Oscar Wilde was a consumer modernist. His modernist aesthetics drove him into the heart of the mass culture industries of 1890s London, particularly the journalism and popular theater industries. Wilde was extremely active among these industries: as a journalist at the Pall Mall Gazette; as magazine editor of the Woman's World; as commentator on dress and design through both of these; and finally as a fabulously popular playwright. Because he makes the desire to impact a mass audience so central, the primary elements of Wilde's consumer aesthetic are superficial ornament and ephemeral public image—both of which he links to the theatrical. His concern with the surface and with the ephemeral was, ironically, a foundational element of what became twentieth-century modernism—thus we can call Wilde's aesthetic a consumer-modernism, a root and branch of modernism that was largely erased (just as Wilde was erased from literary history by the early modernists).


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pp. 37-53
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