In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Book Reviews253 lyric poetry. While specialists will naturally be attracted to individual essays within Gender and Reading, it is clear that the book has been edited to form a coherent and interrelated whole. Each essay leads into the one coming after it, and there is an evident overlap between the first of the three parts and the last. As for the intended readers of Gender and Reading, these are just as much men as women. The book makes its important point richly and well, and it is a point no professor of literature should miss. LEE H. DOWLING University ofHouston REGENIA GAGNIER. Idylls ofthe Marketplace: Oscar Wilde and the Victorian Public. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1986. 255 p. Regenia Gagnier's new book on Wilde is clearly essential readingfor anyone interested in late Victorian literature and culture. Her primary task is to provide readers with new insights into Wilde as an important and representative figure of that period. The book, however, should be read even by those who have little interest in Wilde or his age because it serves as a model for how scholars may fuse historical research with critical methodologies suggested by recent literary and cultural theory to yield new and valuable insights into even the most unlikely texts. The book is a powerful example of what Herbert Lindenberger (a colleague of Gagnier whose help she acknowledges) has characterized as a much needed new approach to literary history. Unlike the "old" literary historian, who "could take for granted the integrity and autonomy of art" ("Toward a New History in Literary Study" Profession 84, 17), Gagnier instead works to show that "Wilde's texts are embedded in other historical discourse; that seeing the relevant discourse in relation to discernible audiences illuminates Wilde's work considerably; and that ultimately Wilde's works must be seen to have contributed to the creation of texts and audiences of the time" (4). Gagnier moves outside the more traditional, idealistic realm of literary criticism, warning that "[r]eaders accustomed to long analyses of literary texts may be surprised at the unusual amount of historical discourse included here" (4). Rather than focus exclusively on the world of art, Gagnier revealingly draws upon the discourse of a number of late-Victorian institutions: "Journalism, advertising, public schools, homosexual communities, criminology, etiquette, theater, and prisons ..." (5). The result is a strong argument that a new understanding of aestheticism emerges from a study of Wilde's relationship to his audiences in the 1890s: "This aestheticism was an engaged protest against Victorian utility, rationality, scientific factuality, and technological progress — in fact, against the whole middle-class drive to conform — but the emphasis is on engaged" (3). Thus Gagnier's goal is to demonstrate that a movement which is often viewed as a turning away from the world was dynamically enmeshed with — and actually helped to create — other historical discourses of the time. Gagnier takes Wilde at his word when he states, "I was a man who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age." Drawing on the work of Bakhtin and cultural critics such as Baudrillard, Benjamin, Adorno, and Debord, Gagnier demonstrates the dialogic relationship that Wilde's work takes up with other discourses of a society that was turning art into a commodity. 254Rocky Mountain Review For example, she shows how the often misunderstood "Pen, Pencil, and Poison" — generally seen as an argument for the amoral nature of art — is, instead, a criticism ofthe specialization and separation that had been forced upon the art world by bourgeois art criticism. Her treatment of Dorian Gray is particularly interesting. Her impressive knowledge ofFrench aestheticism allows her to clear up the mistaken notions many people still hold about Wilde's debt to the French. Rather than talk only about literary influence, Gagnier demonstrates that the concepts of dandy and gentleman stood in a controversial and well publicized relationship to one another within the journalism, advertising, and writings about the public schools of the time. Dorian Gray, an exploration of the life of a gentleman turned dandy, is thus seen as an ideological battleground on which two views of how men are to behave is fought out. When we...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 253-254
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.