Dr Michèle Mendelssohn

My research ranges from the late 19th century to the present day and covers both sides of the Atlantic: I am passionate about Victorian literature, 20th century cultural history, and contemporary writing. My writing has appeared in The New York TimesThe Guardian, Victorian Literature and Culture, Nineteenth Century LiteratureAfrican American Review, Journal of American Studies and elsewhere. Until recently, I was Deputy Director of the Rothermere American Institute, where I led academic programming and contributed to the Institute's management. During winter 2018, I will hold the Eakin Visting Fellowship in Canadian Studies at McGill University

I am writing a biography of Oscar Wilde for Oxford University Press. Based on new evidence, the book tells the story of a local Irish eccentric called Oscar who became a global cultural icon called Wilde. Making Oscar Wilde paints a vivid cultural history of sensation-hungry journalism and popular entertainment alongside racial controversies, sex scandals, and the rising power of Irish nationalism.

My first book, Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture, shows how two of the 19th century's foremost authors profoundly influenced each other and shaped the period's literary and visual culture. The book explores why being 'aesthetic' mattered so much to Victorians on both sides of the sea. It also explains how Aestheticism responded to anxieties about culture, originality, sexuality and nationality.

With Laura Marcus and Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, I co-edited Late Victorian Into Modern, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Modernist Studies Association Book Prize. Featuring new essays by 40 leading scholars, the book reveals the cultural continuties and ruptures that occurred between the end of the 19th century and the dawn of the 20th. ​My chapter examines why cosmopolitanism mattered to John Ruskin, Walter Pater and Joris-Karl Huysmans in the Victorian era, and why it still felt vital to E. M. Forster on the eve of World War 1.

Alan Hollinghurst: Writing Under the Influence (co-edited with Denis Flannery) developed from my longstanding interest in gay history and visual culture. This is the first collection to consider the majority of Hollinghurst's Booker Prize-winning works -- from his poetry and novels, to his criticism and French translation.

Thanks to Yale University's Donald C. Gallup Fellowship in American Literature, I recently completed a major reassessment of two young Harlem Renaissance writers who infused African-American literature with European decadent culture. I presented my findings on Bruce Nugent and Wallace Thurman's daring, precocious work in a British Library keynote lecture (soon to be published by Johns Hopkins University Press).

Selected publications
 

Professional Service

I review for journals and advise on book proposals for several publishers. 

 

Teaching and Doctoral Supervision 

I welcome applications from new doctoral students, particularly those interested in working with archives or researching transatlantic cultural histories. 

The Oxford papers I have taught include:

  • Literature in English 1830-1910 (Prelims Paper 3)
  • Literature in English 1910-Present Day (Prelims Paper 4)
  • The Fin de siecle (FHS Paper 6)
  • MSt 1830-1914: Core Course in Contexts & Approaches (A course)
  • MSt Oscar Wilde and archival materials (B course)
  • MSt Lessons of the Master: Henry James and his Literary Legacies (C course)

Born and raised in Montréal, Canada, I grew up speaking French and English. I studied Liberal Arts and English Literature at Concordia University, where I fell in love with all things 19th & 20th century. During the summers, I worked on a windswept island in Germany's North Sea. After graduation, a fellowship from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst took me back to Germany to study at the University of Heidelberg. From there, I went to Cambridge University on a Commonwealth scholarship and earned an MPhil (First) in American Literature and a PhD in English Literature. In 2001, I went to Harvard University as a Fulbright Scholar.

Before joining Oxford’s English Faculty in 2009, I taught at Edinburgh University, Boston University, Harvard, Cambridge, and Heidelberg.

Publications

  • Homosociality and the Aesthetic in James’s Roderick Hudson

  • Poetry, parody, porn and prose

  • Reading Cosmopolitanism, Aestheticism and Decadence

  • 9780198704393

  • Alan Hollinghurst: Writing Under the Influence

  • Rewriting the Genealogy of Minstrelsy for Modernity: “Cry and Sing, Walk and Rage, Scream and Dance”

  • Oscar Wilde, Henry James and the Fate of Aestheticism

  • Beautiful souls mixed up with hooked noses: Art, degeneration, and anti-semitism in the master and trilby

  • Notes on Oscar Wilde's transatlantic gender politics

  • Aestheticism and Decadence

  • The Tragic Muse

  • The Tragic Muse

  • ‘I’m not a bit expensive’: Henry James and the Sexualization of the Victorian Girl

  • 'Revaluing and Re-Evaluating Richard Ellmann's Oscar Wilde' [An assessment commissioned by THE OSCHOLARS to mark the twentieth anniversary of the publication]

  • Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture

  • Ticket to Rye: a Visit to Henry James's House

  • Oscar Wilde

  • Reconsidering race, Language and Identity in The Emperor Jones

  • More
List of site pages