Katharina Herold examines the interplay of cosmopolitanism and orientalism in Wilde's poem 'The Sphinx'.
Wilde’s Orient is inspired by impressions from his father’s extended travels to the Middle East and North Africa in 1837, literary French influences, his friend Charles Ricketts and not least his own keen interest in ancient archaeology. Looking at images from the Middle East in Wilde’s poem 'The Sphinx' (published 1894), this paper interrogates Wilde’s literary manifestation of this cosmopolitan ideal of appropriation and conglomeration. Does Wilde’s resistance to nationalistic specification qualify as Orientalist because it ignores political implications of engrossing foreign cultural traits and disconnecting them from their history? Or indeed, could we consider Wilde a pioneer of multicultural fusion of national identities that results in celebrating literature as the ideal of aestheticist beauty transcending categories of national origin?