Dr Michèle Mendelssohn

This summer, Oxford University Press publishes my new biography of Oscar Wilde. Based on fresh research and archival evidence, Making Oscar Wilde tells the story of a local Irish eccentric called Oscar who became a global cultural icon called Wilde. Set on two continents, the book is a cultural history of sensation-hungry Victorian journalism and popular entertainment alongside racial controversies, sex scandals, and the rising power of Irish nationalism in the United States.

Making Oscar Wilde

A Sunday Times Must Read

A retelling of Wilde's American adventure that genuinely makes you rethink vital elements of his life and work ... Mendelssohn's research is prodigious. – The Observer

Mendelssohn's remarkable book … uncovers material missed by lengthier biographies, even Richard Ellmann's, and conveys the excitement of real research and discovery. – Sunday Times

A stylish account of [Wilde's] tumultuous rise, fall and resurrection... a hugely important and enjoyable book. –  Irish Post

To celebrate Wilde's 163rd birthday, I wrote a piece about him here.

I'm a literary critic and cultural historian. My research ranges from the late 19th century to the present day. It covers both sides of the Atlantic Ocean: I am passionate about British, American and Canadian literature. 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 co-managed the Institute'. During 2018, I held the Eakin Visting Fellowship in Canadian Studies at McGill University. I am currently working on cultures of cosmopolitanism in Canada.

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 have supervised several doctoral students to successful completion. I welcome applications from new doctoral students, particularly those interested in working with archives or researching transatlantic cultural histories. 

At Oxford, the undergraduate and postgraduate 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)
  • MSt The Literature of Decadence, 1835-1932 (C course)

Born and raised in Montréal, Canada, I grew up bilingual and attended local French schools. I first studied Liberal Arts and English Literature at Concordia University. During the summers, I learned German and worked on a windswept island in Germany's North Sea. After graduation, I won a fellowship from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst to study German and American Literature at the University of Heidelberg.

In 1999, I went to Cambridge University on scholarships from the British, Canadian and Québec governments. I earned an MPhil (First) in American Literature and a PhD in English Literature. While completing my doctorate, I was a Fulbright Scholar at Harvard University and a Lecturer at Boston University. In 2005, I became a permanent member of Edinburgh University's English Department.

I have been an Associate Professor in Oxford’s English Faculty since 2009. I was also Deputy Director of the Rothermere American Insitute from 2015 to 2017. During this time, I have held fellowships from the Leverhulme Trust, McGill University, the University of Utah, Yale University, and Emory University. 


Selected Awards and Fellowships

• McGill University Institute for the Study of Canada Eakin Fellowship 2017-18

• Oxford Research Excellence Framework Strategic Fund Award 2017

• Yale University Beinecke Fellowship 2014

• Oxford John Fell Research Fund Award 2011

• Emory University Research Fellowship in African American History & Culture 2011

• Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship 2010-11

• University of Utah Tanner Centre Visiting Fellowship in the Humanities 2009-10 

• British Library Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship in North American Studies 2007-8

• Postdoctoral Fellowship, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC; declined)  2004-6

• Canada-U.S. Fulbright Fellowship 2001-3

• Doctoral Fellowship, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada 2001-4

• Organization of American States Fellowship 2002-3

• King’s College Graduate Student Fund Grant 2002

• Fellowship, Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (declined) 2001-2

• Ferris Fund Grant for study at University of Perugia 2001

• Cambridge University Allen, Meek and Read Award 2000-1

• Doctoral Fellowship, Overseas Research Student Award (ORSAS) from the United Kingdom 1999-2002

• Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Award 1999-2003

• King’s College, Cambridge Studentship 1999-2003

• Graduate Fellowship, Fonds pour la Formation des Chercheurs du Québec 1998-2000

• Graduate Fellowship, Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst 1998-9


  • Homosociality and the Aesthetic in James’s Roderick Hudson

  • Poetry, parody, porn and prose

  • Reading Cosmopolitanism, Aestheticism and Decadence

  • Late Victorian into Modern

  • 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

List of site pages