Professor Michèle Mendelssohn


Making Oscar Wilde (Oxford University Press, July 2018, 374 pages + 32 pages of illustrations)

Cover for Making Oscar Wilde

Based on new 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. The audiobook is here. Frequently Asked Questions about the book are answered here: Why did Wilde travel to the USA? How did Wilde’s American tour shape his future? What surprised you while writing Making Oscar Wilde? How do you explain Wilde’s continued appeal? 



2019 PEN America Biography Prize



Biographers' Club Slightly Foxed First Biography Prize

Polari Prize



The Sunday Times 

The Times Literary Supplement

The Advocate


"A hugely important and enjoyable book." –  Irish Post

"Fascinating" – The New Yorker

"A must read"– The Sunday Times

"An extraordinary new take on Wilde. Even those who claim to know him intimately will be astonished and enthralled by Mendelssohn’s fresh perspective on his multifaceted life."– Eleanor Fitzsimons in The Irish Times  

"Making Oscar Wilde is a fresh, exciting and illuminating study of the construction of celebrity and reputation. … The story of St. Oscar will never be the same." – Elaine Showalter, Professor Emerita of English, Princeton University and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

"One of the most devastating, complex and presently political literary biographies I’ve ever read." – Eileen Myles, author of Chelsea Girls 

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

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

"Michèle Mendelssohn's astonishing demonstration [shows] that just when you thought you knew everything about the life of Oscar Wilde, there's more.… someone could make a movie out of Making Oscar Wilde." – Andrew Holleran in The Gay & Lesbian Review

"The story of Wilde’s American tour has often been told before; but never like this. ... Mendelssohn is the first critic to refute the triumphant self-serving spin put on the tour by both Wilde and his promoters." – Kate Hext in the Times Literary Supplement

"You may not think there is new stuff to learn about Oscar Wilde, but there is – as this book proves." – Gyles Brandreth, President of the Oscar Wilde Society and author of the Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries

"Both tragic and touching, Mendelssohn has penned a biography worthy of its subject. She takes the reader behind the scenes of Victorian England and post-Civil War America to reveal a secret self-creation that would make modern internet influencers turn green with envy." – The Advocate 

"Making Oscar Wilde offers an astonishing window into Wilde’s American flaneuring, adding to what even extreme Oscar-obsessives like me thought they knew"– The Paris Review

"Now that America has come to seem so unsettled and so strange, two books help us to become more alarmed. One is Michèle Mendelssohn’s Making Oscar Wilde. It charts the early rise of Wilde, with special attention to how, during the 1880s, his lecture tours in America, a country beguiled by novelty and in need of excitement, made his name. As long as it was new, it seemed, America wanted it." – Colm Tóibín in The Guardian 

"Mendelssohn’s scrupulous account humanizes Wilde" – Alexander C. Kafka in The Washington Post

"A fascinating account of how young Wilde’s flair for self-promotion aligned with the birth of celebrity culture during the "age of Barnum" –  BBC Culture

"A vivid, intelligent look at Victorian celebrity culture through the rise to fame of one of its brightest stars." –  New York Journal of Books

"Enlightening and provocative ... Making Oscar Wilde is a breezily paced and entertaining read, and throughout Mendelssohn’s style is refreshingly unstuffy." – Gregory Mackie in Literary Review of Canada

"A fresh look at Oscar Wilde's English, Irish and American contexts." –  Kirkus Review

"Mendelssohn ... refocuses the young Wilde for a new generation." – Franny Moyle, author of Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde 

"Vividly written, consistently illuminating, and lavishly illustrated, this book is full of surprises, above all in showing how Wilde’s Irishness played into the story of race relations in post-Civil War America." – Michael Gorra, author of Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece

"An original, meticulously-researched and beautifully-paced account of how a modern writer invented himself, and was invented, as an international artist-celebrity." – Declan Kiberd, Professor of Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame and author of Ulysses and Us

"A very fine work of biography that will be of value to scholars for many years to come." – Victorian Review

"Mendelssohn's book reveals a man for whom the word charisma could have been invented, but also a man living on the edge." – Steve Craggs in The Northern Echo

"Wonderfully well-written book ...With immense skill, Mendelssohn shows how Celtophobia was cognate with Negrophobia in late 19th-century America." – Ian Thomson in The Catholic Herald 

"Nothing short of thrilling — a highlight of my reading life this year" – Marc Dundas Wood in The Clyde Fitch Report 


Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture (Edinburgh University Press, 2007; paperback 2014, 310 pages.)

Cover for Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture

Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture shows how two of the 19th century's foremost authors profoundly influenced each other and the period's literary and visual culture. Nominated for the 2008 British Association of American Studies Book Prize, the book explores why being ‘aesthetic’ mattered so much to Victorians on both sides of the sea and explains how Aestheticism responded to anxieties about culture, originality, sexuality and nationality.


“Tremendously impressive... exceptionally strong” – Joseph Bristow in Victorian Studies

“Scrupulous scholarship… ground-breaking analysis” – Ian Bell in Journal of American Studies

“Fresh and detailed ... intelligent, probing ... Mendelssohn is surely right to push us to think about other ways of conceiving of James, Wilde and James-Wilde, ... this is always a rewarding and original book to read” – Mark Turner in 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century

“Mendelssohn presents a fairer, more even-handed, subtler and completer picture… The book belongs to what might be called the history of ideas”  – Bernard Richards in Essays in Criticism

“Marked by brilliantly detailed renderings of period literary relations and deft close readings, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, and Aesthetic Culture intervenes powerfully in debates about taste, commodification, sexuality, professionalization, identity, and originality in Victorian and modernist literature and culture.” – Douglas Mao, Johns Hopkins University

“In this engrossing book, Michèle Mendelssohn challenges the longstanding assumption that Henry James and Oscar Wilde shunned each other’s influence… Written with verve, and substantiated with meticulous research, Mendelssohn’s study offers a fresh perspective on aestheticism while illuminating the obscurities of a fascinating literary friendship.”  – Maud Ellmann, University of Chicago


  Late Victorian into Modern, 1880-1920 Edited by Laura Marcus, Michèle Mendelssohn and Kirsten Shepherd-Barr. (Oxford University Press, 2016 ; paperback 2019, 672 pages)

Cover for Late Victorian into Modern

Shortlisted for the 2017 Modernist Studies Association Book Prize

This ground-breaking book of 40 new essays opens up the fin de siècle and Modernism by interrogating the literary critical currency of these terms. Drawing on the work of established and emerging scholars of literature, this volume rethinks and expands the classic categories that have dominated criticism of the period.


"Late Victorian into Modern offers an extremely useful overview of the foundational work that fostered connections between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and points to ways forward. ... The collection as a whole is remarkable in its clarity, coherence, and organization." – Victorian Studies

“The book’s originality emerges in the way it highlights networks that include wide memberships, making individual authors visible as participants in a rich variety of cultural and aesthetic debates. ... This collection does excellent work in tracing thematic threads through texts beyond the centrally canonical. ... Thorough and enterprising, the collection’s essays commit to diving into the archive in search of gems that deserve revisiting. ... This is admirable for its canon-stretching promise.”  – Journal of Victorian Culture

Writing Under the Influence: Essays on Alan Hollinghurst Edited by Michèle Mendelssohn and Denis Flannery. (Manchester University Press, 2016, reissued in paperback in 2018, 211 pages.)

Cover for Alan Hollinghurst

This innovative, cross-generic collection is the first to consider the entire breadth of Alan Hollinghurst's Booker Prize-winning writing. Focused through the concept of influence, the volume addresses critical issues surrounding the work of Britain's most important contemporary novelist. It encompasses provocative and timely subjects ranging from gay visual cultures to Victorian, modernist and contemporary literature, as well as race and empire, theatre and cinema, eros and economics.


“Thanks in no small part to the contributions of this volume, Hollinghurst scholarship has come of age” – Review of English Studies 

“Plumbs Hollinghurst’s debts to such figures as James, Firbank, and Housman… [and] place[s] the novelist in dialogue with more surprising literary and artistic sources…. Crediting Hollinghurst’s fiction with conducting acts of queer theorizing and queer critique pays tribute to the intelligence of his novels and links his work to active research agendas in queer theory.” – Los Angeles Review of Books

"A Small Black Boy and Others: James Baldwin’s Essays as a Radical Framework for Understanding Henry James." Henry James Review, vol. 4, no. 3, fall 2023. 

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Reconsidering untapped radical energies in James's writings alongside revelations regarding his entanglements with radical London made possible by The Complete Letters of Henry James, this "Radical James" special issue works to read radicalism not just out of but back into James. This essay considers why James Baldwin revered Henry James but dreamt of writing an essay called "A Negro Looks at Henry James." The essay proposes a transhistorical reading method that addresses the racialized emotional and political aspects of A Small Boy and Others and The American Scene. Doing so brings into focus a radical Black context for understanding James by positioning him in relation to a longer history of interracial encounters exemplified by Baldwin. By attending to James's elisions and reading them in conversation with Baldwin, this essay proposes a new framework for reading James's nonfiction that compensates for his limited racial vision.


Cynthia Ozick and the Art of Nonfiction, Special Issue, Studies in American Jewish Literature, co-edited with Charlie Tyson (2024)

Editors’ Introduction: Cynthia Ozick and the Art of Nonfiction 

The Melodrama of Cynthia Ozick’s Imagination 

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Cynthia Ozick has over the decades quietly produced one of the major bodies of literary essays in contemporary American letters. In 10 new essays by Bryan Cheyette, Emily Coit, Evan Goldstein, Lillian Hingley, Susanne Klingenstein, Michèle Mendelssohn, Joe Moshenska, Na’amit Sturm Nagel and Charlie Tyson, this special issue focuses on Ozick’s essays, criticism, reviews, memoiristic pieces, and thought experiments. It aims to take the measure of Ozick's achievement through her nonfiction, while keeping in mind the awkwardness of this category for a writer whose essays frequently display a brilliantly defiant blurring of the fictive and the factual.


  1. "A Janus-Faced Friend: Oscar Wilde and Modern Greece's Queer Future" Victorians and Modern Greece: Literary and Cultural Encounters, edited by Efterpi Mitsi and Anna Despotopoulou (Taylor & Francis), forthcoming.  
  2. “A Decadent Dream Deferred: the Harlem Renaissance's Queer Modernity” Decadence in the Age of Modernism ​. Eds. Kate Hext and Alex Murray (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019).
  3. “Reading Cosmopolitanism, Aestheticism and Decadence” Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature: Late Victorian into Modern. Eds. Laura Marcus, Michèle Mendelssohn and Kirsten Shepherd-Barr. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 482-496.
  4. “Poetry, Parody, Porn and Prose” Alan Hollinghurst: Writing Under the Influence. Eds. Denis Flannery and Michèle Mendelssohn. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2016. 41-56.
  5. Oscar Wilde, Henry James and the Fate of Aestheticism.Oscar Wilde in Context. Eds. Kerry Powell and Peter Raby (Cambridge UP, 2014)
  6. 'Aestheticism and Decadence.' Henry James in Context. Ed. David McWhirter (Cambridge UP, 2010): 93-104.
  7. “The Tragic Muse.” A Critical Companion to Henry James. Eds. Eric Haralson and Kendall Johnson. Clearmark Books, 2009.
  8. 'I'm not a bit expensive': Henry James and the Sexualization of the Victorian Girl.' The Nineteenth Century Child and Consumer Culture. Ed. Dennis Denisoff (Ashgate, 2008)
  9. “Oscar Wilde”, Men and Masculinities: A Social, Cultural and Historical Encyclopedia, Eds. Michael S. Kimmel and Amy Aronson. ABC-Clio Press, 2004. 830-833.


  1. "The Melodrama of Cynthia Ozick's Imagination", Studies in American Jewish Literature, co-edited with Charlie Tyson (2024).
  2. "A Small Black Boy and Others: James Baldwin’s Essays as a Radical Framework for Understanding Henry James." Henry James Review, vol. 4, no. 3, fall 2023. 

  3. Rewriting the Genealogy of Minstrelsy for Modernity: "Cry and Sing, Walk and Rage, Scream and Dance"' African American Review (Spring 2015)
  4. 'Beautiful Souls Mixed up with Hooked Noses: Art, Degeneration and Anti-Semitism in Trilby and The Master.' Victorian Literature and Culture 40.1 (March 2012): 179-197.
  5. 'Notes on Oscar Wilde's Transatlantic Gender Politics.' Journal of American Studies 46.1 (February 2012):1-15.
  6. “Homosociality and the Aesthetic in James’s Roderick Hudson”. Nineteenth-Century Literature, March 2003. Vol. 57, no. 4: 512-541.
  7. “Reconsidering Race, Language, and Identity in The Emperor Jones”. The Eugene O’Neill Review, Spring/ Fall 1999. Vol. 23, nos. 1 & 2: 19-30.




2018 & Earlier


Leadership & Committees

  • 2019-ongoing: ConvenorMSt in English 1830-1914 
  • 2022: Citizens of Global Decadence international conference co-organizer
  • 2020-ongoing: Oxford Centre for Life Writing advisory board member
  • 2020-2023: English Review magazine editorial board member & commissioning editor
  • 2020-21: Co-chair, Race Equality Working Group; Public Engagement with Research Academic Advisory Network
  • 2018-9: Principal Investigator & Co-curator, Making History
  • 2015-17: Deputy Director & Academic Chair, Rothermere American Institute
  • 2012-17: ConvenorAmerican Literature Research Seminar 
  • 2014-16: ConvenorMSt in English 1830-1914 
  • 2011-13: Convenor, English Faculty Victorian Group
  • 2012: Co-organiserAlain Locke in the 21st Century Symposium 

She reviews for journals and advises on book proposals for several publishers. She welcomes further opportunities.

Teaching and Doctoral Supervision 

Professor Mendelssohn has taught the following undergraduate and postgraduate courses:

  • Literature in English 1830-1910 (Prelims Paper 3)
  • Literature in English 1910-Present Day (Prelims Paper 4)
  • Global Victorians (Paper 6)
  • The Fin de siecle (Paper 6)
  • Contemporary Canadian Literature and Cosmopolitanism (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 Legacies (C course)
  • MSt The Literature of Decadence, 1835-1932 (C course)

She has supervised many doctoral students to successful completion. She welcomes applications from new doctoral students, particularly those interested in researching transatlantic cultural histories and working with British, American and Canadian archives.


Selected Awards and Fellowships

• Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities Cultural Programme Incubation Grant 2024-5

• Université de Paris Partnership Fellowship 2024 

• TORCH-Pitt Rivers Knowledge Exchange Fellowship 2019-2020

• 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

Born and raised in Montréal, Canada, Michèle Mendelssohn grew up in a bilingual family and attended local French schools until the age of 17. She earned her B.A. (cum laude) in English Literature and Western Society and Culture at Concordia University's Liberal Arts College. After graduation, she won a Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst Scholarship to study German Literature at the University of Heidelberg. She went to Cambridge University thanks to scholarships from the Commonwealth, British, Canadian and Québec governments. She earned her M.Phil. (First class) in American Literature and her Ph.D. in English Literature from Cambridge in 2003. During this time, she was also a Canada-U.S. Fulbright Scholar at Harvard University and a Lecturer in the Humanities at Boston University. In 2005, she joined Edinburgh University's English Department.


She joined Oxford's English Faculty in 2009. From 2015-2017, she was Deputy Director of Oxford University's Rothermere American Institute. During her mandate, she managed the Institute's activities and created new programs to foster inclusive, research-led conversations across literature, history and politics. These included interdisciplinary events for students, faculty and the wider community, as well as public lectures and student-centred workshops with prizewinning thinkers, authors and leaders. In 2017-2018, she held the Eakin Visiting Fellowship in Canadian Studies at McGill University, where she also taught a class on contemporary Canadian writing. Her research has attracted international awards from the Leverhulme Trust, Yale University, Emory University, McGill University, and the University of Utah. She has lectured across Europe, the US and Canada. She has presented her research on international radio and TV, as well as in venues including the British Library, the National Theatre, the Belfast Book Festival, Chalke Valley History Festival and the Cheltenham Literary Festival.