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Studying Oscar Wilde

History, Criticism, and Myth

Josephine Guy and Ian Small

Publication Year: 2006

Studying Oscar Wilde: History, Criticism, and Myth takes issue with many assumptions current in Wilde scholarship. It sets an engaging course in exploring Wilde’s literary reputation. In particular, Professors Guy and Small are interested in the tension between Wilde’s enduring popularity with the general reading public as a perennially witty entertainer and his status among academics as a complex, politicized writer attuned to the cultural and philosophical currents associated with modernity. Their argument focuses initially on the prominence of biographical readings of Wilde’s literary works, drawing attention to the contradictions in the ways biographers have described his life and to the problems of seeing his writing as a form of self-disclosure. Subsequent chapters assess the usefulness of other forms of academic scholarship to understanding works that are not, on the surface, “difficult.” Here a number of commonly held views are challenged. To what extent is De Profundis autobiographical? How sophisticated is the learning exhibited in Intentions? In what ways are the society comedies “about” homosexuality? And how does The Picture of Dorian Gray relate to Wilde’s “mature” style? The volume also examines some of Wilde’s lesser-known, unfinished works and scenarios, including The Cardinal of Avignon, La Sainte Courtisane, and A Florentine Tragedy (all printed as appendices), arguing that these “failed” works provide important insight into the reasons for Wilde’s popular success. Since Guy and Small have authored numerous articles and books on Wilde, Studying Oscar Wilde: History, Criticism, and Myth will be a must read for scholars, but it is also written in a jargon-free language that will speak to that wider audience of readers who enjoy Oscar Wilde.

Published by: ELT Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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CONTENTS

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pp. v-

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Prefatory Note

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pp. vi-viii

Academic books on Wilde usually come in three forms. There is the academic bibliography, a work designed purely as a research tool for the academic community: bibliographies might tell us, for example, about the location of manuscript material. Such tools are essential for the scholar, but of little use for the general reader. Second, there is the traditional monograph, which is usually (although not always) based on new research, either the kind which displays ...

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I. Studying Wilde: Academic Scholarship and the “General Reader”

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pp. 1-12

In the late 1980s and 1990s the future of literary studies as a discipline of knowledge within universities was being assiduously debated by academics on both sides of the Atlantic. The issues involved in that debate were complex, but one salient topic concerned the relationship of literary studies to cultural studies, and thus the relationship of literary judgments to political and ideological ...

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II. Lives of Wilde: Facts and Fictions

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pp. 13-46

The efforts of Wilde’s earliest biographers, writing in the first half of the twentieth century, have consistently been dismissed by their late-twentieth and twenty-first-century counterparts. The reason for this state of affairs is simple: many of the players who had roles in Wilde’s life were still alive for several decades after his death, and consequently any story of Wilde’s life had to ...

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III. De Profundis: Tragedy and the Art of Self-Fashioning

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pp. 47-76

Towards the end of the previous chapter we mentioned that the most potent of modern myths of Wilde was that which understood him as a tragic victim. It is easy to see how the general outline of this myth came about. We have to imagine a man at the height of his creative powers and the toast of London’s West End theatre suddenly finding himself incarcerated for a two-year sentence ...

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IV. Intentions: A Serious Writer for Trivial Readers; Or, A Trivial Writer for Serious Readers?

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pp. 77-113

Earlier we noted the discrepancy between academic interest in Wilde and his perennial popularity with the general reading public. In fact Wilde’s popular reputation today—as the author of four stylishly subversive comedies, a couple of touching short stories, and the macabre Dorian Gray—is not that different from the one which he enjoyed in the 1890s. Generally speaking ...

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V. The Plays: The Public and Private Worlds of Oscar Wilde

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pp. 114-163

We argued in chapter two that it is possible to find in some of Wilde’s works two distinct kinds of allusions: the private and biographical on the one hand, and the intellectual and the literary on the other. Wilde’s four society comedies—Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)—complicate ...

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VI. Dorian Gray and the Short Fiction: Choosing Between “Sinburnianism” and Pleasing the British Public

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pp. 164-195

In the previous chapter we discussed the ways in which the society comedies have been central in shaping our modern conception of what is a typically Wildean play. In this chapter we will make a similar case about the centrality of The Picture of Dorian Gray in shaping our views of Wilde as a writer of fiction. T hat work tells us emphatically—should we need to be told—that Wilde ...

Appendix: Wilde’s Unfinished Plays and Scenarios

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pp. 196-226

Index

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pp. 227-232


E-ISBN-13: 9780944318294
Print-ISBN-13: 9780944318225
Print-ISBN-10: 0944318223

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: None
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: 1880-1920 British Authors Series, No. 22