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1 For Wilde titles issued by Smithers and Carrington, see Mason [Christopher Millard], Mendes, and Nelson. 2 Speaking at a dinner given in his honour to celebrate the winding up of the bankrupt Wilde estate, Robert Ross, Wilde’s literary executor, tells of an ‘official at the Court of Bankruptcy [who] assured [him] in 1901 that Wilde’s works were of no value; and would never command any interest whatsoever’ (Ross, 154). As a repentant sinner, however, Wilde remained a valuable commodity in the Edwardian literary marketplace; De Profundis proved enormously popular when first published (by Methuen) in 1905, as The Ballad of Reading Gaol had in 1898. university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 4, fall 2004 G R E G O R Y M A C K I E Publishing Notoriety: Piracy, Pornography, and Oscar Wilde For the first seven or eight years of the twentieth century, publishing Oscar Wilde in Europe was almost exclusively the work of two well-established pornographers, Leonard Smithers in London and Charles Carrington in Paris. From the time of Wilde’s death in 1900 to the 1908 appearance of the authorized Methuen Collected edition of his works, nearly everything Wilde had ever written was pirated by either Smithers or Carrington.1 These piracies, a diverse assemblage of books and pamphlets of varying quality, price, and editorial accuracy, were supplemented by related Wilde titles through which their publishers attempted to capitalize on the intense notoriety surrounding Wilde’s name. Well into the twentieth century, Wilde’s lingering posthumous disgrace had tainted his literary output with a kind of obscenity. His writings had been memorably used in evidence against him at his trials in 1895, and even several years after his death, conventional publishers took little interest in Wilde.2 The fallout from the collapse of his reputation had also apparently clouded the issue of copyright, and Wilde existed in what Stuart Mason, his first bibliographer , called ‘a vague fog of obscenity’ (qtd in Holland, 5). Encumbered by this ‘fog,’ the perceived sexual illicitness of Wilde’s writings actually enabled and encouraged their diffusion by the illicit means of literary piracy. Smithers and Carrington’s Wilde-related activities also illuminate the patterns of producing and consuming in print the tangible side of a largely extraliterary reputation, a reputation that, for its own part, has seen several transformations over the course of the past century. The better-known of the two publishers is Leonard Smithers, a notable 1890s figure and the sometime legitimate publisher of Wilde, Beardsley, Dowson, and a number of other decadent figures. By the late 1890s, Smithers had a sumptuous antiquarian bookshop in Mayfair, from which piracy, pornography, and oscar wilde 981 3 For Smithers’s career, see Nelson. university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 4, fall 2004 he conducted a brisk trade in rare books, avant-garde decadent publications (such as the Savoy magazine), and pornography. He famously claimed, ‘I'll publish anything the others are afraid of’ (qtd in O’Sullivan, 113), and made good on this claim by picking updecadent writers cut loose by John Lane and the Bodley Head in the climate of moral hysteria following the Wilde trials in 1895.3 Dealers in antiquarian, ‘rare’ books and especially in ‘facetiae’in the late Victorian period were often fronts for businesses supplying a vigorous underground market for erotica. Smithers was an exemplary practitioner of the business. He saw himself as a bibliophilic connoisseurand a cultured man, translating Latin and French erotic works in addition to conducting a successful business in more conventional rare and antiquarian books. He was also an expert exploiter of the rhetoricof connoisseurship, bibliophilia, and elite ‘select’ editions that coincided with and concealed a clandestine trade in pornography. The trade was carried on in a legal grey area, where erotic publishers would resort to fictitious ‘Societies’ as the ostensible printers of erotic books, the claim being that these were privately issued books, not for sale, and thus outside the legal ban on obscene publications. Though officially forbidden (and prosecutions did happen, as Smithers, trained as a solicitor, well knew), the London trade relied on a number of very well connected clients, and was only...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 980-990
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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