restricted access Posthumous Playback: Oscar Wilde and the Phonographic Logic of Modern Biography

For many late Victorians, the death of Oscar Wilde in 1900 marked a victory for the normalizing narratives that constituted the Victorian eminent life. In retaliation, a small coterie of writers sought new ways to preserve his memory. This essay demonstrates that in the memorial texts that spring up at the start of the twentieth century we find an obsessive focus on preserving the distinctive cadences of Wilde’s speech transformed into an avant-garde response to critics and cultural commentators satisfied that Wilde’s death meant that an unsavory voice would be heard from no more. Wilde’s early biographers (including Robert Sherard, Andre Gide, Frank Harris, and Laurence Housman) borrow the haunting properties of the phonograph to invoke a dead voice whose very volubility dismantles a calcified generic aesthetic.