A “shadow of a white rose in a mirror of silver”: The disembodied femme fatale in Oscar Wilde’s Salome

Condé, Alice. 2022. A “shadow of a white rose in a mirror of silver”: The disembodied femme fatale in Oscar Wilde’s Salome. In: Laura Giovannelli and Pierpaolo Martino, eds. Wilde World. Una tavola rotonda su Oscar Wilde. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, pp. 69-96. ISBN 9788846763853 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Oscar Wilde’s Salome (1894) represents one of many incarnations of the biblical figure who became the archetypal nineteenth-century fatal woman. However, Salome’s presence in the text suggests something other than the fleshly beauty of previous nineteenth-century decadent femmes fatales. Male characters describe her body parts as delicate and natural, which complicates readings of Salome as an authoritative or powerful figure. Salome’s efforts to empower herself through discourse, such as her attempted seduction of Iokanaan, end in failure; she is to be seen and not heard. But what are we supposed to see when we look at Salome? Is she, as Charles Bernheimer suggests, symbolic of forbidden queer desire, or is she emblematic of a decadent disdain for female nature? Salome’s death – a detail Wilde added to his rendition of the myth – restores patriarchal order once more. The uncertainty about whether Salome’s death is symbolic of the re-closeting of homosexual desire or a reassuring reminder that female nature can be subdued is testament to Salome’s ambiguous yet curiously insubstantial textual presence in a way that suggests she needs to be repositioned outside the boundaries of the femme fatale type.

Item Type:

Book Section

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature > Decadence Research Unit
English and Comparative Literature



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Date Deposited:

28 Feb 2022 09:45

Last Modified:

24 Nov 2022 13:05



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