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Joseph Bristow, ed. Wilde Writings: Contextual Conditions. Toronto: University ofToronto Press, 2003. Pp. 334. $63.00 cloth. In this collection of essays drawn from papers first presented at the conference series “Oscar Wilde and the Culture of the Fin de Siècle” at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library from January to May 1999, fourteen Wilde scholars significantly expand the existing contextual information on Wilde. Although some of the essays derive at least partly from previously published work, most represent new and ongoing work by such well-respected scholars as John Stokes, Ian Small, Kerry Powell, Peter Raby, Laurence Senelick and Josephine Guy. The collection aims to provide contextual information meant to extend scholarly readings of Wilde’s works, often demonstrating his indebtedness to a variety of genres such as women’s romance writing, New Woman writing, autobiography and socialist writing. The essays fall into four broad sections, each repre­ senting a contextual focus, namely: professional writing, political writing, aestheticism, and the performance of gender and sexuality. It is almost impossible to separate Wilde’s writing from his life. Even in his own lifetime he acquired an iconic status, a status that was possible because of the particular historical period in which he lived, when the explosion of the information era existed side by side with a culture of the unspoken. The myth of Wilde— the larger-than-life wit, homosexual, socialist, professional, etc.— has grown in the last one hundred years. In this collection Wilde scholars attempt to look beyond this mythic persona to the cultural soil in which his genius had roots. They do not ignore Wilde’s life by any means; on the contrary, they use it as a reference point. But unlike early twentieth-century biographical criticism, this collection only uses aspects of W ilde’s life as starting points in order to theorize specific aspects of the work, focusing on his intellectual life rather than on the sensational dramas of his life. The wide range of his reading and the range of the genres of his writing form the contexts examined in this book, but the contextual awareness in these essays is twofold. Several scholars preface their main arguments about the contexts of textual production with an acknowledgement of the context of modern scholarly criticism itself, of the deceptiveness of received perceptions about Wilde and about textual analysis in general. For example, in his essay “Master Wood’s Profession: Wilde and the Sub­ culture of Homosexual Blackmail in the Victorian Theatre,” Laurence Senelick uses the scholarly furore over the mistaken identification of the 208 IBose “Salome” photograph in Richard Ellmann’s 1987 biography of Wilde to warn against less than solid theories of cross-dressing, while Josephine Guy alerts readers to the common assumption that the number of textual revisions signals the degree of seriousness and significance of a work. The essayists try to pinpoint exact historical moments and social contexts to unpack the process of Wilde’s arrival at the creative product. This is not just a search for obscure sources, but an attempt to identify the springs of Wilde’s conflicting and paradoxical philosophies. The slippery quality of Wilde, a scholarly truism, is acknowledged here as scholars examine the varied facets of his experiences and of influences upon him, which, as it is implied by this collection, were possible only at a certain historical moment. Joseph Bristow’s examination of the caricatures of Wilde that proliferated in popular magazines in the 1880s and 1890s attempts to understand the tension between acceptance and repudiation, the accep­ tance implied by the celebrity status of Wilde, and the rejection evident in the material of the caricatures themselves, arising from Wilde’s blatant and consistent self-promotion and his self-conscious persona. Like Peter Raby, Bristow attempts to articulate the essence of Wilde’s modernism, but Raby and Bristow define it differently. To Bristow, Wilde’s modernism lies in his self-fashioning, but to Raby, it is the insincerity and superficiality of social life, which he claims catapults Wilde into the angry dramas of Orton and Osborne as well as the postmodern deconstructionism of Stoppard. In locating Wilde’s modernism in these areas, Raby and Bristow affirm...


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