Reinventing the Victorians
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ELT 45 : 3 2002 creative and uncreative plagiarism." His claim for this volume, and the series it inaugurates, has in it an element of wishful-thinking: "this volume , when seen in relation to the complete Oxford English Edition of Wilde's work, will demonstrate through its textual apparatus that some writing practices evident in the early poems are the first examples of a strategy which Wilde later developed in more sophisticated ways." But it's only in Small's introduction that Wilde's strategy of tactical redeployment is made manifest; in the textual apparatus and commentary itself, the poetry's symptomatic connection to other parts of the canon is largely invisible. There is still no edition of Wilde's poetry that fully serves the needs both of the textual scholar and the advanced general reader. Possibly those needs are so different that no one edition can fully serve both. Isobel Murray's Complete Poems, in Oxford's World Classics series, follows Fong's chronological arrangement; unlike the Fong and Beckson edition, it does provide at the back, in list form, the order and groupings of poems as they appear in the second edition of Poems (1882). Its explanatory notes are not as complete as Beckson's; it lacks some recently discovered items; and it does not include the six poems-in-prose which find a home in Fong and Beckson. And it lacks the textual collation. For a few readers this will seriously disable it; other readers will find it a good enough and very much cheaper alternative. It's possible to imagine other editions, including a complete readers' edition which would summarize significant textual variants and preserve in its arrangement (like Ross's Collected Edition) the narrative implied by Wilde's ultimate publication choices. But for the scholar who needs the textual history of each poem, volume one of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde is indispensable. Lawrence Danson --------------------------- Princeton University Reinventing the Victorians Matthew Sweet. Inventing the Victorians. London: Faber, 2001. xxiii + 264 pp. $23.95 Neil Sammells. Wilde Style: The Plays and Prose of Oscar Wilde. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2000. 143 pp. $21.00 MATTHEW SWEET'S Inventing the Victorians aims "to reimagine the Victorians" in order to counteract stereotypes which have shaped our thinking about them "for the last hundred years." Sweet suggests that rather than the Victorians being "strait-laced patriarchs 334 BOOK REVIEWS making their wives and children miserable," they were in fact "more liberal and less neurotic than us." He begins by examining how our understanding of the Victorians was initially coloured by Lytton Strachey's influential Eminent Victorians, a book which he calls neatly, "Bloomsbury 's poison-pen letter to the past." This book, he argues, struck a blow which changed our view of the Victorians forever. Sweet carries out his project of re-imagination by exploring the "most interesting and distinctive aspects of the period." His approach is reminiscent of John Stokes's work in discussing the less well-documented aspects of Victorian life. Some of the material that Sweet employs though is familiar. His chapter about W. T. Stead and the "Maiden Tribute campaign ," which resulted in the arrest of Stead for kidnap, uses material that has been exhaustively researched elsewhere. Sweet's point that this campaign marked the beginning of investigative journalism as we know it today still remains valid. His treatment of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, is also rehearsed by other commentators. However, Sweet does put down more recent misconceptions of Merrick to the influence of David Lynch's film The Elephant Man which presented Merrick as exploited and humiliated. As Sweet acknowledges, in reality, Merrick was treated well, at least in Britain, and was able to save money in order to secure his future. What Sweet does achieve, which is very worthwhile, is revealing how self-conscious the Victorians were. Rather than forcing underground their fascinations, they celebrated them publicly in periodicals and in books. Frank Buckland is a good example of this that Sweet mentions in passing. Buckland, a surgeon, popular scientist and gastronome who once claimed he had eaten everything in the world, fascinated the public by publishing in The Field magazine his "curiosities...


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