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Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture

The Making of a Legend

Joseph Bristow

Publication Year: 2008

Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture: The Making of a Legend explores the meteoric rise, sudden fall, and legendary resurgence of an immensely influential writer’s reputation from his hectic 1881 American lecture tour to recent Hollywood adaptations of his dramas. Always renowned—if not notorious—for his
fashionable persona, Wilde courted celebrity at an early age. Later, he came to prominence as one of the most talented essayists and fiction writers of his time. In the years leading up to his two-year imprisonment, Wilde stood among the foremost dramatists in London. But after he was sent down for committing acts of “gross indecency” it seemed likely that social embarrassment would inflict irreparable damage to his legacy. As this volume shows, Wilde died in comparative obscurity. Little could he have realized that in five years his name would come back into popular circulation thanks to the success of Richard Strauss’s opera Salome and Robert Ross’s edition of De Profundi. With each succeeding decade, the twentieth century continued to honor Wilde’s name by keeping his plays in repertory, producing dramas about his life, adapting his works for film, and devising countless biographical and critical studies of his writings. This volume reveals why, more than a hundred years after his demise,
Wilde’s value in the academic world, the auction house, and the entertainment industry stands higher than that of any modern writer.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xxix

The chapters in Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture share one aim: they seek to reveal how and why a gifted Irish author who experienced varying kinds of fame, notoriety, and shame across the course of his twenty-five-year career would claim greater and greater attention from successive generations of writers, critics, composers, dancers, filmmakers, and performers throughout the late nineteenth, twentieth, and early twenty-first centuries. ...

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pp. xxxi-xxxiii

Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture: The Making of a Legend has its origins in a two-day conference, “Wilde at 150,” which was held at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California, Los Angeles, on 22–23 October 2004. My thanks go to the staff of the Clark Library—especially Scott Jacobs, Jennifer Schaffner, Carol Sommer, Suzanne Tatian, and Bruce Whiteman—for the help they gave in ensuring the success of this event. ...


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pp. xxxv-xlii

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pp. 1-45

Just before the end of the nineteenth century, Oscar Wilde died in trying circumstances, as unsympathetic obituaries in the British press were prompt to note. To the London Times, Wilde’s demise from an infection of brain tissue at age forty-six did not come soon enough. How could a man who suffered such degradation continue a life that was anything other than shameful and remorseful? ...

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Oscar Wilde, Lady Gregory, and Late-Victorian Table-Talk

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pp. 46-62

“A man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world”: Lord Illingworth’s epigram from Oscar Wilde’s third society comedy, A Woman of No Importance (1893), is a bit ambiguous (CW, 4:109). Does it mean that the London dinner table is a stepping-stone to “the world,” a rung on a career ladder? Or does it simply mean that skills in dominating the one and the other are comparable? ...

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Sexuality in the Age of Technological Reproducibility: Oscar Wilde, Photography, and Identity

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pp. 63-95

At the heart of this chapter is a simple question: For the late Victorians, what does the photograph capture? Does the photograph capture body, soul, identity, and/or sexuality? If so, then what should we learn from Victorian photographs and, more specifically, from photographs of Oscar Wilde? If not, then how does the camera redefine sexuality, along with identity and the body? ...

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pp. 96-109

On 6 April 1895, the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec received a letter from the famed Montmartre dance-hall performer La Goulue asking him to paint two large canvases that would adorn the exterior of her funfair booth at the Foire du Trône. In deference to his old friend, who had been a subject of his previous work, he worked furiously to complete the commission within the week, in time to promote La Goulue’s new act with an eye-catching advertisement. ...

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Oscar Wilde and the Politics of Posthumous Sainthood: Hofmannsthal, Mirbeau, Proust

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pp. 110-132

In a 1905 essay entitled “Sebastian Melmoth,” the Austrian poet, playwright, and critic Hugo von Hofmannsthal cautions against what he construes as the widespread tendency to detach Oscar Wilde the man from Wilde the writer, a conception that posits the one as a tragic social miscreant and the other as a splendid literary success. ...

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The Trouble with Oskar: Wilde's Legacy for the Early Homosexual Rights Movement in Germany

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pp. 133-153

...Wilde not only associated the German language with austerity and penance but also found its country of origin less than charming. We can be sure of only two trips that he ever made to Germany: he briefly visited Bad Kreuznach in July 1889, and he spent several weeks in Homburg in July 1892, “taking the waters”—as he told William Archer—with Lord Alfred Douglas (Complete Letters, 534).4 ...

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Staking Salomé: The Literary Forefathers and Choreographic Daughters of Oscar Wilde’s “Hysterical and Perverted Creature”

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pp. 154-179

The title of this chapter was inspired by Armen Ohanian’s autobiographical novel The Dancer of Shamahka (published in French in 1918 and translated into English four years later). In addition to its direct reference to Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé (originally written in French in 1892), Ohanian’s narrative is worth consideration because it provides a thought-provoking critique of, as well as a cultural context for, the many Salomés that I consider here. ...

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"Surely You are Not Claiming to Be More Homosexual than I?": Claude Cahun and Oscar Wilde

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pp. 180-208

During the German occupation of Jersey, Claude Cahun1 (1894–1954), the French avant-garde photographer and writer, would go for walks with her partner and collaborator Suzanne Malherbe (1892–1972) to search for materials that they could use in their resistance campaign that was designed to spread demoralization and defeatism among the German troops. ...

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Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband and W. Somerset Maugham's The Constant Wife: A Dialogue

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pp. 254-278

In a suggestive essay in The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde, Richard Cave explores “some lines of influence” of Wilde’s drama on twentieth-century theater, but for some reason Cave judges W. Somerset Maugham’s and Noel Coward’s conscious reworking of Wilde’s comedies as superficial and thus fit to set aside1.₁ I argue, however, that the line from Wilde to Maugham is especially strong and complicated ...

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Transcripts and Truth: Writing the Trials of Oscar Wilde

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pp. 234-258

These three epigraphs share the common belief that we can know the facts of the proceedings of the criminal trials involving Oscar Wilde, which began on 3 April 1895 and resulted seven weeks later in his imprisonment for two years with hard labor in solitary confinement. Moreover, these comments share the assumption that the three trials provide us with indisputable facts about the life of Oscar Wilde. ...

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The Artist as Protagonist: Wilde on Stage

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pp. 259-284

Oscar Wilde appears in two different guises in E. M. Forster’s Maurice, the novel of male homosexual love that Forster composed in 1913 but felt unable to publish during his lifetime. (Forster’s narrative appeared posthumously, a year after his death, in 1971.) Wilde is named overtly in the novel as the eponym of Maurice Hall’s psychological problem (“I’m an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort”)...

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Wilde Lives: Derek Jarman and Queer Eighties

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pp. 285-304

In Will Self’s novel Dorian (2002), the eponymous hero takes perverse delight in transmitting the HIV virus to as many as possible while himself remaining both youthful and healthy. Self deploys the structures, characters, and themes of Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890, revised 1891), to give a particularly nihilistic account of gay London in the late 1980s and early 1990s. ...

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Oscar Goes to Hollywood: Wilde, Sexuality, and the Gaze of Contemporary Cinema

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pp. 305-337

In his recent biography of Oscar Wilde, Neil McKenna argues that, despite Wilde’s status as an icon of homosexuality, his sexual life has frequently been misrepresented by biographers. According to McKenna, “most accounts of Oscar’s life present him as predominantly heterosexual, a man whose later love of men was at best some sort of aberration, a temporary madness and, at worst, a slow-growing cancer, a terrible sexual addiction which slowly destroyed his mind and his body.”1 ...

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pp. 339-342


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pp. 343-345


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pp. 347-355

E-ISBN-13: 9780821443033
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821418383

Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900 -- Influence.
  • Wilde, Oscar, -- 1854-1900 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Homosexuality and literature -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
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