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Wilde was accused of copying Flaubert outrightly in Salomé. He had previously admitted the heavy debt he owed to Flaubert, flippantly referencing plagiarism:

Of course I plagiarise. It is the privilege of the appreciative man. I never read Flaubert’s Tentation de St Antoine without signing my name at the end of it. Que voulez-vous? All the best Hundred Books bear my signature in this manner. (Ellmann 376)


“… to learn how to write English prose I have studied the prose of France… Yes! Flaubert is my master, and when I get on with my translation of the ‘Tentation’ I shall be Flaubert II, Roi par grace de Dieu, and I hope something else beyond” ( Hart-Davis, Rupert: Selected Letters, p.76; Satzinger 239)

Wilde never literally plagiarized Flaubert nor did he seriously hope to become Flaubert II, but Flaubert’s influence on Salomé is undeniable. The play shares similarities with Salammbo and Hérodias that go beyond their common derivation from the ancient Salomé legend. Wilde specifically acknowledged modeling his character Salomé after Salammbo:

My Salome is a mystic, the sister of Salammbô, a Saint Thérèse who worships the moon. (Ellmann 376)

Others saw the mark of Flaubert in the work:

… the voices that breath the breath of life into Salomé are dominated by one voice, the voice of Flaubert. (Unsigned review in: Pall Mall Gazette, 27 Feb 1893; Satzinger 239)

Salammbo, Flaubert’s earlier work, bears less of a resemblance to Salomé than Hérodias; nevertheless they have much in common. Both place Salomé at the center of the narrative; both use the moon as a key image and metaphor for the princess, and both enact a “drama of an impossible desire” (Brombert, Victor; The Novels of Flaubert, p. 121; Satzinger 241)

The plot of Hérodias is much closer to Wilde’s play. The story is divided into three parts, upon the last of which, a banquet put on by Herod in honor of visiting Romans, Salomé is based. The characters of the Roman guests, the feast itself, the setting, the cistern as the prison for Jokanaan, and even Jokanaan’s language itself will all be seen in more or less identical form in Salomé, as seen in these examples:

Etale-toi dans la poussière, fille de Babylone… Crève comme une chienne ! (Flaubert 128)

Cursed be thou ! daughter of an incestuous mother, be thou cursed! (Wilde 329)

Additionally, “Wilde took over Flaubert’s description of Herodias in every detail.” (Satzinger 253)

            However, Flaubert was only a “point of departure” for Wilde. (Satzinger 260). Wilde moved away from the plots of both Salammbo and Hérodias to emphasize the relations between Jokannaan and Salomé, rather than Herodias and Herod. Stylistically, the authors are very different, for

whereas for the French author accurate representation of the past was an end in itself, Wilde created a personal psychodrama virtually independent of historical facts. (Satzinger 247)

Wilde’s language is simple and mystical, whereas Flaubert’s is detailed and realistic. Wilde sought to evoke a certain atmosphere and color with his words, dreaming at one point of illustrating them with colored clouds of smoke. Flaubert, on the other hand, sought le mot juste and as accurate a description of the events as possible. Though both were focused on the sensuality of the Orient, for Wilde this was a more imaginary and figurative concept, whereas Flaubert, who himself had already traveled in the region, it was a real and historical place.


Commentary on Flaubert by Théophile Gautier

Fulltext Salammbo French:

Salammbo in English:

Many Flaubert Web resources

Visual References for Salammbo     

Hérodias: French text

Herodias: English

Literary Influences





Moreau and Beardsley