- The Poets of the Nineties
Most of this year’s offerings concerning the nineties poets come in the form of short studies. An exception is Wilde’s journalism, now convenient in vols. VI and VII of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, ed. John Stokes and Mark W. Turner (Oxford Univ. Press, 2013). Although the bulk of the contents spans 1877–1890, what one discovers is that much of this writing treats topics like those in Wilde’s plays, poems and fiction. Such writings testify that the “1890s” do not begin strictly on January 1, 1890, and conclude on December 31, 1899. So do the contents in Geoff Dibb’s Oscar Wilde, A Vagabond with a Mission: The Story of Oscar Wilde’s Lecture Tours of Britain and Ireland (Oscar Wilde Society, 2013). Much more attention has gone to Wilde’s lecture tour in the USA and Canada in 1882, but the ideas and topics in the British and Irish lectures adumbrate his better known work of the ‘90s. A companion piece is Laurence Dumortier’s “Oscar Wilde’s Multitudes: Against Limiting His Photographic Iconography” (ELT 58: 147–63). Dumortier contends that photographs of Wilde demand more attention because they indicate the diversity in his character but also may contribute significantly to an understanding of his queerness. In “The Hermeneutic Hazards of Hibernicizing Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray” (ELT 57: 37–58), Richard Haslam issues a sturdy, convincing challenge to critics who emphasize Wilde’s Irishness (and not just in Dorian Gray), demonstrating that such attempts to “Hibernicize” Wilde ignore the paucity of Irish characters or specific Irish themes in his dramas or fiction. Taken together, these recent publications offer us a Wilde whose work offers undeniable heterogeneity, though the journalism and lectures may not immediately come to mind for those not well acquainted with Wildeana.
A kindred surprise, though perhaps it shouldn’t be, is offered by Macy Todd, in “What Bram Stoker’s Dracula Reveals about Violence” (ELT 58: 361–84), where the more customary focus on sex in that novel teams with the overt sexuality apparent as Lucy Westenra is staked. Ne’er mind the rituals and customs that go along with the hunting party’s actions: they are “a disguise for conventional violence” (361). Such violence will not be vanquished, as is implicit in the staking of Dracula, and in Stoker’s working notes, for violence is an inescapable element in life. In context, one might profitably read words from the protagonist of Meagan McKinney’s novel, A Man to Slay Dragons (1996), when he tells Claire, preparatory to sex: “ ‘Sex is not a gentle act. . . . By its very nature it’s violent” (Ch. 16). Violence of other types is borne out elsewhere in the novel. We also remember in [End Page 325] context that, though not as graphically, Wilde unhesitatingly presents emotional turmoil and the violence of death by hanging in “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.”
I find Wilde’s plays, especially The Importance of Being Earnest, rife with scenarios in which emotional violence seems all ready to erupt into physical violence, though it never does. This technique distinguishes the plays from that in The Picture of Dorian Gray, where physical violence is depicted. Wilde’s method in the plays more nearly resembles Keats’s in The Eve of St. Agnes, where repeated likelihoods of physical violence, sexual and other, are either muted or else never take place. Wilde may have been writing the erotic in various episodes in his plays and Dorian Gray, but he never shifts into the pornographic.
In The Green Carnation (1894), Ch. XI, Esmé asks: “Why are minor poets so artless, and why do they fancy they are so wicked?”—but names only “Arthur Symonds” [sic]. Lionel Johnson does not usually stand at the head of the line among so-called minor poets of the 1890s, though his poetry has occasioned several good studies in recent years. Gabriel Lovatt’s “Lionel Johnson’s Modern Ruins” (VP 52 : 679–698) suggests that his poems offer more than mere Decadent ephemera. Lovatt opens windows onto Johnson’s employing tropes of ancient ruins to...