Salome's Modernity

Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetics of Transgression
Petra Dierkes-Thrun
A study of Oscar Wilde's Salomé in modernist and postmodernist literature and culture


  • "Salome’s Modernity stands as a fresh, valuable contribution to studies of Oscar Wilde."

Oscar Wilde's 1891 symbolist tragedy Salomé has had a rich afterlife in literature, opera, dance, film, and popular culture. Salome's Modernity: Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetics of Transgression is the first comprehensive scholarly exploration of that extraordinary resonance that persists to the present. Petra Dierkes-Thrun positions Wilde as a founding figure of modernism and Salomé as a key text in modern culture's preoccupation with erotic and aesthetic transgression, arguing that Wilde's Salomé marks a major turning point from a dominant traditional cultural, moral, and religious outlook to a utopian aesthetic of erotic and artistic transgression. Wilde and Salomé are seen to represent a bridge linking the philosophical and artistic projects of writers such as Mallarmé, Pater, and Nietzsche to modernist and postmodernist literature and philosophy and our contemporary culture. Dierkes-Thrun addresses subsequent representations of Salomé in a wide range of artistic productions of both high and popular culture through the works of Richard Strauss, Maud Allan, Alla Nazimova, Ken Russell, Suri Krishnamma, Robert Altman, Tom Robbins, and Nick Cave, among others.

"Salome's Modernity is a first-class piece of scholarship—at once learned, sharply focused, and beautifully, indeed, entertainingly written. Above all, it is a significant contribution to modernist studies, for it takes a number of themes that appear in the various writings about Salome to show precisely how the various authors, performers and film-makers utilized and rethought these themes for their own times."
—Herbert S. Lindenberger, Stanford University

"Salome's Modernity is intellectually powerful, truly informative, and engagingly written. No other book rivals it in scope when it comes to placing Wilde's play in a cultural and literary genealogy that links memorable works of poetry, fiction, drama, opera, and film."
—Joseph Bristow, UCLA

Cover illustration: Maria Ewing in Richard Strauss’s Salome, Pittsburgh Opera, 2001, © Suellen Fitzsimmons. Cover design: Heidi Hobde Dailey

Petra Dierkes-Thrun is Lecturer in the Department of Comparative Literature at Stanford University and editor in chief of The Latchkey: Journal of New Woman Studies, a scholarly online journal dedicated to the figure of the New Woman in fin de siècle and modernist society and culture.

Praise / Awards

  • "This thorough, and thoroughly original, monograph is quite impressive ... because she explores the play from so many diverse angles, Dierkes-Thrun makes a book dedicated to one play engrossing."

  • "In addition to the rhetorically and interpretatively compelling reading of the final scene of Salome, the book’s core is lively and suggestive: the revisionary reading of Strauss; the detailed evocation of the toxicity surrounding Wilde and his work that continued through and past World War I, reinforced by reactionary xenophobia during the war; the linking of Allan and, especially, Nazimova with feminist and queer cultural politics; the reading of Nazimova’s notable career through the combined lens of Ibsen and Wilde. These are significant contributions that later commentators on Wilde’s play and its heritage in the modernist period and beyond will need to take into account."
    Modern Drama

  • "Salome’s Modernity stands as a fresh, valuable contribution to studies of Oscar Wilde."

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Copyright © 2011, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 260pp.
  • 4 B&W illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2011
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11767-3

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  • $79.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2014
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  • 978-0-472-03604-2

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  • $29.95 U.S.

  • Audio Download
  • 2021
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  • 978-0-472-00411-9

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  • $9.99 U.S.

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