W. S. Gilbert
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BOOK REVIEWS this circumstance gives the lie to Dowling's claim about the acuity of Wilde's powers of judgement. Of course anthologists are always limited in the information they can include in their notes—space alone demands that decisions have to be taken. Drawing attention to this particular omission, or what I judge to be an omission, perhaps does no more than suggest that Dowling's volume is not the only way of editing Wilde as a critic. But the very fact that there are other ways of undertaking that task—that different decisions about copy-text and different principles of annotation would produce a very different sort of writer—should make readers sceptical about Dowling's claim to have revealed "the essential or fundamental Wilde." That figure, if indeed he exists at all, remains elusive. Josephine M. Guy ______________ University of Nottingham W. S. Gilbert Andrew Crowther. Contradiction Contradicted: The Plays of W. S. Gilbert . Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; Associated University Presses, 2000. 223 pp. $39.50 INTRODUCING his revaluation of the dramatic oeuvre of William Schwenk Gilbert, Andrew Crowther declares disarmingly that, far from aspiring to be definitive, his study "simply examines the plays according to one person's perception of what is interesting about them, and that same person's ideas of what themes might be seen as binding the plays together.... When I have explained what things they say to me, my task is complete." This is disingenuous. Crowther actually labours through nearly 200 pages to articulate, and defend against various opponents , a case for Gilbert's being a (fairly) serious dramatist with a carefully cultivated method and a distinctive "take" on the world. His mission is to identify the recipe and ingredients that produced the uniquely Gilbertian dish and, by the way, to raise Gilbert's stock a few points in the market of literary reputations. To this end, Crowther is keen to assert the interest and merit of at least some of the plays that established him, in the decade before the famous collaboration with Sullivan , as a, if not the, leading London dramatist—admittedly not a difficult achievement— with plays such as An Old Score (1869), A Sen sation Novel (1871), Charity (1874), and Engaged (1877). At the same time, not wishing to expose himself to ridicule, he is quick to admit that 343 ELT 45 : 3 2002 his claim for Gilbert is a modest one, with much to be modest about (as Churchill said of Atlee). To establish his case, Crowther has to steer a careful line between conceding that Gilbert was "merely" an amiable commercial entertainer (which, he argues, would be nothing to apologise for), and asserting that he was a trenchant and unrelenting scourge of middle-class hypocrisies and fatuities. Allowing that both estimates have some credibility, he diagnoses Gilbert as oscillating between a desire to win popular acceptance and reward, and a contrary tendency to alienate and deride. This "ambivalence," it is suggested, may even reveal a deep-seated psychological response to emotional rejection in childhood—but Crowther doesn't really want to go there. Rather, he locates Gilbert's mature achievement as balancing these opposing impulses in the role of a fertile and inventive comic dramatist with something occasionally caustic and salutary to impart. At his best, when his recipe is really cooking, he can rise to an elusive and beguiling sophistication, most notably in the earlier Savoy operas; at his less successful, he can sink to embarrassing silliness —the fairy plots and awful puns of his earliest work—and/or to moralistic banality, as in Charity. Resorting to another dichotomy, for which he particularly cites Joe Orton, Crowther also finds in Gilbert a tension between "Dionysian" and "Apollonian" inclinations—fecundity and control—manifested in a struggle to reconcile wild invention with rational structure. One must think, however, that Orton (and Nietzsche) had in mind, in the term "Dionysian," something rather raunchier than ever shook the pen of WSG! (The deservedly popular movie, Topsy Turvy, tends to depict the cheerful roué, Sullivan, as mildly Dionysian in contrast to Gilbert's stodgy rectitude.) A favorite recipe of Gilbert's satirical impulse is his trademark "Topseyturveydom"—to quote...