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Wilde Writings

Wilde Writings: Contextual Conditions

Edited by Joseph Bristow
  • Book Info
    Wilde Writings
    Book Description:

    Featuring thirteen original essays that examine Wilde's achievements as an aesthete, critic, dramatist, novelist, and poet, this provocative and ground-breaking volume ushers the field of Oscar Wilde studies into the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8350-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-38)

    Wilde Writingsreveals how our knowledge of Oscar Wildeʼs diverse achievements - as a critic, dramatist, editor, journalist, and writer of fiction - has advanced considerably in recent years. Now, more than a century after his penurious demise on 30 November 1900, the “jingle of his name” (to quote his contemporary, Max Beerbohm) arouses an immense amount of scholarly interest. These days the academic world can confidently assert that it possesses greater understanding than ever before of a gifted man whose widely publicized successes and failures were often misrepresented both during his lifetime and in the years that followed his...


    • chapter one Wilde’s World: Oscar Wilde and Theatrical Journalism in the 1880s
      (pp. 41-58)

      These days, despite the enormous popularity of Wildeʼs plays with scholars and theatergoers alike, the works still sit uneasily in a critical context that values above all formal experiment and radical politics, ideally in combination. Regenia Gagnier findsSalomé(1893) acceptable because she manages to link its aesthetic to that of Antonin Artaud.¹ Julia Prewitt Brown admires the comedies because the “excessive” qualities of Wildeʼs dandies remind her of the Monty Python television comedy series.² Other critics, however, remain perturbed by the conspicuous affluence of Wildeʼs theatrical style. Joseph Bristow asks what connection stage pictures built around “visual allure and...

    • chapter two “The Soul of Man under Socialism”: A (Con)Textual History
      (pp. 59-85)

      Work by textual critics on Oscar Wilde’s writing practices has produced a number of observations now so accepted that they have ossified into truisms. They are that Wilde’s works exist in several versions, that he was a thorough reviser, and that he frequently resorted to plagiarism. There is, however, less agreement about how to interpret these observations, and some difficult questions persist: Is there development in Wilde’s rewriting? Do different versions of the same work necessarily indicate artistic seriousness? What is the precise relationship between works and versions? And what is the line between creative borrowing and mere copying, between...

    • chapter three Love-Letter, Spiritual Autobiography, or Prison Writing? Identity and Value in De Profundis
      (pp. 86-100)

      For at least a generation, most critical interpretations of Oscar Wilde’s works, whether they have acknowledged it or not, have depended on an expressive aesthetic which is authenticated by a particular reading of his life. The best-known instance of this practice was Richard Ellmann’s 1987 biography, which explained Wilde’s creativity in relation to his sexuality. Ellmann famously asserted that “[h]omosexuality fired [Wilde’s] mind,” and went on to link what he called Wilde’s “annus mirabilis” (1891) with the meeting with Lord Alfred Douglas.¹ Later critics, such as Christopher Craft, Richard Dellamora, Jonathan Dollimore, and Alan Sinfield, presented more subtle readings of...

    • chapter four Wilde’s Exquisite Pain
      (pp. 101-124)

      When I read Oscar Wilde’s prison writings, not to mention his letters from his self-imposed exile on the Continent, I am struck by how excruciating they are - and how pleasurable. His very pain is made exquisite to me. It is exquisite not because I would have wished upon him the same cruelty that he suffered at the hands of his more homophobic contemporaries. Rather, Wilde invites us to rethink suffering itself and its relation to writing, desire, and the very philosophy of aestheticism through which he defined himself as an artist. In criticism about Wilde, the pain of his...


    • chapter five Wilde Man: Masculinity, Feminism, and A Woman of No Importance
      (pp. 127-146)

      Feminism in the later Victorian period was defined to a large extent by a puritanical morality which, as historian Barbara Caine points out, requires far more attention than it has yet received.¹ This surprising moralistic strain in the emerging women’s movement - surprising in its reach and intensity - helps to account for the troubled relationships betweenfin-de-sièclefeminists on the one hand, and many progressive men (including Oscar Wilde) on the other. Wilde’s opposition to the enforcement of traditional codes of gender made him the natural ally of late-Victorian feminists, but his vehement opposition to their reconfiguration of masculinity...

    • chapter six Wilde, and How to Be Modern: or, Bags of Red Gold
      (pp. 147-162)

      This chapter examines some of the circumstances surrounding the writing ofThe Importance of Being Earnest(1895), and how these may have affected the nature of that text. For the first time in his playwriting career, and no doubt driven by financial pressure, Wilde trailed a draft scenario before a manager, in a letter to George Alexander during the summer of 1894. Clearly, his long letter was following up a previous conversation: “There really is nothing more to tell you about the comedy beyond what I told you already. I mean that the real charm of the play, if it...

    • chapter seven Master Wood’s Profession: Wilde and the Subculture of Homosexual Blackmail in the Victorian Theatre
      (pp. 163-182)

      In 1987, when Richard Ellmann’s monumental life of Oscar Wilde appeared to great acclaim, some readers were beguiled not so much by a biographical revelation or criticalaperçu, but by a picture. At the end of a sheaf of more or less familiar illustrations came a photograph of a fleshy figure in the garb of an Oriental houri, stretching out her arms to a shaggy head on a platter. The caption read laconically: “Wilde in costume as Salome.”¹ The only other information provided was an attribution to the Guillot de Saix Collection, by way of the well-known Roger-Viollet, a French...


    • chapter eight Wilde’s The Woman’s World and the Culture of Aesthetic Philanthropy
      (pp. 185-211)

      InThe Picture of Dorian Gray, in reply to the grave observation that “the East End is a very important problem,” Lord Henry Wotton states, “Quite so. It is the problem of slavery, and we try to solve it by amusing the slaves.”¹ In the early pages of the 1891 edition of the novel, Aunt Agatha has enlisted Dorian to play piano duets with her in Whitechapel. Lord Henry refers to such amusements as “rational recreations,” a phrase the Victorians invented to describe the efforts of the upper and middle classes to disseminate culture to the poor for free. Oscar...

    • chapter nine The Origins of the Aesthetic Novel: Ouida, Wilde, and the Popular Romance
      (pp. 212-229)

      When we think of the aesthetic novel today, Oscar Wilde’sThe Picture of Dorian Gray(1890, 1891) springs to mind, followed perhaps byJoris-Karl Huysmans’A Rebours(1884), Walter Pater’sMarius the Epicurean(1885), and a few less well-known examples like Henry Harland’sThe Cardinal’s Snuff Box(1900), John Meade Falkner’sThe Lost Stradivarius(1896), and Maurice Hewlett​’sThe Forest Lovers(1898). These novels share certain distinctive characteristics that we have come to identify as the hallmarks of aesthetic fiction. They are written in a stylish epigrammatic or archaic discourse, the kind of “archaisms and argot” whose development Linda Bowling has...

    • chapter ten Oscar Wilde, New Women, and the Rhetoric of Effeminacy
      (pp. 230-253)

      Who or what, exactly, was the effeminate man in late-Victorian culture? Any discussion of the constitution and reception of effeminacy in thefin de sièclehas necessarily centered on the figure of Oscar Wilde.¹ Wilde’s body was reconfigured by representations in the popular press as the most recognizably effeminate man of the period, and Wilde himself was the author of numerous works that elaborately described effeminate men. But in focusing exclusively on Wilde and other male writers for a consideration of what it means to be effeminate, recent interpretations of this phenomenon analyze only those works whose authors appear to...

    • chapter eleven Oscar Wilde and Jesus Christ
      (pp. 254-272)

      As my title indicates, the topic of this chapter is Oscar Wilde and Jesus Christ, but I would like to begin with a few words about Lord Byron. Shortly after Easter 1816 Byron left England never to return, bringing to a close what a recent biographer justly calls hisannus horribilis. The scandalous rumors - some true, others fabricated, all exquisitely titillating - surrounding Byron’s conduct during his brief marriage to and very public separation from Annabella Milbanke left him with few friends and even fewer defenders.¹ “I was accused,” he wrote later, “of every monstrous vice by public rumour,...

    • chapter twelve Oscar Wilde’s Legacies to Clarion and New Age Socialist Aestheticism
      (pp. 275-294)

      This chapter focuses on Oscar Wilde’s intricate “travels” into two central but critically neglected venues of early twentieth-century British socialist debate about art and politics, theClarion(1891-1935) and theNew Age(1894—1934). By Oscar Wilde I mean not the man himself, whose many travels included his humiliating train journey from Reading Gaol to Clapham Junction and then his migration incognito through France and Italy before his penurious death in Paris in 1900. I mean rather the figure of the sexually transgressivefin-de-siècleartist whose reproduction and/or erasure played such an important role in shaping British discourses about art...


    • chapter thirteen Salomé in China: The Aesthetic Art of Dying
      (pp. 295-316)

      From the early part of the twentieth century, Chinese intellectuals regarded Oscar Wilde as a leading representative of the British Aesthetic Movement. Wilde’s forceful propounding of the principles of art for art’s sake and life for art’s sake made him a popular and influential figure among the leading writers and critics of the May Fourth generation - a generation associated with the Chinese enlightenment cultural movement at the turn of the twentieth century.¹ They regarded Wilde as an apostle of art, and a spokesperson of the idea of artistic autonomy. His works were repeatedly translated into Chinese and his plays...

  10. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 317-320)
  11. Index
    (pp. 321-334)