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Literary and Artistic Influences

Reviewing Salomé, the Pall Mall Gazette claimed that “There is no freshness in Mr. Wilde’s ideas; there is no freshness in his method of presenting those ideas. Flaubert long ago exhausted all that was to be got out of making John the Baptist the hero of a story of sensualism.(Unsigned review in Pall Mall Gazette; Nelson, Walter W 106 ) That accusation of a lack of originality might not have bothered Wilde; he famously defended plagiarism as an artist’s prerogative and a form of artistic homage. And Wilde admitted to have borrowed heavily from other writers in his construction of Salomé. Yet rather than detract form the artistic merit of the piece, this borrowing became an essential part of it, allowing Wilde to create a mosaic of past influences into a proto-pastiche all his own.

The most obvious literary influence on Salome is the Bible, the origin of the Salomé legend. Wilde, however, changes much from the original Biblical narrative is much more indebted to later reworkings of the story. The Salomé legend had been represented and retold numerous times throughout the Middle Ages and up to the 19th century. The latter half of the 19th saw a particular boom in Salomé writings, in part due to the influence of the German author Heinrich Heine’s Atta Troll (1843), whose sensual orientalism and necrophilic kiss inspired later writers, especially French romantics and symbolists. Heywood, Maeterlinck, Huysmans, Mallarmé, and especially Flaubert would write Salomé stories which greatly influenced Wilde.

In addition to these more direct influences, much of the atmosphere, imagery, and thematic concern of Salomé was derived from the work of French writers of the day. Baudelaire’s poetry of beauty, women, princesses, jewels, necrophilia, and the Orient can be heard echoed in Salomé. It is in general a product of the Aesthetic movement, Symbolism, and the ésprit of fin-de-siècle France.


A concise overview of the literary influences on Salomé

Literary Influences





Moreau and Beardsley