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University of Oxford Faculty of English

Mendelssohn, Dr Michèle

Job Title: Associate Professor and Tutorial Fellow
College: Mansfield

Period/ Subject: Late 19th & Early 20th Century British and American Literature

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I have several books in progress. The first is a biography of the young Oscar Wilde. I am also working on two co-edited books: Oxford 21st Century Approaches to Literature, 1880-1920 (Oxford University Press, 2016) and Writing Under the Influence: Essays on Alan Hollinghurst (Manchester University Press, 2016). In addition to these projects, I am writing about how Harlem Renaissance authors repurposed the late 19th century's legacies for the 20th century.

My first book was Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture (Edinburgh UP, 2007). It was reissued in paperback in 2014.

This book asks why being "aesthetic" mattered so much to the Victorians. It explains how British and American Aestheticism (the literary and artistic movement that flourished on both sides of the Atlantic between the 1860s and early 1900s) responded to anxieties about culture, nationality, sexuality and originality.

The book begins by reconfiguring Aestheticism as a transatlantic dialogue, and making Henry James and Oscar Wilde the critical figures in this conversation. It then shows that the lifelong rivalry between these two preeminent authors actually reflected a creative dynamic that dominated aesthetic culture on both sides of the sea. This dynamic is traced through James's and Wilde's works, as well as through their relationships with the Impressionist painter James McNeill Whistler, and the novelist and Punch cartoonist George Du Maurier. This dynamic, then, is a bridge over culturally troubled waters.

Using queer theory alongside historically-grounded close readings, this study reveals that James's and Wilde's relationship was symptomatic of the vital and transformative cultural exchanges that shaped Anglo-American Modernism.

Selected articles and chapters

Selected Conferences and Talks

Biographical Information
Michèle Mendelssohn was born and grew up in Montréal, Canada. She completed her first degree in English Literature and Liberal Arts at Concordia University. She went on to study German and American literature at the University of Heidelberg as a Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst Fellow. In 1999 she won a scholarship to Cambridge University where she completed her M.Phil. (First) and Ph.D. at King's College. In 2001, she went to Harvard University as a Fulbright Scholar and Departmental Associate in English. She has taught at Edinburgh University, Boston University, Harvard, Cambridge, and Heidelberg. She joined Oxford’s English Faculty in 2009.

Her research has won numerous awards including a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowshipthe 2014 Donald C. Gallup Fellowship in American literature (Yale), Obert C. and Grace A. Tanner Visiting Research Fellowship (Utah), Research Fellowship in African American History and Culture (Emory University) and, at the British Library, an Eccles Centre American Studies Visiting Fellowship.

She is on the editorial board of English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 and Canadian Review of American Studies. She reviews for Modernism/ modernityHenry James ReviewVictorian ReviewReview of English Studies, and other journals.

In Oxford's English Faculty, she co-convenes the M.St. English Language and Literature (1830–1914) with Helen Small. She was Victorian Period Convenor from 2011-2013. She co-organised the Alain Locke in the 21st Century Symposium with Elleke Boehmer, Laura Marcus and Lloyd Pratt.

At the Rothemere American Institute, she co-convened the American Literature Research Seminar from 2012-2014. She has been a member of the Academic Committee since 2013. 

Michèle has written for The New York Times and The Guardian, and has appeared in The Scotsman and on CBC radio.

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