chapter  4
Haunting “The Harlot’s House”
WithJamil Mustafa
Pages 25

This chapter locates Wilde’s poem within a rich nexus of cosmopolitan discourses including allegory, queer culture, and the machineries of puppetry and proto-cinema. It concludes that these various cultural phenomena, together with a range of apposite critical methods, cohere around concepts of the ghostly, the haunted, and the uncanny as articulated by theorists from Freud and Derrida forward. Part I, “Apparitional Allegories,” shows how “The Harlot’s House” is haunted by the ghosts of Poe and Baudelaire, and how its spectrality is bound up with allegory, (un)masking, and projection. Part II, “Uncanny Sexualities,” demonstrates how the poem allegorizes male prostitution, and how its speaker represses his own queerness. Part III, “Spectral Technologies,” explores how his repression engages the technologies depicted and suggested by the poem, and how the Althea Gyles illustrations in the 1904 edition of the poem capture the technological, allegorical, and spectral qualities of the text. These three sections prove that “The Harlot’s House” is informed and animated by spectrality, and they demonstrate how haunting enables the poem to draw together phantasmal phenomena ranging from Poe’s tales of terror to male brothels, from drag balls to the Projecting Praxinoscope.