Date of Award

May 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Jane Gallop

Committee Members

Gregory Jay, Jose Lanters, Richard Grusin, Cary Costello


Gender, Literary Criticism, Modernism, Queer Theory, Sexuality


“Queer Literary Criticism and the Biographical Fallacy” engages with three fields of inquiry within literary studies: queer literary criticism, modernist studies, and author theory. By looking at the critical reception of four iconic queer modernist authors – Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Radclyffe Hall, and Virginia Woolf– this dissertation reinvestigates the relation between criticism and the figure of the author. Queer criticism-- despite its fundamental critique of identity—relies on the identity of the author when it blurs the distinction between the literary text and the author’s biography. Ultimately this work provides a deeper understanding of the queer relation to the modernist author and the critic’s relation to the author’s biography.

The dissertation is divided into two sections and each one pairs two authors who were contemporaries of one another and contrasts their reception in literary criticism. The first section includes Oscar Wilde and Henry James, and the second Radclyffe Hall and Virginia Woolf. The first chapter tracks the critical celebration of Oscar Wilde as he moves from gay hero in the 1980s to queer icon in the 1990s. The chapter argues that despite the queer critique of identity politics, queer critics share a similar personal investment in Wilde as the earlier gay critics. The second chapter moves to Henry James, whose sexuality (unlike Wilde’s) necessitated innovative queer methods of apprehension and interpretation beyond binary categories of homo and heterosexual definition. The subject of the third chapter is Radclyffe Hall, whose legal trial made her a similar public homosexual to Oscar Wilde. Reading through two decades of lesbian and queer criticism of Hall, this chapter demonstrates how often critics discuss the author rather than her novel, and how frequently critics conflate the author with her fictional character. The final chapter on Virginia Woolf demonstrates how contemporary queer criticism rallies against the biographical insistence of an earlier generation of lesbian and feminist critics. In this final case, in contradistinction to the other chapters, queer criticism of Woolf aligns with Woolf’s own modernist resistance to the dominance of biography.