Wilde and Woolf : modern sexual vacillators, contemporary queer anticipators.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Master of Letters


The first part of this study is devoted to how Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf exhibited their vacillations in queering late Victorian and Edwardian society. In his article, 'Wilde Disappointment,' David Jays mentions that the reason for literary scholars' disappointment with Wilde is due to the 'irreconcilable things of him,' his ability to embody opposing entities or, as Jays quotes the critic Jerusha McCormack, 'living on both sides of the hyphen.' While Wilde's paradoxical nature may be a disappointment for some like Jays, it enriches the value of his life and his writing in relation to his ability to subvert and criticize Victorian society. While expressing one set of opinions that gains Wilde acceptance into the fold of the Victorian aristocracy, he simultaneously and discretely exposes its hypocrisy and corruption through the same wit and spectacle that grabbed his audience's attention. Likewise, Virginia Woolf lived on both sides of the hyphen, perhaps in not the most overt way Wilde did, but she certainly embodied opposing entities and defied social categories. Therefore, the first part will exhibit how these two Modernist writers straddled late Victorian society. The last two chapters of this study will delve into their works, specifically Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) and Salomé (1892) and Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927). The reason for selecting these particular works were two-fold -- not only did they establish both writers as quintessential Modernist virtuosos, but they also share similar features in terms of their writings' aesthetics, specifically those associated with nature. Thus, within these remaining sections, I will conduct a comparative examination of the use of floral imagery in The Picture of Dorian Gray and Mrs. Dalloway, which will be followed with exploration of the authors' use of light and space in Salomé and To the Lighthouse respectively. While these elements are principal aesthetic features of these writers' works, they are also fundamental features in providing queer readings of these texts. Moreover, my selection of two works from Wilde and Woolf illustrates a similar progression in their stylistic development, which serves as basis for this study's conclusion. Both writers evolve from a more concrete, tangible aesthetic to one that is more abstract, an evolution witnessed in the literary world as well as in the visual arts at the end of the nineteenth century with the transition from Impressionism to Post-Impressionism. The former initiated a shift from traditional schools of art (such as naturalism and mannerism); however, it was the latter movement that solidified the shift with its radical embracing of abstract form and subjectivity. Thus this very subjectivity not only becomes the thread that connects Wilde and Woolf the writers, but also the thread that connects Wilde and Woolf the queer anticipators-- Excerpt from introduction.