Doubtful as Men

How the effeminate Oscar Wilde was likened to women in 1882.

effeteDuring his lecture tour of America in 1882, Oscar Wilde was often described as effeminate.

It has often been thought that Oscar was acting the part of the effeminate; certainly, he was playing up to it: his dress and manner coinciding with the “namby-pamby” image of Bunthorne from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience that preceded him.

But, given our knowledge that Wilde continued to display the same effeminate sensitivities throughout his life, how much of his 1882 pose was an act?

Perhaps it is the case that rather than his being landed with an effeminate role, Wilde gravitated towards it.

Indeed, he portrayed his role so convincingly that, as we shall discover, the ever-anticipatory Wilde was conceptualized as female.


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More on Boys’ Names

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The source of Oscar Wilde’s pun on Ernest/Earnest

In an earlier article I tried to show that in John Gambril Nicholson’s verse Of Boys’ Names (Wilde’s putative source of the Ernest/Earnest pun) there are other boys’ names with Wildean parallels.

Research now leads me to a further connection.

In a back issue of The Book Collector (Summer, 1978), there is chapter about Nicholson’s 1892 Love in Earnest: Sonnets, Ballades, and Lyrics (the anthology  that includes the poem in question).

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Frankel and Earnest (and other boys’ names)

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Nicholas Frankel’s scholarly edition of The Annotated Importance of Being Earnest

I am fascinated by the editorial introduction and inter-leaf annotations in Nicholas Frankel’s new scholarly edition of The Annotated Importance of Being Earnest [1]. The publisher, Harvard University Press, tells us that Frankel’s running commentary, “ties the play closely to Wilde’s personal life and sexual identity, illuminating literary, biographical, and historical allusions.”

Quite right. The book include not only insights into Wilde’s meaning, but also information about the chronology of Wilde’s textual changes, some of which were made four years after the play was first staged. All this is quite revelatory for those who, like me, appreciate the research that must have gone into it. Or, put another way, it’s the kind of thing you’ll like if you like that kind of thing.

However, this article is not a book review. I have something revelatory of my own.

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“Oscar” the Opera | The Art Of Darkness

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Oscar, the opera in Philadelphia

The last time Oscar Wilde visited Philadelphia it was to promote an opera. That was during a lecture tour of America in 1882 when a required part of his raison d’être was to be the poster-boy for Gilbert & Sullivan’s latest offering Patience—a comic opera whose purpose was to ridicule the adherents of the Aesthetic Movement. Not that it mattered to Oscar Wilde that he was the movement’s leading representative and the person most closely identified with the ridicule. He always knew he would outlive the mob mentality, and it is an ironic measure of the wisdom of Wilde’s indifference that he has triumphantly returned to Philadelphia as the subject of an opera himself. The question now is: if Oscar the man was indifferent to Patience, would he have had any patience for Oscar the opera?

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NBC reports change in English law

I was consulted—in an extremely minor way—for this piece on NBC.

Bravo to MSNBC and UK politician David Lammy who takes up Oscar’s courtroom justification.