“Passion, Salomé”: Decadent Transformations and Transgressions of Feminine Sensuality in Huysmans, Wilde, and Strauss

  • Mariama Diallo


Representations of Salomé have been hued in the paradoxical characterisations of the beautifully seductive and evil femme fatale. While some artists closely aligned their depictions to this Pandorian stereotype in collusion with narrative traditions of the oppressive male gaze, others challenged it through inventive reimaginations of Salomé, unveiling glimpses of the character’s complex emotive, psychological, and sensual universe that still manages to leave spectators ambivalent and discombobulated today. This article explores the transformations of Salomé in artistic representations of the Decadence across a range of media through a comparative reading of Huysmans’ novel À Rebours (1884), Wilde’s play Salomé (1891) and Strauss’ opera Salomé (1905). The interpretive changes in her characterisations – the femme fatale par excellence, the tragically fated heroine, the transgressive Decadent artist, the self-fulfilled hedonist – uncover a weaponisation of Salomé, transforming her oppressive patriarchal environmental conditions and the sexually objectifying male gaze that have often confined her, to reveal an empowered aesthetic of Decadent transgression that questions and subverts traditional gender and power dynamics, gender identities, and sensual feminine subjectivities.

Transgressive Bodies