Oscar Wilde: Commentary (2)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

File 1
File 2

W. B. Yeats
Franz Blei
Robert H. Sherrard
James Joyce
G. B. Shaw
Sigmund Freud
Travers Humphreys
St. John Ervine
Willie Wilde
Allardyce Nicoll
H. G. Wells
Lionel Trilling
Hugh Kenner
Steven Marcus
Patrick Rafroidi
Rupert Croft Crooke
Richard Pine
Richard Ellmann
Ian Scott-Kilvert
W. B. Stanford
Seamus Deane
Declan Kiberd
John Stokes
Neil Sammells
Terry Eagleton
Ian Small
Seamus Heaney
Sos Eltis
Gerry Smyth
Mary C. King
Merlin Holland
Elaine Showalter
J. B. Lyons
Munira H. Mutran
Simon J. James
Simon Callow
Trevor Fisher
Thomas Wright
Fionnula Henderson
Anthony Julius
Colm Tóibín
Peter Crawley
Eileen Battersby
J. W. Foster
Ciaran Murray
Fintan O’Toole

Julia Prewitt Brown calls the subjectivist psychology normally associated with ‘identity’ irrelevant to Wilde, who creates instead a concept associated primarily with art and memory.
 
Alick West claims that Wilde’s homosexuality was engaged by a predisposition that he had made a conscious choice to exploit - to ‘live what he had not yet written’, noting that his conscious decision to be homosexual was the onset of his writing.

See Colm Tóibín, ‘The Road to Reading Gaol’, in London Review of Books (30 Nov. 2017) - as attached; or see extracts under William Wilde - infra.

Inconnue de la Seine a

L’inconnue de la Seine

Whose is the face we love to give
the kiss of life, the kiss of death?
L’Inconnue de la Seine.
And who is the girl behind the mask.
that kissable, missable little miss?
Why shame on you, Dorian Gray -
It’s Sybil Vane!

—Bruce Stewart

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Declan Kiberd, Anglo-Irish Attitudes [Field Day Pamphlets, No. 6] (Derry: Field Day 1984), ‘Wilde’s is an art of inversion where each side exemplifies qualities which we would normally expect in its opposite, as every dichotomy dichotomises. …The inversion of expectations of the audience may also be found in the play’s [Importance ] depiction of sexuality. So it is the women who read heavy works of German philosophy and attend university courses, while the men lounge elegantly on sofas. The men are filled with romantic impetuosity and breathless surges of emotion, but it is the women who cynically discuss the finer points of male physique […] In all these scenes Wilde is applying this doctrine of the androgyny of the healthy personality. […/] Antithesis was the master key of the entire Victorian cast of mind … Wilde saw that by this mechanism the English male could attribute to the Irish all those traits of poetry, emotion and soft charms which a stern Victorian code [7] had forced him to deny to himself[,] but he knew from experience that the two peoples are a lot more alike than they care to admit - that the Irish can as often be cold, polite, and calculating as the English can be sentimental, emotional and violent. […] Wilde is interested in the moment of modernism when the ancient antithesis dissolves to reveal an underlying unity. Like Yeats, he could see that talent perceives differences, but only genius perceives unity. / This same inversion of conventional expectations would explain the pose adopted by Wilde in England. All the norms of his childhood were now to be reversed. (pp.7-8.) […] Wilde is one of the first modernist writers to take for subject not the knowledge of good and evil, but what Lionel Trilling was later to call the knowledge of good-and-evil [recte Henry James]. he insists that men and women know themselves in all their aspects and that they cease to suppress those attributes which they may find painful or unflattering.’ (p.9.)

Declan Kiberd, ‘Irish Literature and Irish History’, appendix to Roy Foster, Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland (1989) - incls. remarks: ‘the career of Oscar Wilde in late Victorian London was, in every respect, an inversion and critique of all these [stage-Irish] stereotypes. According to the bemused Yeats, Wilde there ‘perpetually performed a play which was the opposite of all that he had known in childhood and youth.’ […] the father had been an unkempt Irishman, so the son became a fastidious, urbane Englishman. From his mother Oscar Wilde had inherited a gigantic and ungainly body, which recalled all too painfully the gorilla-like form of the Irish peasant in cartoons by Tenniel and others. To disarm such racist critics, the young dandy concealed his massive frame with costly clothes and studied the art of elegant deportment. The ease with which he effected this transition from stage Irishman to stage Englishman was his ultimate comment on the hollowness of the antithesis, on the emptiness of both notions. For Wilde sensed that antithesis was the master-key to the Victorian mind, which delighted in absolute distinctions between men and women, good and evil, English and Irish, and so on. By this mechanism, the English male could attribute to the Irish all those traits of emotion, poetry, and soft charm which a stern industrial code had forced him to deny in himself. In rejecting this manic urge to antithesis, Wilde was satirising the determinism of figures such as Marx and Carlyle, who contend that social conditioning or parental upbringing determined consciousness. The belief that the Irishman was a prisoner of heredity diet, and climate, like the conviction that woman is by nature docile, subservient, deferential, were twin attributes of Victorian determinism. This determinism is taken to its reductio ad absurdum in the account of the two girls, each of whom accepts that it is her ineluctable destiny to love a name named Earnest. The very plot of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is an example of a determinism so extreme as to render the concept idiotic and banal. […] The flaunted effeminacy of Wilde, no less than his espous[al] of the inner world of the child in his stories, may well be a sly comment on those hidden fears [i.e., the Englishman’s unease with the child and woman in himself]. Wilde’s “few” writings on Ireland question the assumption that just because the British are industrious and rational the Irish must be lazy and illogical […] Wilde could see that every sensitive Irishman must have a kind of secret Englishman within himself - and vice versa. He realised that the image of the stage Irishman tells us far more about English fears than Irish realities, just as the still vibrant Irish joke tells us far less about the Irishman’s foolishness than about the Englishman’s persistent and poignant desire to say something funny. In his case, Wilde opted to say that funny something for the English, in a lifelong performance of Englishness which constituted a parody of the very notion. By becoming more English than the English themselves, Wilde was able to invert, and ultimately to challenge, all the time-honoured clichés about Ireland.’ (pp.310-13.)

Field Day Anthology (1991): Kiberd introduces Wilde with similar remarks in Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (1991 , Vol. II): ‘Wilde satirised the determinism Victorians as diverse as Marx and Carlyle, who believed that upbringing and social conditional determined consciousness […] This determinism is taken to its reductio ad absurdum in Wilde’s account of the two girls, each of whom accepts that it is her ineluctable destiny to love a man named Earnest. The very plot of of the play is an example of a determinism so extreme as to render the concept idiotic and banal.’ (FDA, vol. II, p.374.)

Declan Kiberd, ‘Oscar Wilde: The Artist as Irishman’, in Inventing Ireland (London: Cape 1995), pp.33-50; Kiberd regards Wilde’s jilting by Florence Balcombe as a massive disappointment, whereon he vowed to leave Ireland ‘probably for good’ (Letters, Hart-Davies, 20-21.) ‘Wilde was, however, the first intellectual from Ireland who proceeded to London with the aim of dismantling its imperial mythology from within its own structures. He saw that those who wanted to invent Ireland might first have to reinvent England.’ (p.32.) Further: ‘His famous parents were probably too busy to offer the one commodity that is signally lacking in all his pals, that continuous tenderness and intimacy which might have given him a sense of himself.’ (p.34.) ‘The ease with which Wilde effected the transition from stage Irishman to stage Englishman was his ultimate comment on the shallowness of such categories.’ (p.36.)

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John Stokes, ‘Oscar Wilde’, in The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, ed. Ian Ousby (Cambridge UP 1988): ‘In Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)] the life-style of the dandy Lord Darlington becomes a practical option, “if you pretend to be good, the world doesn’t take you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it does.” Mrs Erlynne learns that being good is allowing the world to think you bad, and Lady Windermere, the puritan - and her daughter - learns that deception is sometimes necessary and beneficial, emerging more tolerant than she began. In A Woman of No Importance, Lord Illingsworth is the dandy; Hester Worseley, another puritanical young woman; Mrs Arbuthnot a genuine fallen woman; her son Gerald, at the centre of the play, is to act as secretary to Lord Illingsworth, who is also attempting to seduce Hester, and turns out to be his (Gerald’s) father. In An Ideal Husband, the dandy is Lord Goring, who tries to help politician Robert Chiltern, being blackmailed over his association with a shady financier Baron Arnheim.’

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Neil Sammells, ‘Oscar Wilde, Quite Another Thing’, in Irish Writing, Exile and Subversion, ed. Paul Hyland & Sammells (London: Macmillan 1991), pp.116-25: Wilde insists on the fertile interrelation of art and nationalism in a crushing dismissal of his old friend and tutor J. P. Mahaffy whose Greek Life and Thought: From the Age of Alexander to the Roman Conquest he review in Pall Mall Gazette in 1887; Wilde admits that there is ‘no reason why Mr. Mahaffy should be called upon to express any sympathy with the aspirations of the old Greek cities for freedom and autonomy’ but is appalled by his attempts to treat the Hellenic world as ‘Tipperary writ large’, and to ‘finish the battle of Chaeronea on the plains of Mitchelstown’; condemns him for ‘an amount of political bias and literary blindness that is quite extraordinary’. Quotes further [Wilde:] ‘A careful study of the cartoons published in United Ireland has convinced him [Mahaffy] “that a ruler may be the soberest, the most conscientious, the most considerate, and yet have terrible things said of him by mere political malcontents”. In fact, since Mr. Balfour has been caricatured Greek history must be entirely rewritten! […] With all his passion for imperialism, there is something about Mr. Mahaffy that is, if not parochial, at least provincial, and we cannot say that this book of his will add anything to his reputation either as a historian, a critic, or a man of taste.’ (Critical Writings, ed. R. Ellmann, pp.80-84.)

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Terry Eagleton, Introduction to Plays, Prose Writings, and Poems (London: Dent, 1991): ‘Aestheticism at its most challenging is concerned not to isolate art from life but to “aestheticise” life itself - to imbue it with the rich intricate expressiveness of a work of art. To live well, in Wilde’s view, was to turn oneself into an artifact - to savour each of one’s moments with the unique intensity of a poem. Art was thus not a substitute for living, but the very model for it. In his dress, speech, deportment, in the minutiae of his daily conduct, Wilde [strove] to live with the elegance and self-completion of a great painting or a symphony - to allow each of his varied inclinations free realisation, and to shape them in provisional harmony. Such supreme freedom of self-expression was for him the very essence of morality.’ (p.xxi.) ‘The Importance of Being Earnest is an intoxicatingly comic play, almost giddy with its own effervescent wit yet beautifully controlled. What prevents us from finding it too oppressively mannered is its geniality and high spirits, the deep good humour which sounds through its precious wit. Its fast-moving farcical plot presses the whole dramatic action into a kind of surrealist dimension where it is sustained by nothing but its own exhilarating momentum. The play stacks illusion upon illusion, but reveals high society to be quite as unreal as itself; it deconstructs the distinction between fact and fiction.’ (p.xxiv.) ‘If Wilde mocks, he does so with a certain genial affection, as a licensed jester rather than a sardonic scourge […]. Their [his plays’] wit shows up the English nobility as blockheads and parasites, but belongs to the very social world it criticises.’ (p.xxv.) ‘Dorian Gray does indeed represent in Freud’s terms, the “return of the repressed” - a ghastly, uncannily powerful exposure of the dangers of the hedonistic creed, which in the heartless Dorian now takes the form of driving a young girl to suicide. […] But Dorian Gray, guilt-ridden and tormented though it may be, is in no simple sense Wilde’s “recantation”. For one thing, its sumptuous, hothouse style colludes with the very aestheticism the book officially questions.’ (p.xviii.) ‘Dorian’s callow ideology of pleasure is something of a travesty of his creator’s own philosophy. For Wilde, self-cultivation is the absolute goal of human life, but it involves an all-round “Hellenistic” development of the personality, not just the pursuit of perverse sensations.’ (pp.xviii-ix.)

Terry Eagleton, ‘The Doubleness of Oscar Wilde’, in The Wildean, 19 (July 2001), pp.2-9: ’Like many an Irish emigré washed up on the shores of England, Wilde set about the business of becoming more English than the English, a project he shared with Joseph Conrad, Henry James, T. S. Eliot, V. S. Naipaul and a good many other luminaries of modern English literature. Most of which, of course, was written by Americans, Irishmen, Indians and the like. The Irish didn’t only have to supply Britain with its cattle and grain; they also had to write much of its literature for it. From Goldsmith and Sheridan to Wilde and Shaw, the London stage is dominated by these literary blow-ins and carpet-baggers, who landed on their uppers in the English metropolis with little to hawk but their wits. All of these men practised that most native of all Irish customs, getting out of the place. At once in and out of English society, they could master is conventions while at the same time turning a subversive satirical eye upon them. They could appreciate at once how farcically arbitrary such conventions were to those within them - and this tension between nature and artifice is the very stuff of comedy. Wilde [shows] the natives that he could handle their conventions even more dexterous than they could themselves, like the circus clown who cheekily nips off with the suitcase the strong man has been struggling to lift. But whether this was flattery or mockery, parody or conformity, was never easy to say, least of all perhaps for Oscar himself. Or perhaps, as he himself would say, imitation is the sincerest form of mockery. Even so, there’s always the danger that one’s imitations will be too perfect - that one will be too meticulously, too fastidiously the real thing, and so betray the fact that one actually isn’t. So though the Irish wit in England is allowed to play the clown, from Oliver Goldsmith to Brendan Behan, this licensed jester must ultimately know his place. He mustn’t get his hands, however well-manicured, on sons of the aristocracy, whose destiny is to marry and reproduce their line, and, if he does, as Bernard Shaw knew very well, the English have long experience in how to take care of such rotters, cads and bounders. / Wilde’s ambivalences weren’t just his own. He was born into that most schizoid of social classes, the Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy, and like Yeats, tended to feel English in Ireland and Irish in English. The Anglo-Irish endured a kind of internal exile, at once natives and aliens, rules and victims, both central and marginal to Irish life. If they were formidably self-assured, they could also feel fearfully defensive and besieged, and Wilde, the patrician who himself [3] became persecuted, reflects something of this ambiguity. […/] A similar duality haunts the career of Wilde’s great compatriot and contemporary, Charles Stewart Parnell, another Anglo-Irishman brought low by a combination of sexual misdemeanours and a spiteful British Establishment.’ Quotes Wilde: ’[The Happy Princes and Other Tales ] are studies in prose, put for Romance’s sake into a fanciful form: meant partly for children, and partly for those who have kept the child-like faculty of wonder and joy, and who find in simplicity a subtle strangeness.’ (‘Letter to G. H. Kersely, 15 June, 1888; Hart-Davies, p.219; The critic contests the suggestion that there was any hint of paedophilia in Wilde’s sexuality.)

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Ian Small, Oscar Wilde Revalued: An Essay on New Materials and Methods of Research (Greensboro N. Carolina, ELT Press; [distrib. by] Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1993): ‘[...] revaluations of Wilde as well-known and as thorough as those by Richard Ellmann and Richard Pine continue to read Wilde’s life as a “tragedy”, his scandals and trials as a “fall”, occasioned by the hubris of the too-successful socialite (p.2.) ‘The “new” Wilde is occupied less by the brilliant salon life of the 1980s and much more by hard and sometimes rather prosaic work. Wilde becomes the epitome of the new type of professorial writer at the turn of the century, concerned with the unglamorous business of self-promotion, negotiating with publishers, cultivating potential reviewers, and constantly polishing his work. Moreover his interests are now seen to be much more wide ranging than those associated with the literary and art worlds of the time. The “new” Wilde is preoccupied with issues such as authority, gender, identity, and prison reform; he is seen as thoroughly and seriously engaged with some of the most contentious and intellectual issued of his day. / It is not surprising that this changed perception of Wilde has coincided with the emergence of relatively new areas of study within English. Generally speaking, most of the changes which have occurred in Wilde criticism over the past fifteen years have their origins in larger changes which have taken place in the various practices of the discipline. One of the most significant of these changes concerns literary history. For the first seventy years of this century, literary history assumed, but never made explicit, a set of values which marginalized or excluded writers such as Wilde. One of the anomalies of that history is that major but controversial figures of the late nineteenth century, although written about at great length, have rarely been marked out as worthy of serious intellectual attention; they never appeared as central figures in the canon which literary history enshrined. So although Wilde may have been acknowledged as a theoretician of culture, or as a propagandist for art, or as a figure to be accommodated uncomfortably within the history of English bourgeois sexual ethics, he was never accorded the status of “sage” to stand alongside Victorian worthies such as Matthew Arnold or John Stuart Mill. Consistently accused of superficiality and slightness, he was invariably credited only with a kind of clever haute vulgarisation - Wilde the “disciple”, to use the accepted euphemism, of Pater, of Ruskin, of Godwin.’ (p.3.) Further: ‘This situation changed dramatically with the advent of the sustained, if sometimes unfocused, critique of the values and assumptions underlying “traditional” literary historiography whcih occurred in the mid-1970s and the 1980s [...] where the categogries of the social and the literary, hitherto seen as mutually exclusive, were now no longer helf ot be so simple or so distinct. [...] As a consequence of such revaluations it has become possible to reintegrate those two figures which, for half a centruy, were almost distinct “cases” in British and Irish history: Wilde the writer and Wilde the flambouyant homosexual iconoclast no longer exclude each [4] other. The analysis of the relationships between authority, power, and ideology, and their representations in discourse, has also led to a general interest in what is sometimes termed the “manipulation of meanings” [...] The work of some recent criticshas allowed us to see much more clearly these processes at work [...]’ (p.5.)

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Seamus Heaney, ‘Speranza in Reading: On “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”’, The Redress of Poetry [Oxford Poetry Lectures] (London: Faber & Faber 1995), pp.83-102: ‘I want[ed] to draw attention to these parallels and foreshadowings and coincidences of style and behaviour between mother and son. It’s not that there is anything new in noticing the resemblance; it’s just that, by recalling it, the provenance of the ballad is illuminated even if its stylistic faults are not extenuated. […] Its effects are probably deemed too broad, its popularity too [102] misplaced, its status within Wilde’s oeuvre too insecure to warrant serious consideration. And yet, for all that, the poem does give credence to the idea of poetry as a mode of redress. […] The master of the light touch came to submit to the heaviness of being and came, as a result, to leave his fingerprints on a great subject.’ (p.101-02.) [Heaney explicitly acknowledges in this essay the merits and influence of Declan Kiberd’s post-colonial reading of Wilde, along with those of Terry Eagleton.] Heaney remarks that W. B. Yeats, in compiling his Oxford Book of Modern Verse, edited The Ballad of Reading Gaol down from 109 stanzas to 38, writing in his Introduction: ‘Now that I have plucked from The Ballad of Reading Gaol its foreign feathers it shows a stark realism akin to that of Thomas Hardy, the contrary to all its author deliberately sought. I plucked out even famous lines because, effective in themselves, put into the Ballad they become artificial, trivial, arbitrary; a work of art can but have one subject.’ Further, Yeats wrote: ‘I have stood in judgement upon the Ballad, bringing to light a great, or almost great poem, as he himself had done had be lived; my work gave me that privilege.’ (Heaney, op. cit., p.88.) Among the lines he culled acc. to Heaney were ‘Yet each man kills the thing he loves,/By each let this be heard, / Some do it with a bitter look, / Some with a flattering word. / The coward does it with a kiss, / The brave man with a sword!’ Heaney comments that the power of this stanza ‘derives from Wilde’s sense that the condemned man is his double’ thus ‘fastening upon a figure through whom he could indulge in a vicarious exercise in self-castigation and self-pity, but Yeats was not prepared to allow this self-gratifying aspect of Wilde’s writing to absorb attention.’ (p.89); Heaney cites verses on the binding of the man for hanging (‘hangman comes with gardener’s gloves … and binds one with three leathern thongs’), remarking that ‘for the purposes of his ballad, less would have been more.’ (p.91).

Sos Eltis, Revising Wilde: Society and Subversion in the Plays of Oscar Wilde (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1996): ’[Wilde] Challenged society’s values, reversed its conclusions, eschewed its responsibilities, and introduced the comic note of anarchy. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde had found a perfect dramatic form for his own uneasy relation to society.’(p.171.) Further, ’In view of Wilde’s sympathy with the struggle of intelligent women to grain an equal footing in society, his editorship of the Woman’s World, his portrayal of women in his previous plays, and […] his presentation of women in this play in particular [Ideal Husband ], the conservatism of this speech comes as a considerable surprise. The message of charity and forgiveness is familiar from all Wilde’s other work, but the implied limitations of women’s role in society contrasts strongly with the direction of his other writings. (Ibid., p.160.)

Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature (London: Pluto Press 1998): ‘One alternative to standard decolonising practices is associated with the “decadence” of Wilde and the aestheticist movement of contemporary Europe which finds its fullest Anglophone formation in his work.’ (p.79.) Further: ‘The very situation which allowed Wilde to adopt and develop this attitude - his Irish “otherness” located at the heart of the metropolitan power - also denied him full access to a nomenclature dominated by cultural nationalism. And with his [80] exclusion an alternative critical politics, based upon an alternative version of the relationship between culture and politics, was lost.’ (p.81.)

Mary C. King, ‘Oscar Wilde: Naming, Re-cognising and Re-Collecting and The Picture of Dorian Gray ’ (typescript paper on Wilde, 1998): ‘Wilde’s text [Dorian Gray] rigorously constructs, complicates and deconstructs these master pieces [sic]. It does so through the treacherous deployment of texts and of names as complicitous corrupt paratexts. As we tease out history’s charmed nightmare of nominally compressed sentences, we are curiously encouraged to engage in our own disruptive-subversive readings of canonical versions of scriptures and literatures. Wilde’s revolutionary style requires and rewards ‘not just the identification of referents, but the elucidation and advancement of relationships between the various levels of allusion. That traumatised hermetic art which leads to a door or a picture-frame beyond which there is nothing but life is historicised and positioned as an Anglo-Irish nineteenth century manifestation of the European bourgeois quest for the immortelle of pure origins, solipsistically desired, eternally sought and endlessly receding. As in Joyce’s critical modernism, so in Dorian Gray technique becomes the problem of history: style and form lead us into and beyond the world of the picture and the book, soliciting and negotiating subversive relationships between text and world and requiring us an insomniac reading against the grain.

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Merlin Holland, The Wilde Album (1997): ‘He may, as he says, have lost his Dublin accent soon after arriving at Oxford as an undergraduate, since it would have separated him linguistically from his contemporaries, perhaps even caused him embarrassment, but later his Irishness would set him apart from what he regarded as the commonplace in English life and letters and was more a matter in which to take pride. […]. To be Irish was to be subversive but above all it was to be imaginative, qualities rooted deep in his nation’s culture and history and which, at the same time as they marked both the author and the man as an individual in an age of conformity, also wrote his name clearly [8] into the lists of public undesirables.’ (pp.8-9; for biographical details from this text, see Wilde1, supra.)

Elaine Showalter, ‘It’s Still Salome’, in Times Literary Supplement (2 Sept. 1994), pp.13-14, draws attention to a silent film version of Salomé [sic] (1922), with Russian actress Alla Nazimova; and other productions, arguing that ‘from Wilde to Wilder, Salomé has always been the site for debates about sexuality, transgression, and sexual difference’. Notes Hollywood version (1953) with Rita Hayworth and Charles Laughton; Ken Russell, Salomé’s Last Dance (1987), featuring Wilde’s play as a private theatrical in a homosexual brothel, raided by the police; Oscar as spectator-voyeur, and all roles doubled with brothel keeper as Herod, and Salomé as teenage seductress licking lollipops; Salomé dancing before Herod splits in two and revealed as a naked man.’ Steven Berkoff’s also produced slow-motion Salomé, noting that Wilde chose the theme to ‘reveal his most personal and deepest feelings about the wonders of erotic love and the sheer delights of the male body’; Robert Ackerman’s NY production, 1992, with Al Pacino as Herod, as contemporary dark comedy with man sexually enthralled by his own step-daughter; Scottish National Opera production (1989) stressed Orientalist and Jewish aspects; other works compared include Sunset Boulevard . (See also note on ‘Oscar Wilde im Kostüm als Salome’, in “Notes”, infra.

J. B. Lyons, ‘Oscar Wilde’s Final Illness’, Irish Studies Review (Summer 1995), pp.24-27, holds that the theory that syphilis caused Wilde’s death ‘does not stand up to scrutiny’. It was first propounded by Arthur Ransome: ‘his death was directly due to meningitis the legacy of an attack on tertiary syphilis’ (Oscar Wilde, a Critical Study, London: Martin Secker 1912). It was endorsed by R. H. Sherard: ‘the ear trouble was only shortly before his death recognised as a tertiary symptom of an infection he had contracted when he was 20 (Oscar Wilde: The Story of an Unhappy Friendship, 1934) and then taken up by Richard Ellmann in his biography of Wilde where he attributes death to ‘neurosyphilis’ (Oscar Wilde, 1987, p.545). The theory is hotly disputed by Vyvyan Holland among others in columns of the Times Literary Supplement [q.d.]. Note that Joyce referred without foundation to Wilde’s possession of an ‘epileptic tendency’ (Critical Writings, 1959, p.203).

Simon J. James, review-notice on Philip Hoare, Wilde’s Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy and the First World War (London: Duckworth 1997), 250pp.; deals with lawsuit of 1918, initiated by Maud Allen, the dancer in Salomé who was the implied object of charges of homosexuality under the caption ‘The Cult of the Clitoris’ in Noel Pemberton Billing’s paper The Imperialist, contain charges that a black list of 47,000 British homosexuals being blackmailed by the German Government included the subscribers to the play (an idea suggested to Billing by Marie Corelli).

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Munira H. Mutran, ed., ‘Wilde’s Thread in the Fabric of Decadent Art’, in ABEI Journal: The Brazilian Journal of Irish Studies, 1 (June 1999), pp.65-67: ‘[...] Though Dorian Gray is a very significant thread in the fabric of European decadent literature, it has no single sources, nor is it a mixture of works of the period. In one level, it interacts with other European threads reflecting the aesthetics of the moment; but it is unique, in a second level, as an original manifestation of the cultural atmosphere of the nineteenth century as it was drawing to a close. Let us then outline, although briefly, some of the important novels of the eighties and nineties in order in enhance similarities and above all, differences, among them. / Walter Peter’s Marius, the Epicurean (1885) portrays a philosophic journey in “those charmed moments towards the end of the second century”. Marius. a deeply religious boy, lives in the country-house where his family has dwelt for generations, and where “the little gods in their altars receive a few violets, a cake dipped in wine, or morsel of honeycomb”. More given to contemplation than to action, as he grows older, an overtension of the soul brings an appetite for adventure, for new experiences whether physical or spiritual. His journey as a pilgrim towards Rome begins, as he says, in search of perfection. In his conversations and long meditations he yearns to grasp the essence of a whole philosophical tradition, beginning with the theory of pleasure. The movements of his thoughts can be followed in the dialogue with Lucian, in which he asks if there are many ways to true philosophy and if each is different from the other, how to choose? How to know that in the door you have entered truth is? / Marius’s journey draws to an end after his visit to his old house, and the tombs of his ancestors, when he is aware that he is the last of a race, that the religion of Numa and the old world belong to a past which cannot be recovered. At this moment of despair he finds solace for the “disease of the spirit”, as he calls it, in the contact with the Christians, a small group of people who have a strange, new hope, and for whom the ideas of peace, chastity and cheerfulness area turning-point in his journey. As a primitive Christian, about to die, he receives the last rites, the oil applied “to all those passage-ways of the senses, through which the world had come and gone for him.” / In Pater’s novel, the idea of the end of an era and its consequences on religion, culture, philosophy and language establishes a parallel between the crumbling of the British Empire and that of the Romans, when the old andthe new values coexist.’ (p.65.)

Note: Mutran starts Joyce's dictum that 'it is useless to look for a threadthat may hae remained pure and virgin without having undergone the influence of a neighbouring thread.' (Critical Writings, 1959, p.165.) She the introduces Mario Praz’s judgement that Wilde, in Dorian Gray, is a ‘passive imitator’ and the book a ‘curious exotic reflection’ of the French school. Going on to cite the oft-cited points of comparison such as Arnold, Poe, Huysmans Rossetti, Stevenson, Gautier and Pater - ‘leaving little left of Wilde himself’, as she says - she proceeds to visit the most telling in order to show how Wilde's work is woven into a larger fabric without owning a single source, characterising his novel it as a ‘significant thread’ in the ‘fabric of European decadent literature’. The novels she examines are: Pater’s Marius (as above), J. K. Huysmans’s À Rebours (1884), D’Annunzio’s Il Piacere (1889, Valle Inclán’s Sonata de Ontoño (1902). [Available at ABEI Journal - online; See copy in RICORSO Library, “Criticism” - via index or attached.

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Simon Callow, ‘The Importance of Remembering Oscar’, in The Times [London] (Friday, 24 Nov. 2000), writes: ‘[…] the backlash has begun. Goaded by extravagant claims that he was a social, moral, artistic and intellectual revolutionary, the detractors have hit out: Wilde was a minor writer, they say: he was vain, snobbish and pompous; he was intellectually thin and morally suspect; his self-induced trial and subsequent imprisonment have swollen his significance out of all proportion to his achievements. / Those of us who love him must wryly admit that there is perhaps a modicum of truth in these accusations, but all this is besides the point. The single most consistent theme in Wilde’s writing is his assertion of the primacy of personality, and it is as a personality that he triumphantly survives the erosion of time.’ Callow recounts that Merlin Wilde showed him the lock of Wilde’s sister’s hair which he always kept, and likewise a lock of Wilde’s hair which Robbie Ross cut on his deathbed, ‘untouched by any trace of grey’. (p.18.)

Trevor Fisher, in a letter to Times Literary Supplement (2 March 2001), speaks of forthcoming book on the Wilde-Douglas relationship suggesting that ‘Wilde’s self-image as a benign individual suffering from the actions of others is now due for revision.’ Further: ‘Wilde was a highly intelligent man who both acted as he wanted to and then manipulated the consequences to present a favourable image’; speaks earlier of his believing that he could talk his way out of anything and hence walking into a ‘booby trap’ as Queensberry described the legal action.

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Thomas Wright, [review] in Times Literary Supplement ( 9 Feb. 2001), p.3-5, quotes Wilde in a letter of 1898 to Robbie Ross: ‘I shall live as the infamous Saint Oscar of Oxford, Poet and Martyr’. Further quotes Wilde to Frank Harris: ‘Fifty years … or a hundred years hence … my comedies and my stories … will be known and read by millions, and even my unhappy fate will call forth worldwide sympathy’, and remarks: ‘Wilde has emerged in the last few years as a serious (or at least a seriously trivial) intellectual, and as a dazzlingly protean figure.’ Notes that the following is misattributed by Barbara Belford to Wilde himself rather than a character: ‘It is sad to think of, but there is no doubt that Genius lasts longer than Beauty.’ (Sir Henry Wotton, Picture of Dorian Gray); also cites Peter Ackroyd, The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (1983).

Thomas Wright, A Wilde Read: Oscar’s Books (London: Chatto & Windus 2008), rep. as Oscar’s Books: A Journey around the Library of Oscar Wilde (London: Vintage Books 2009): ‘Books were the greatest single influence on Wilde’s life and writings […] As events in his biography, these readerly encounters were as significant as his first meetings with friends and lovers. / Yet Wilde did not so much discover as create himself through his reading: he was a man who built himself out of books. He poured scorn on the notion that each of us has a fixed “inner” self that represents our essential “nature” - that self was, he believed, a fiction invented by the political, economic and cultural powers that be. It could, therefore, be rewritten by the artist in life, with a little help from his favourite books. Wilde used these volumes as “prompt” [5] books for the various roles he assumed during the different phases of his life. Soon after his liberation he discarded his “natural” name (itself a thoroughly literary concoction) for the alias Sebastian Melmoth; the surname was derived from the doomed itinerant hero of the Gothic novel, Melmoth the Wanderer. As Wilde spent some of the final period of his life roaming the continent, he may be said to have lived up to his pseudonym.’ (pp.5-6.) [Cont.]

Thomas Wright (Oscar’s Books, 2009) - cont.: ‘[…] It is even possible that Wilde could see only the things he had read about: all other external phenomena may have been a flux of inchoate data that his mind failed to register. Certainly, in an immediate and instinctive sense, things only became real to Wilde if they had first been subjected to the alchemy wrought by the artistic imagination - his own, or another artist’s. His feelings were never fully experienced until they had been expressed poetically or in the form of quotations. Friends had to be baptised anew with names derived from literature if they were to assume a clear outline and significance. Alfred Douglas was dubbed, at various stages of their relationship, Hylas, Narcissus, Alcibiades and Harpagon. / Wilde’s reading was the chief inspiration for his writings. He was essentially a pre-modern author who adapted and conflated the books he read, rather than a Romantic writer concerned with originality and self-expression. His works are saturated with allusions from his vast and miscellaneous reading: they form a little library of exquisite echoes. Books also played a crucial part in the presentation of Wilde’s public persona. When he was interviewed, he would surround himself with volumes; in photographs he sometimes poses book in hand. Keenly aware of the power of appearances, Wilde know how to use books - the traditional symbols of authorship and learning in Western iconography - to convey his culture and his literary achievements. (p.7.) […] Books appear at every stage on Wilde’s life’s way from his boyhood, in which he “loved literature … to excess”, to his death, surrounded by books in a cheap Parisian hotel. For Wilde, books were a lifelong romance.’ (p.7.)

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Fionnula Henderson, “Oscar Wilde and Aestheticism: A Study of the Social Comedies” [UU Diss., UUC 2001]: ‘Wilde’s ambivalent views both on life and [7] on the purpose of art are especially evident in his four high-society comedies Lady Windermere’s Fan (1891), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895) and lastly, his undoubted masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest (also 1895). Performed to packed playhouses during Wilde’s brief latter years of glory as a successful playwright and darling of society, these four seemingly light, effervescent plays are in reality deep psychological and social studies, in which Aestheticism’s socially and artistically-lauded representative Wilde appears to covertly criticise late Victorian high society and upper and middle class morality, whilst at the same time surreptitiously exploring gender-related issues such as the role of women and plight of homosexual or bisexual men as they try to come to terms with life in a patriarchal, homophobic and rigidly conventional society. Yet, in Wilde’s last two works - The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) and De Profundis (1905) - which were written after his public humiliation, imprisonment and eventual bankruptcy, his quicksilver point of view (which was so elusive and difficult to pin down in earlier works) is now much more consistent.’ (pp.7-8.)

Fionnula Henderson “Oscar Wilde and Aestheticism [... &c.]” [UU Diss., UUC 2001]) - cont.: ‘Written on the brink of Wilde’s fall, The Importance of Being Earnest, which opened to rapturous acclaim in the night Queensberry instigated the process which led to Wilde’s incarceration in Reading Gaol, closed just a few weeks later as events at the Old Bailey unfolded and as Wilde - reduced overnight from the darling of society to a vilified social pariah - had his name shamefully obliterated from the theatre posters. Thus, Victorian England’s somnolent society, suddenly wakening up to the subversive tactics of this individualistic, middle-class, homosexual Irishman, who daringly mocked their conventions and mores, whilst at the same time clandestinely celebrating (especially in this - his last play) “the love that dares not speak its name”, closed ranks.’ [p.41; note ftn. ref. Montgomery Hyde, The Trials of Oscar Wilde, 1962, p.201 [‘the love that dares not speak its name’, … &c.’].)

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Anthony Julius, review of Merlin Holland, Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde (Fourth Estate), in Times Literary Supplement ( 16 May 2003 ), pp.10-11: In a lengthy review, Julius discusses the “antinomian” dimension of Wilde’s character and behaviour - a term which Wilde himself uses in De Profundis. (Julius conflates sentences from widely divergent parts of Wilde’s text, to produce the following synoptic passage: ‘Morality does not help me. I am a born antinomian. I am one of those who are made for exceptions, not for laws […] Christ had no patience with the dull lifeless mechanical systems that treat people as if they were things, and so treat everybody alike: as if anybody or anything, for that matter, was like aught else in the world. For him there were no laws: there were exceptions merely.’ He then proceeds to consider the facts and the his best and worse course that Wilde could have taken in defending himself against Queensbury’s aggression, demonstrating in principle that Wilde followed the worst possible course not only in charging the other with libel when, in fact, he was actually guilty of the very thing that he was accused of (‘posing as a sodomite’) but also in giving the brief to solicitors other than his own, Sir George Lewis - quoting Lewis’s saying to Wilde after the disaster of the first trial: ‘What’s the use of coming to me now? I am powerless to do anything. If you had had the sense to bring Lord Queensbury’s card to me in the first place, I would have torn it up and thrown it in the fire and told you not to make a fool of yourself. […] Julius ends his article by returning implicitly to his earlier theme of artistic antinomianism (‘one could argue that English literature itself is constitutively antinomian’), suggesting that the writer is always of this kind and that the law is naturally of the opposite disposition, making it imperative to avoid making a contest between the two: ‘When reviewing Wilde’s calamitous experience with the English legal system, the semantic association of, “persecution” with “prosecution” seems unaccidental, given the judicial nature of his oppression. It is the condemned Wilde, rather than the playwright and wit, who is most vivid in our imagination; it is the judge’s sentence, rather than any epigram of the prisoner’s, which resonates with us. This is at least in part because Wilde’s prosecution and conviction inaugurated two kinds of persecution of writers in this century. The first is the persecution of a writer’s work; the second is the persecution of the writer himself.’ (For full-text version of this summary, see RICORSO Library, "Criticism" > Reviews", via index, or direct.)

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Colm Tóibín, ‘Darkness of the Heart’, Introduction to Hesperus Edn. of The Return by Joseph Conrad (2004): ‘In the last years of the 19th century, a number of writers who were in exile in England began, as outsiders, to consider the drama surrounding the brittleness of English manners and morals and the pressures on English stability. This offered them an alluring, mysterious and, at times, evasive subject. / Henry James, for example, remained fascinated by the English system of inheritance in which, on the death of her husband, the widow was cast aside while her son inherited the property. James sought to dramatise this in The Spoils of Poynton (1896). / It was this world, too, which Oscar Wilde described in his comedies of manners written in the early 1890s, work in which no Irish characters appeared, in which members of the English drawing-room class are mimicked and mocked, masked and unmasked. So, too, the hero, whoever he is, of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) wallowed in the great unstable openness of London. The vast and various city, in all its ineffable mystery and otherness, offered these three writers an escape from their own narrow heritage, and a richly layered world to chart in its duplicity, and perhaps even its decline. / This close attention to English manners did not last long. James, once the new century had begun, returned to writing about Americans in Europe. Stevenson escaped to a more exotic landscape where he died in 1894. Wilde was destroyed by the very forces he mocked. The house of England, in all its glory, was not their property; they stayed as guests, watchful and untrusting.’ (Extract in The Guardian, Saturday, 3 April 2004.)

Peter Crawley, writing on Gate production of Salomé, in The Irish Times (22 March 2007, remarks hat Wilde’s Salomé was written in halting French, revised and corrected by a number of French Symbolists, and translated by Lord Alfred Douglas; Steven Berkoff produced it in a radical movement-oriented form; now it has been reincarnated for the third time at the Gate Theatre [Dublin] under the direction of Alan Stanford. Crawley’s stiff review makes mention of a ‘dull […] one-act verse-play from which the playwright’s usual wit and verve have been ruthlessly purged’ and related that that Berkoff, ‘recognising it needed a further translation [into] a new language of performace in which movement functions as lyric.’ Further: ‘Where Berkoff, trained performer rooted in the rigorous physical discipline of Jacques Lecoq, could inspire actors into feats of fluid motion and liquid grave, neither Stanford nor movement coach Olwen Grindley can do the same with an uneven cast.’ There are harsh words for virtually everyone except Fiona O’Shaughness, the original replacement Salomé, who ’preserves perfect poise throughout’ while the others - the chorus of sycophants and supplicants especially - seem to have received its instructions through a series of ‘Chinese whispers’. Salomé’s ’fateful dance [is] here performed as a mimetic striptease that leaves nothing to the imagination and still less to the intellectl. For the fourth time Salome aks for the head of Jokanaan … O’Shaughnessy’s body forms a sharp right angle, the demanding bow of a defiant child. [Roger] Doyle’s piano thuds with some finality. Stanford’s Herod emits an agonised scream. There is nowhere left to go. But, alas, the tragedy grinds on, cold and lifeless […]’

Eileen Battersby, Second Reading: The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde (1890), in The Irish Times (23 Aug. 2008), Weekend: ‘Wotton first encounters Gray at the studio of Basil Hallward, who has not only recognised his dangerous allure but has captured it on canvas. Wilde, who always suffered for love, well understood the vulnerability of the lover. Wotton immediately seizes on Dorian Gray as a potential plaything, but Hallward is reluctant to share him, and his unease is obvious. The painter sees what he calls “a fatality about all physical and intellectual distinction” and in the course of the conversation, Hallward emerges as a remarkable, probably doomed figure. “I turned halfway round, and saw Dorian Gray for the first time,” he recalls. “When our eyes met, I felt I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me […].” Hallward’s candid remarks have little effect on the thoughtless Wotton, who delights in drawing the young man away. / Meanwhile, Dorian Gray has become obsessed with a lovely young actress who nightly performs Shakespeare. He wants to marry her and persuades Wotton and Hallward to accompany him to the theatre. That evening, before their eyes, her acting lacks its usual skill. She has decided that now she is loved, she no longer needs to perform a part. Her symbolic intent eludes Gray who, furious that she has embarrassed him, denounces her. Having adored the actress, he rejects the real girl. Later he detects the first signs of change in his portrait. Alarmed, he plans to seek her forgiveness. It is too late; she has already killed herself. Gray’s fate is also decided.’ (p.12; for see full text, see RICORSO Library, “Reviews”, infra.)

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John Wilson Foster, ‘Against Nature? Science and Oscar Wilde’, in Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture (Dublin: IAP 2009): ‘[…] We would expect such hostility to science form a man who, in Paglia’s words, “projected himself internationally as the ultimate aesthete” [Camilla Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertitti to Emily Dickinson, NY: Vintage Books 1991, p.523]. But on reflection the expectation seems shallow. To begin with, Wilde first knew that the “marvels of design” achievable by decorative art were often absent from nature, not through studying Art (as he declared in The Decay of Lying, but through readhing students of nature. He wrote in his Commonplace Book while a student of Oxford: “We have out-grown the theory of design and talk easily of the ‘silly maladaptations of organic nature.’ (Clifford).” [Oscar Wilde’s Oxford Notebooks, ed. Philip E. Smith II & Michael S. Helfand, OUP 1989, p.144.] The editors of the Commonplace Book do not offer a precise William Kingdon Clifford source of Wilde’s entry, and nor can I, but Clifford in his lecture “On the Aims and Instruments of Scientific Thought” (repringed in an 1879 volume of Clifford’s essays and lectures that Wilde read studiously), does discuss purposeless or defective adaptations in organic nature. (Lectures and Essays, ed. Lesilie Stephen & Sir Frederick Pollock, Macmillan 1901, Vol. I, pp162-66.] (p.33.) [Cont.]

John Wilson Foster (Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture, Dublin: IAP 2009) - cont: But Clifford was only one of the scientific thinkers Wilde read assiduously while a student at Oxford; orthers included Huxley, Tyndall and Herbert Spencer. [..] The thinkers young Wilde paraphrased and annotated in his Oxford Commonplaces Book and College Notebook were grappling with the vexing issues of the day (often posted as disturbing oppositions), made more vexatious by the recent intervention of the evolutionists; mind v. matter, idealism v. realism, imagination v. reason, individuality v. race, experience v. hereditiry, consciousness v. external reality, freedom v. necessity. / We discover in Wilde’s notebooks a surprising pleasure in science[.; … Foster Calls of Wilde’s Oxford Notebooks:] the product of strenuous legwork [which] describes the bio-bibliographical base of that pyramid whose apex is the brilliant aphorisms. The text of the notebooks, the provision of sources, and the exhaustive and illuminating editorial commentary establish this book as the most important contribution to Wilde studies since the Hart-Davis edition [34] of the letters in 1962. It is no longer possible to view Wilde as the supreme exponent of one, and only one, of what were once called the Two Cultures, as an artist blithely contemptuous of the other “culture”, or as a figurative inhabitant of Art, as Des Esseintes was a literal inhabitant of the sequestered artifice of his house at Fontenay-aux-Roses. (pp.34-35.) [Cont.]

John Wilson Foster (Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture, Dublin: IAP 2009) - cont: ‘It was by his Oxford reading that Wilde discovered the evolutionary foundation of his belief in individuality, thereafter lifelong. Having defined progress in though in his Commonplace Book, he then defined progress in matter, using Clifford’s analogy between organic evolution and cognitive evolution: “progress in matter is the differentiation and specialization of function: those organisms which are entirely subject to external influences do not progress any more than a mind entirely subject to authority.” [Oxford Notebooks,p.121.] He derived this analogy from Clifford’s 1868 lecture “On Some of the Conditions of Mental Development”, in which the scientist defines individuality in thought as differentiation from surrounding minds. [Lectures and Essays, Vol. I, p.87.]’ (p.39.)

John Wilson Foster (Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture, Dublin: IAP 2009) - Further [having quoted De Profundis on Alfred Lord Douglas’s share in the ‘hereditary disease’ of his family, as given under Quotations, infra]: ‘Behind the allegation that Douglas betrayed a vicious mole of nature lay a contemporary idea, deriving from the theories of the Italian psychiatrists Cesare Lombroso, author of Delinquent Man (1875): that of degeneration. (See Degeneration: The Dark Side of Progress, ed. J. Edward Chamberlin & Sander L. Gilman, Columbia UP 1985.) [… S]even months before he began De Profundis, Wilde petitioned the Home [41] Secretary for release from Reading Gaol, on the grounds that his misdeeds were due rather to a curable sexual pathology than to criminality, citing in evidence Max Nordau, author of Degeneration (1892, trans. 1895), a work which discussed Wilde as an example of “a pathological aberration of a racial instinct … a malevolent mania for contradiction … the ego-mania of degeneration.” [Letters, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis, pp.401; vide Nordau, Degeneration, London: Heinemann 1913, pp.318-19.] Degeneration was dedicated to Lombroso, who wrote Genius and Insanity (1861), and in his petition Wilde professed his fear of losing his mind were he to remain in gaol […] Self realization in the sense of fulfilment of the individual’s heretity could, then, be a vice, as it was in Douglas’s case and - as Wilde was ironically and implicitly claiming by petition - in his own. Yet, beyond his petition, and Douglas’s behaviours, he preferred to consider it as a virtue.’ Foster goes on to write: ‘The concept of hereditary descent could also have sponsored, had Yeats but allowed it, the race-membership and race-consciousness upon whcih Yeats’s Celtic Revival ultimately rested. […]’

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Ciaran Murray, Disorientalism: Asian Subversion / Irish Visions ‘Oscar Wilde Cancels a Country’, pp.19-67 [Chap. 3]: ‘“The whole of Japan”, declared Oscar Wilde in The Decay of Lying, “is a pure invention. There is no such country, there is no such people”. We know, of course, what he meant; but there is a sense in which it might be said that for Wilde there were two such countries as Japan. He was born into one, and adopted into the other. The one stood for nature, the other for art. / The country he was born into might seem to have been Ireland; but it was an Ireland shaped by Japanese aesthetics. “He is to be called Oscar Fingal Wilde”, wrote his mother. “Is that not grand, misty, and Ossianic?” The land Wilde inherited, therefore, was the Celtic sublime: that vision of windswept heaths, abandoned palaces and a passionate and tragic people conjured up by Macpherson out of Irish myth and the romantic wildness derived from the gardens of Japan: that land upon which Sydney Owenson had composed successive fictional variations. / At Oxford, Wilde found the ideology which underpinned this vision represented by Ruskin. Ruskin had adopted the Romantic synthesis of nature and Gothic, a style believed to have arisen from the avenues of the forest, and seen by its revivalist Pugin as a healing alternative to the ravages of industrialism. As Pugin, however, had identified the middle ages with Catholicism, Ruskin shifted the emphasis to the Protestant gospel of meaningful labour. And so Oscar was involved in a project of Ruskin’s to make a road of a marshy lane. But the road was never completed; and he went down another path. While Ruskin fulminated on behalf of the medieval, Oscar overheard a quieter voice from elsewhere in Oxford that spoke to opposite effect, as Pater’s serene and exquisite prose evoked the fullness of life of the Renaissance. This was the way that Wilde was to go: deciding, as one of his characters puts it, that “aesthetics are higher than ethics”. (p.41.) [Cont.]

Ciaran Murray, Disorientalism: Asian Subversion / Irish Visions (2009) - cont.: ‘The influence of Whistler on Wilde is perhaps most blatant in the poem “Symphony in Yellow”, which sets down a view of the Thames in the tones of a woodblock print; and which displays not only the master’s subject-matter but his signature, when it sees a distant omnibus as a butterfly. Wilde was to go beyond this, however, to Whistler’s original sources, and to make them his own. / The presence of Gautier, in particular, is ubiquitous. It had come by indirection at Oxford, where Pater’s model was Flaubert, who has lent Wilde his copy of that story in which Flaubert retells the tale of the dance of Salomé. In this too, Flaubert had been anticipated by Gautier, who protrayed his ‘false and lascivious dancer’ as [53] “superb and exuberant for eternity, with your insidious gracefulness, your diabolically innocent eyes, and your blood-red smile [lascive et perfide danseuse ... éternellement superbe et triomphante, avex ta grâce scélèrate, tes regard d’une innocent diabolique, et ton sourire vermeil comme du sang.” / When Wilde himself came to dramatise Salomé - as was only appropriate, in French - he combined that ambivalence with another of Gautier’s. The Symphonic en Blanc Majeur, described by Wilde as “that flawless masterpiece”, has been characterised by Birgit Borelius as an “orgy of white, oscillating between virginity and cruelty, the Madonna and marble, with moonlight, snow and quicksilver”; and, she argues, it “leads straight into the colour symbolism” of Salomé. This she describes as another symphony in white. [...] Salomé, then, is the dramatic counterpart of Gautier’s poem and Whistler’s painting. / That life could imitate art was evident from Wilde’s surroundings. He lived in a house in Chelsea which a visitor identified in a fog by means of its white door. The door was opened to a young Irish poet, who found inside “a white drawing-room ... and a dining-room all white” – “chairs, walls, mantelpiece, carpet”. To all this glare of whiteness there was a single exception. The poet remembered “a diamond-shaped piece of red cloth in the middle of the table under a terracotta statuette, and, I think, a red-shaded lamp hanging from the ceiling to a little above the statuette”. Such were the recollections of Yeats; who noted also that the scheme “owed something to Whistler”. But the full extent of the debt was more comprehensive than met the eye. [... &c.] (pp.53-54.) [Cont.]

Ciaran Murray, Disorientalism: Asian Subversion / Irish Visions (2009) - cont. [Notes:] Murray writes that, the book that Pater lent Wilde was Madamoiselle de Maupin according to Richard Ellmann (Oscar Wilde, p.252), whereas Horst Schroeder identifies it as the Trois Contes (Additions and Corrections to Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde [Braunschweig 2002], p.28-29). Murray also remarks that Wilde drew upon sources including paintings of Moreau, which had been lauded in Huysman’s À Rebours, the model for the ‘poisonous book’ of Dorian Gray. (Murray, n.79 & n.81; pp.65-66.) Further: Murray writes that Birgit Borelius sees Wilde’s Salomé as being influenced by Pater and alludes to the chapter “White Nights” in Marius the Epicurean, which speaks of the mystery of white things, and as being ‘ever an after-thought - the doubles, or seconds, of real things, and themselves but half-real, half-material’; she suggests that it is but a step from here to Salomé, who is described as the ‘shadow of a white rose in a mirror of silver [reflet d’une rose blanche dans un miroir d’argent]’. The mystery of white things ‘pervades the whole drama’ indeed, this ‘moon and colour symbolism [...] forms a play within a play’ (Borelius, Oscar Wilde, Whistler and Colours, Lund: Gleerup 1968, pp.5-6, 49, 55-58; Pater, Marius, pp.9, 180; Wilde, Complete Works, ed. Vyvyan & Merlin Holland, et al., Glasgow: HarperCollins 1999, pp.280, 583, 584, 586, 589-90, 592, 599-600; Salomé, La Sainte Courtesane: A Florentine Tragedy, Methuen 1910, p.8; Holbrook Jackson, The Eighteen Nineties: A Review of Art and Ideas at the Close of the Nineteenth Century, Penguin 1939, pp.125-28.)

Fintan O’Toole, ‘The Wilde spirit that speaks the language of the theatre’, in The Irish Times (2 Oct. 2010), Weekend - “Culture Shock” [column], p.7. Wilde’s work anticipates the theatrical revolution that Beckett fomented in the 1950s. In The Importance of Being Earnest, he achieved something deceptively profound. / Just as the avant-garde painters of his time were seeking to create works that were pure surface, Wilde managed a complete theatrical shallowness. He made a play in which there are no motives, no inner lives, no direct connections between the world of the stage and the larger reality beyond. / He also chimed – coincidentally, of course – with the idea that the father of semiotics, Ferdinand de Saussure, was developing at the time. De Saussure called it “the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign”, the notion that words have no necessary connection to the things they signify. Apart from being a very good laugh, Wilde’s play is also a demonstration of the arbitrariness of naming: the “importance” of being called Earnest is purely capricious. In his inimitable way, Wilde was unleashing the terrifying idea (taken up again by Beckett) that language tells us far less than it pretends. / This idea was lost for the first half of 20th-century theatre. The dominant influence was that of Constantin Stanislavski and his insistence that the offstage life of theatrical characters was “real”. An actor playing a maid in a Chekhov play had to know where the maid was born, whether she wet the bed, how she did at school and when she had her first kiss. Every character had a narrative, and that narrative was rooted in an objective reality that could be fully imagined by the actor. Members of the audience would be given a performance that had the same dense texture of subtexts as their own lives. / Beckett is the anti-Stanislavski. [...]’ (For full text version, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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