Aubrey Beardsley, Oscar Wilde, and Salome as aesthetic parody
Highsmith, Stacee Lynn
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Among the innumerable literary and visual interpretations of the Biblical legend of Salome produced since early Christian times, perhaps the best-known is the 1894 English translation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley. This collaborative work of art has most frequently been scrutinized in terms of Freudian castration theory and the sexual fetish. Moreover, it has been widely assumed that Beardsley’s drawings are incongruous with Wilde’s text. I propose instead that these artists meshed their respective mediums to create a parody of nineteenth-century aestheticism, and of the gender politics of fin-de-siècle England; in Salome, components of aestheticism are exaggerated and parodied, as are the era’s stereotypes of women and homosexuals. I present a detailed interpretation of Beardsley’s images, and evaluate their augmentation of Wilde’s text. In analyzing Salome in this manner, I construct an alternative interpretation of this enigmatic play and the drawings inspired by it.