The main aim of my thesis is to show that the ethos conveyed through Oscar Wilde’s Salomé – maybe more than in any other of his works – is in accordance with the parameters of “exceptional mental health,” a scientifically tested set of criteria for optimal conduct in human networks.
Empirical research in the field of family and group psychology has confirmed the existence of so-called “exceptionally healthy” people, who relate to their environment in ways fundamentally different from people with “average” or poor mental health. In my thesis, I employ the distinct parameters of exceptional mental health, as outlined by the therapist Robin Skynner, as an objective reference point for an ethical evaluation of literary works. Since the concept of exceptional mental health is concerned with actual behaviour, it can easily be applied to conscious or unconscious structural choices made by an author in a writing situation. Consequently, if there is an exceptionally attitude in real life, there should also be an “exceptionally healthy style” in literature. As I try to show, Salomé reflects such a healthy style.
My analysis also shows that the characteristics of the “true personality of man,” which Wilde tries to promote in many of his works, are identical to the parameters of exceptionally healthy behaviour confirmed by modern studies. In my thesis, I investigate the way in which the structure of Salomé reflects the exceptional mental health of its author, by tracing the parameters of healthy behaviour in the implied author’s formal choices. In addition, I examine how and where the play’s structural ethos conflates with implicit and explicit ethical propositions on a fictional level.
I propose that Wilde opts for an unorthodox way of promoting exceptional mental health, by presenting – in dramatically exaggerated and comprised form – the consequences of being trapped in a vicious circle of even moderate dysfunctionality. The play’s implied author treats his own creation as well as the implied reader in strict accordance with the guidelines for exceptional mental health, and – by way of the play’s structure – this healthy behaviour tries to find its way into the fictional universe itself. An analysis of Salomé’s structural ethos reveals that the play’s design allows for an alteration of behaviour on a fictional level, based on individual initiative. Within the story itself, it is primarily the drama’s protagonist Salomé who attempts to change her universe, by changing her own relation to it.