Making (Up) Oscar Wilde

MAKING OSCAR WILDE by Michèle Mendelssohn
Oxford University Press (2018)

REVIEWED BY: John Cooper


One of the most noteworthy contributions to the recent surge in Wildean material has been Michèle Mendelssohn’s treatise Making Oscar Wilde (2018).

As the title suggests, it is an attempt to establish a premise for the shaping of Wilde’s persona—the latest in a history of such perspectives which has included disquisitions via his Irish roots, his American experience, his men, his women, his friends, his enemies, his wit, his letters, his published works, his unpublished works, his recorded life, his unrecorded life, and, for good measure, his afterlife.

Now Making Oscar Wilde takes a potentially useful and probably unique view through the prism of Wilde’s racial profile. On surface reading the work has much to commend it—but to discover whether it works as a construction we will have to disassemble it.

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Conspicuous (Even By His Absence)

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Oscar Wilde could be found almost everywhere in 1882

This phenomenon has been well-documented, most recently in David Friedman’s Wilde in America (2014) which portrays Wilde as being so intent upon fame that he had a strategy for achieving it—a view with much validity.

Whatever Wilde’s personal strategy was, however, he was compounded in the effort by his own tour publicity, the popularity of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience and its burlesques, and a general curiosity of the people to see him. As a result, one might wonder whether it is possible to be too ubiquitous.

Take the world of advertising.

Wilde was so famous on his American tour that his name was used by advertisers to generate media exposure for products with which he had no connection.

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