty” as Wilde put forth in the Preface of Dorian Gray, in certain respect foreshadowing the Parnassian ideal of “l’art pour l’art” (art for art’s sake). How do works of art influence those who witness or experience them, if at all?  This first point brings forth the second question which is implicit in both these passages, and that is the question of responsibility. Both Dorian Gray and Des Esseintes are quick to throw the blame for their less-than-ideal behavior and hedonism on the art they have allegedly been influenced by. But to what extent is this allegation fair? And, if it is, does this mean that art itself is the responsible party? We would need to accept a different definition and different connotations for the word “art”, where its representatives would no longer only be beautiful, but also potentially ugly and evil, as seems to be suggested by both of the novels (and by the decadent movement itself).

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Page 138 of À Rebours (Against Nature)

Des Esseintes étudiait, analysait l’âme de ces fluides, faisait l’exégèse de ces textes ; il se complaisait à jouer pour sa satisfaction personnelle, le rôle d’un psychologue, à démonter et à remonter les rouages d’une œuvre, à dévisser les pièces formant la structure d’une exhalaison composée […].” (201) / Des Esseintes studied an analysed the essence of these fluids, carried out an exegesis, so to speak, of their texts; he delighted in playing, for his own personal satisfaction, the role of a psychologist, taking apart and re-assembling the mechanism of a work, unscrewing the pieces that formed the structure of a compound perfume […].”

Ch. 11 of  The Picture of Dorian Gray

“And so [Dorian] would now study perfumes and the secrets of their manufacture, distilling heavily scented oils  and burning odorous gums from the East […] and seeking often to elaborate a real psychology of perfumes […] that are said to be able to expel melancholy from the soul.”

Explanation: The link in those two passages is quite obvious and pertain the idea according to which a certain form of art, in this case the art of creating complex perfumes, could cure the soul (as a ‘psychology’). In the chapter 11 of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde draws on  this peculiar and yet mysterious representation of the Decadent aesthetic of the Fin de Siècle. This allegory of the art of mixing essences and composing perfumes is associated with the art of combining word, and meaning (alternatively through a ‘psychology’ or as ‘poetry’), that is to say, through something that is essentially intangible and spiritual.

– R.C.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, page 52 (Chapter 4):

“‘The only artists I have ever known, who are personally delightful, are bad artists. Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are. A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But the inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. he lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realise.'” (Lord Henry)

A rebours, page 152 (Chapter 14):

“Des Esseintes, who, out of a loathing for the banal and the commonplace, would have welcomed the most laboured literary follies, the most flamboyant extravaganzas, passed many lighthearted hours with this book, in which the comic was intermingled with a chaotic energy, where single disconcerting lines would shine forth brilliantly from totally unintelligible poems like the litanies of his ‘Sommeil’, where at a certain point he described sleep as: ‘Obscène confesseur des dévotes mort-nées.'”

When I first read this passage from A rebours, I immediately thought of Lord Henry, and specifically of this interaction that he has with Dorian. On the surface, the two passages are quite different. One, that from A rebours, describes a specific work from a specific artist; the other discusses the nature of artists and their role in society in general. In both of these passages, however, what strikes me more than anything is the element of something beautiful shining through the “commonplace” murk. In the passage from The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry is drawing a distinction between life and art, and suggesting that one can excel only in one of these. In the case of the good artist, the artist’s work is the bright point in the rest of the artist’s boring life. In the case of the bad artist, the social interest that the artist exudes shines through the mediocrity of the person’s art. In the passage from A rebours, this is on a smaller scale. Des Esseintes contemplates poetry in which certain lines shine forth from the surrounding mediocrity. It is not the artist as a person that Des Esseintes is considering, but rather the artist’s work. In both cases, this reminds me of the nature of individuality and its importance in Decadent and other literary types, as in these passages there is something special about the subject (the person or the poem, respectively) that stands out. These passages also both remind me of the idea of pleasure for the moment. In the passage from The Picture of Dorian Gray, this moment is less temporal than conceptual, a moment of a person’s entire being rather than a moment of time. In A rebours, this moment can be temporal, in the space of time in which the poem is read, or spacial, if looking at the poem on a page and noting the phrases, or moments, that shine amongst the rest.


P. 165-166 of À rebours: “La verité c’est que je tâche simplement de préparer un assassin. Suis bien, en effet mon raisonnement. Ce garçon est vierge et a atteint l’âge où le sang bouillone […] il prendra l’habitude de ses jouissances que ses moyens lui interdisent. […] En poussant les choses à l’extrême, il tuera je l’espère […] alors mon but sera atteint, j’aurai contribué à créer un gredin, un ennemi de plus pour cette hideuse société qui nous rançonne. […] Fais aux autres ce que tu ne veux pas qu’ils te fassent; avec cette maxime tu iras loin.”

P. 135-136 of Dorian Gray: “As Dorian hurried up [the house’s] three rickety steps, the heavy odour of opium met him. He heaved a deep breath and his nostrils quivered with pleasure. When he entered, a young man with smooth yellow hair, who was bending over a lamp, lighting a long thin pipe, looked up at him, and nodded in a hesitating manner. ‘You here Adrian?’ muttered Dorian. ‘Where else should I be?’ he answered, listlessly. ‘None of the chaps will speak to me now.’ […] ‘I don’t care,’ he added with a sigh. ‘As long as one has this stuff, one doesn’t want friends. I think I have had too many friends.'”


In the above passages, we see two characters that both Dorian and des Esseintes have corrupted. Although each young man’s descent into darkness is different, both of the leading men knew what they were doing when they set out to do so (in one case the whore house, and in the other the opium den). Although the distortion of Adrian’s soul is less explicit, and less premeditated than the corruption of the 16 year old assassin, the end goal is one and the same. It must be said at this point, that Dorian has already been “poisoned” by Huysmans’s novel. Should we therefore associate his slandering of male youths as a result of his reading? When Basil enumerated the young men and women that have been negatively affected by Dorian’s decadent behavior, the reader is caught off guard. We know Dorian is slowly becoming a vile human being, but chapters have passed in which we know nothing of his behavior. All of a sudden the transformation is complete—Dorian is truly and totally changed by the yellow book, and our proof lies in Adrian’s filthy surroundings and addiction. Although he is an addict (as opposed to a killer), I see Adrian as the 16-year-old assassin a year or two after des Esseintes has met him, and therefore altered him.


From the Picture of Dorian Gray, page 159:

“[Dorian’s knife] would kill the past and when that was dead he would be free. It would kill this monstrous soul-life, and, without its hideous warnings, he would be at peace. He seized the thing, and stabbed the picture with it” (159).

From À rebours, page 180:

‘May you crumble into dust, society, old world, may you expire!’ claimed Des Esseintes, filled with indignation at the ignominious spectacle he was conjuring up, his protest shattering the nightmare that oppressed him…the soul sees nothing that upon reflection, it does not find distressing” (180).

Explanation: What stood out to me most here about these passages were the parallels in both word choice and meaning. In both passages, there are words used that connote strong or violent images; consider “kill”, “dead”, “monstrous soul-life”, and “hideous warnings” used in the Picture of Dorian Gray, along with “crumble into dust”, “ignominious spectacle”, “nightmare”, and “oppressed” in À rebours. This was clearly intentional, and it effectively reveals some of the more subtle feelings of the character at hand while at the same establishing a more somber mood. In addition, both passages mention destruction of the past, or of old society, which I thought was an important theme of both texts. Finally, the last sentence of the passage from À rebours– “the soul sees nothing that upon reflection, it does not find distressing” seemed to me something that could have absolutely been placed in the Picture of Dorian Gray. The double negative here makes it a bit hard to understand, but it seemed to be saying something like “when the soul reflects itself, it does not like what it sees”—which is perhaps one of the most important themes in Dorian Gray, therefore drawing further parallels between the two texts. -MG

From Against Nature, p. 18-19:

“The imagination could easily compensate for the vulgar reality of actual experience. In his view, it was possible to fulfill those desires reputed to be the most difficult to satisfy in normal life, by means of a trifling subterfuge, an approximate simulation of the object of those very desires.”

From the Picture of Dorian Gray, Ch. 11:

“And, certainly to him Life itself was the first, the greatest of the arts, and for it all the other arts seemed to be but a preparation.”

Explanation: Putting these two quotes in juxtaposition reveals a fundamental difference between Dorian Gray and Des Esseintes’ characters. While Des Esseintes scorns the real and buries himself within the artificial, Dorian actively pursues the real life experience. This dissonance of attitude toward the real reveals something of both men’s idea about art. For Des Esseintes, it is the artificial, above all, that holds artistic value. Its feat of simulating the real so well and so sufficiently makes it praiseworthy in its own right, especially since it is a direct product of human genius. There is also some sense that valuing the artificial above all has some utilitarian value: if the artificial is a sufficient replacement for the real, he need not bother with the real world that wearies and annoys him so much. Dorian, on the other hand, relishes the life experience as the ultimate form of art. This is a stark contrast from Des Esseintes’ subjugation of such experience to the higher ideal of artifice. By reversing this hierarchy and placing experience above all artifice – or perhaps exalting experience as the ultimate form of artifice – Dorian locates the most artistic value in the lived life. He roams the city while Des Esseintes shuts himself away; he is drawn to and fascinated by people whereas Des Esseintes spurns them. Whether the differences between the two can be put down merely to a difference in disposition – one is socially charismatic while the other is a misanthropic recluse – or a more fundamental difference their opinion of art is not clear. Given, however, that Dorian takes his inspiration from Des Esseintes, the contrast is interesting. -A.A.


*** From Huysmans (beginning of Chapter VIII – third paragraph) : “He liked to compare a horticulturist’s shop to a microcosm in which all categories of society were represented: the flowers that are poor and coarse, the flowers of the slum, which are not truly at home unless reposing in a garret window-sill, their roots jammed into a milk bottle or an old pot, the sunflower for example; the pretentious, conformist, stupid flowers, like the rose, which belong exclusively in porcelain holders painted by young girls; finally the flowers of high lineage such as orchids, delicate and charming and quiveringly sensitive to cold, exotic flowers exiled in Paris to the warmth of glass palaces, princesses of the vegetable kingdom, living a segregated life, having no long anything in common with the plants of the street or the flora of the middle classes.”

*** From Wilde (toward the end of Chapter XI – sixth-to-last paragraph) : “Yet these whispered scandals only increased in the eyes of many his strange and dangerous charm. His great wealth was a certain element of security. Society — civilized society, at least — is never very ready to believe anything to the detriment of those who are both rich and fascinating. It feels instinctively that manners are of more importance than morals, and, in its opinion, the highest respectability is of much less value than the possession of a good chef. And, after all, it is a very poor consolation to be told that the man who has given one a bad dinner, or poor wine, is irreproachable in his private life. Even the cardinal virtues cannot atone for half-cold entrees, as Lord Henry remarked once, in a discussion on the subject, and there is possibly a good deal to be said for his view. For the canons of good society are, or should be, the same as the canons of art. Form is absolutely essential to it. It should have the dignity of a ceremony, as well as its unreality, and should combine the insincere character of a romantic play with the wit and beauty that make such plays delightful to us. Is insincerity such a terrible thing? I think not. It is merely a method by which we can multiply our personalities.”

*** Explanation – The first passage that drew my attention was the one from Huysmans’ novel, to which attention was brought during our class on Monday. My impression of the passage was that it was a perfect little dig at the expense of the realist/naturalist strain of fiction against which Huysmans was ostensibly reacting. The notion of the “microcosm” was what inspired this impression of mine; one thinks of the famous opening of Balzac’s “Père Goriot,” for example, and manner in which the reader is introduced to the characters through the architectonics of the Maison Vauquer. Moreover, the manner in which the flowers are described in terms of their living conditions, ones that are “ideal” or “less-than-ideal” depending upon what essential properties the organisms possess and what sorts of circumstances are required for those properties to fulfill their potentiality, for the organism to become what it is, so to speak, makes one think of the positivist outlook and broadly deterministic picture of social relations novels like Zola’s seem to evince. More properly to Huysmans’ novel, however, the passage underlines themes we’ve certainly discussed in class, perhaps foremost the delight in artificiality that is palpable throughout. However, in light of the novel’s preoccupations with the proper order of society, to which I suspect more credit is due than the one we’ve given it, this delight in artificiality would seem to consist in a celebration of humankind’s capacity to create a kind of “second nature” for itself (as evidenced by those flowers — exotic princesses — who, despite being utterly wrested from their proper place, nonetheless retain their sense of distinction and superiority in an otherwise alien environment to which they do not actually have claims to authority). Having hopefully made clear and plausible what I find interesting in this passage, though more could be said, I will now say something about Wilde’s passage, which I take to be expressing something of consonance. In his typically tart fashion, Wilde ascribes to Dorian (who cites Lord Henry approvingly in explicating his view) the thought that, in his case, appearances are what count, to put it simplistically. That is, to say the same thing in a relatively more complicated way, Wilde gives voice to what might be called a perversion of a broadly Hume-inspired picture of moral evaluation wherein reason is muted and impression-based sentiments get the upper-hand. It is thus, presumably, that seemingly superficial (and, for most of us, morally irrelevant) factors such as one’s dinner etiquette come to matter more than deeper (and, for most of us, morally relevant) factors such as how one comports oneself in morally loaded scenarios. The remarks that ensue having to do with how essential “form” is, how the canons of society are (or should be) the canons of art, how life should have the “dignity” and “unreality” of “ceremony,” and how it should have the insincerity of worthwhile plays, an insincerity that engenders a multifaceted (literally, “many-faced”) eruption of identity, all seem (to me, anyway) to strike several notes regarding artificiality in a way similar to the Huysmans passage I described above. Here, too, a kind of “second nature” (a “second moral nature,” to be precise) seems to be celebrated, though perhaps with a greater ambivalence or irony than in Huysmans. Nonetheless, both passages similarly express the sense in which the covering-over or doubling of “nature” (as some sort of foundational state of affairs) is a distinctly human activity, one from which it is unlikely to extricate itself. – DJM

From The Picture of Dorian Gray:

“Campbell buried his face in his hands, and a shudder passed through him.

‘Yes, it is my turn to dictate terms, Alan. You know what they are. The thing is quite simple. Come, don’t work yourself into this fever. The thing has to be done. Face it, and do it.'” (125)

From Against Nature:

“‘To take an extreme case, Auguste will– I hope– kill the man who turns up at the wrong moment while the lad’s trying to break into his desk; in that event I’ll have achieved my purpose, I’ll have contributed, as far as lies within my power, to create a scoundrel, one more enemy of this hideous society which is holding us to ransom.'” (60)

Explanation: Both of these scenes reveal the manipulative nature of the protagonists. Dorian uses blackmail to convince Campbell to conceal Basil’s murder. Des Esseintes purposefully manipulates a young, lower-class boy into a life of crime and perhaps murder. In addition to the negative Bildungsroman aspect of Dorian Gray (the novel and character), both of these instances can be seen as a degeneration of two males subservient to Dorian and Des Esseintes, who belong to the upper classes of society. – KJO

From The Picture of Dorian Gray:
(Pg 122-3) In a few moments Alan Campbell walked in, looking very stern and rather pale, his pallor being intensified by his coal-black hair and dark eyebrows…He spoke with slow deliberation. There was a look of contempt in the steady searching gaze that he turned on Dorian. He kept his hands in the pockets of his Astrakhan coat, and seemed not to have noticed the gesture with which he had been greeted.
From Against Nature:
(Pg 90) Des Esseintes examined him…He looked as if he should be in school, and was wretchedly dressed in a little cheviot jacket too tight round the hips…His face was disquieting; pale and drawn, with quite regular features under long black hair, it was lit up by great liquid eyes their blue-shadowed lids close toa nose stippled in gold by a few freckles; the mouth that opened beneath, though small, was bordered by thick lips divided down the centre with a groove, like a cherry. Face to face, they stared at one another for a moment, then the young man lowered his eyes and came nearer…[Des Esseintes] slowed his pace as he thoughtfully considered the young man’s mincing walk.
There is nothing really extraordinary about the two passages that I have chosen to compare, as the ones that I specifically had in mind earlier have already been discussed. But these in particular struck me as being significant because they bear witness to the encounter between the respective protagonist of each novel and their (former) lover. It is probably mere chance, but both Alan Campbell and the unnamed boy-lover that Des Esseintes takes on are described as pale, serious-faced young men, with black hair and a nervous, almost surly attitude. The in-depth characterization of these characters’ appearances, demeanor, and dress (in addition to the detailed description allotted to Jacques in Monsieur Vénus) may lead one to speculate that there may have been certain physical stereotypes that were identified with the gay sub-culture–just as we have clichés and stereotypes today, there may have been pre-conceived notions of how gay men and women dress and look, which Wilde and Huysmans invoke in their novels. -LH

From Against Nature, “Preface Written 20 Years After the Novel” 

“The truth is that Pride would have been the most splendid of sins to study, in its diabolical ramifications of cruelty towards others and of false humility, that Gluttony, dragging in its wake Lust, Sloth, and Covetousness, would have provided material for astonishing investigations, if these sins had been scrutinized by a Believer…” (pg 184)

From The Picture of Dorian Gray, Chapter 12

“‘…Come, I tell you. You have chattered enough about corruption. Now you shall look on it face to face.’ There was the madness of pride in every word he uttered. He stamped his foot upon the ground in his boyish insolent manner. He felt a terrible joy at the thought that someone else was to share his secret, and that the man who had painted the portrait that was the origin of all his shame was to be burdened for the rest of his life with the hideous memory of what he had done. ‘Yes,’ he continued, coming closer to him, and looking steadfastly into his stern eyes, ‘I shall show you my soul. You shall see the thing that you fancy only God can see.'” (pg 113-114)

Explanation: If it were historically possible, I would believe that Wilde wrote Picture as an answer to Huysmans’ challenge. I hadn’t thought of him this way before, but Dorian is perhaps one of the most obvious examples in all of literature of an investigation of the diabolical ramifications of pride. The first change to the portrait is the “touch of cruelty around the mouth” (74) from his appalling treatment of Sibyl Vane. Right before Dorian murders him, Basil tells him that his “prayer of pride” (115) had been answered. He is driven to stab the portrait at least in part by his proud refusal to confess his sins. Despite the corruption of the painting, this is no sensationalist piece with shocking tales of lust and gluttony littering every chapter; Dorian’s (mis)adventures are only implied and left to the reader’s imagination. By pushing Dorian’s other vices and excesses into the background, Wilde brings only Dorian’s pride into focus. And it is a masterful study. –LN

“I was putting into practice the layman’s parable, the allegory of universal education which aims at nothing less than transforming all men into Langloises, by – instead of permanently and mercifully putting out the eyes of the poor – by striving to force them to open their eyes wide, so that they may notice that some of their neighbours have destinies that are quite undeservedly more merciful, and enjoy pleasures that are keener and more multi-faceted and, consequently, more desirable and more precious … the fact is that since pain is an effect of education, since it deepens and sharpens in proportion as ideas spring up, the more one tries to polish the intelligence and to refine the nervous system of those poor devils, the more one will develop in them those fiercely long-lasting seeds of moral suffering and of hatred” (Huysman, 61).

“He was a marvelous type, too, this lad, whom by so curious a chance he had met in Basil’s studio; or could be fashioned into a marvelous type, at any rate … There was nothing that one could not do with him. He could be made a Titan or a toy … Yes; he would try to be to Dorian Gray what, without knowing it, the lad was to the painter who had fashioned the wonderful portrait. He would seek to dominate him – had already, indeed, half done so. He would make that wonderful spirit his own. There was something fascinating in this son of Love and Death.” (Wilde, 40).

Explanation: I think both Des Esseintes and Lord Henry bear an interest in “fashioning” others into what they would like. I’m curious as to whether or not Wilde thinks this exerting of influence and molding of others is inherently bad, as Des Esseintes seems to portray education. As a result, I put these two passages in juxtaposition but would also like to consider the overall trajectory of The Picture of Dorian Gray: after all, Dorian does decay after coming into contact with Lord Henry.

– E.R.

“the leaves were set with the stones of an intense, unequivocal green:  with asparagus-green chrysoberyls; with leek-green peridots; with olive-green olivines; and they stood out against the branches made of purplish-red almandine and ouvarovite, sparkling with a dry brilliance like those flakes of scale that shine on the inside of wine-casks,” (Huysmans, 37).

“He would often spend a whole day settling and resettling in their cases the various stones that he had collected, such as the olive-green chrysoberyl that turns red by lamp light, the cymophane with its wire-like line of silver, the pistachio-coloured peridot, rose-pink and wine-yellow topazes, carbuncles of fiery scarlet…” (Wilde, 102).


“After dissociating himself from contemporary life he had resolved to introduce into his retreat no larvae of aversions or regrets; he had therefore wanted paintings that were subtle, exquisite, steeped in an ancient vision, in an antique corruption, remote from our ways, remote from our time.” – Against Nature, p. 44

“Eternal youth, infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder sins – he was to have all these things.  The portrait was to bear the burden of his shame: that was all.” – The Picture of Dorian Gray, p. 84

Both Des Esseintes and Dorian Gray seek to escape from responsibility, shame and regret.  Des Esseintes does so by removing himself from the corruption “contemporary life,” and Dorian does so by allowing his portrait to carry his corruption.  Both men create an unreal world for themselves.  Des Esseintes is steeped in his dreams of antiquity, surrounded by images that suite his world, and Dorian plans a life of “eternal youth” and unchecked pleasure.  Neither wants to deal with the consequences of society, neither wants to bother with “regrets” or “shame,” and both want to live in a self-fashioned world. -YG


“…go straight home…and keep in mind this quasi-biblical saying: ‘Do unto others as you would not have them do unto you”… A Rebours, p. 60

“There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realize his conception of the beautiful.” The Picture of Dorian Gray, p. 109

These quotations suggest the subversion of traditional morality for the sake of aesthetics. In the first example, Des Esseintes urges Auguste to take up a life of crime, which Des Esseintes  hopes will escalate to murder. Des Esseintes corrupts the Golden Rule to coerce Auguste, and this inversion reveals much about Des Esseintes’s ideology. There is something prideful in his purposeful misrepresentation. In the same way, Dorian believes that the ultimate goal is Beauty, whether it is morally questionable—even “evil”—or not.  Alcibiades.

A rebours- The entirety of Chapter 10, but specifically the section which reads, ‘I’m going to have to very wary of these delicious, detestable activities which utterly drain me,’ (Pg. 101) and the entirety of the enveloping scents of  the French fragrances of ‘jasmine, hawthorn and verbena,’ among others.

The Picture of Dorian Gray- Pg. 100- ‘in his search for sensations that that would at once be new and beautiful, and possess that element of strangeness that is so essential to romance, he would often adopt certain modes of thought that he knew to be really alien to his nature, abandon himself to their subtle influences, and, then, having, as it were, caught their colour and satisfied his intellectual curiosity,’

A common theme running through both these novels is the idea that one can be enveloped or engrossed by art, to the point that it leads to a breakdown, either physical or mental. This is best encapsulated by the collapse of Des Esseintes in A Rebours and the obsession that Dorian develops with protecting his own personal ‘art.’ Both these sections make similar use of a rhythmic repetition that almost approaches tonal banality, thereby mimicking the enveloping nature of the fragrances and arts that entrap the souls of the two protagonists. While A Rebours contains a 5-page section purely focused on the various perfumes that Des Esseintes ingests, it is important to note that Dorian’s major  ruminations on arts, literature and fashion only come after he has read the ‘little yellow book’ that represents Huysmans’ masterpiece. Here, in a more microcosmic sense, Huysmans’ book itself is revealed to have profoundly affected Dorian’s spirit and rendered his fascination with transcending human impermanence. Therefore, it follows that we see in the two novels a shared belief in art’s inherent power and its ability to exert a powerful hysteria- note that Des Esseintes’ fainting spell would have been considered as traditionally feminine- upon men who should know better- note once again how much is made of the two characters’ education. Art as obsession is the key theme that binds these two novels.- DF

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