Senior Honors Thesis

Constructing a Martyr: Wilde and D'Annunzio in the Shadow of St. Sebastian

My senior thesis, which received High Honors from both the Italian Studies and English departments at Wesleyan University, focuses on texts by Oscar Wilde and Gabriele D'Annunzio.

Oscar Wilde and Gabriele D’Annunzio were two decadent thinkers that lived at the turn of the twentieth century and were bonded by their identification with and attraction to the figure of St. Sebastian. This work seeks to problematize their apparent similarities by drawing out significant differences in how they perceived Sebastian, how they elaborated themes of martyrdom in their fiction, and how they coopted the archetypal martyr for their own autobiographical self-fashioning projects. 

In this piece, I take a look at how the figure of the martyr is represented in various texts by both authors: A Woman of No Importance and De profundis by Wilde, and Le martyre de Saint Sébastien and Cento e cento e cento e cento pagine del libro segreto di Gabriele d'Annunzio, tentato da morire by d'Annunzio. 

Ultimately, I argue that each author coopted a specific version of the martyr that appealed to his political, religious, and sexual beliefs in order to validate his personal conception of gender.

I am incredibly thankful to the Olin Fellowship for their generous support of this project.

Image: Ida Rubinstein in costume as Sebastian for Le martyre de Saint Sébastien, 1911.