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his American experience, his men, his women, his friends, his enemies, his wit, his letters, his published works, his unpublished works, his recorded life, his unrecorded life, and, for good measure, his afterlife.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.
Continue reading Making (Up) Oscar Wilde
Today is the birthday of a famous Irishman and, lest I insult your knowledge, I should quickly add that I do not refer to this young chap above—Wildeans need no reminding that Oscar celebrates his birthday today, October 16th.
Consider instead a curiosity about this date in Irish lore.
Continue reading The 16th Green
Here’s an idle curiosity.
When Oscar Wilde had this photograph taken by Napoleon Sarony in 1882, not only was he standing against the same wall that Sarah Bernhardt had stood against—but he was standing in EXACTLY the same spot.
Continue reading Same Difference
I live in terror of not being misunderstood
If Oscar Wilde really did live in terror of not being misunderstood—as he wrote in The Critic as Artist in 1891, he need not have worried. At least not so far as his plays are concerned, because there are parts of the texts now so arcane that they are almost bound to be misunderstood—if they are understood at all.
Take Wilde’s most famous play The Importance of Being Earnest.
As many appreciate, Earnest still resonates today in everything from the fact that sugar is no longer fashionable to the facade of human shallowness.
But we should not allow the play’s continuing relevance to distract us from its many dated, regional or topical allusions, many of which had an esoteric meaning when Wilde wrote them, but which are now elusive—especially for young or non-British audiences.
Continue reading Time: The Present
O’Flahertie Will Get You Nowhere
I recall learning the word polyonymous from this Word-a-Day web site—it means having many names. It resonates because I always suspected Oscar of being a confirmed and secret polyonymist, freely dispensing with at least three of his five birth names which he considered too much ballast for the heights he soared, and then changing his name altogether when he came back down to earth.
Continue reading On This Day
John Cooper expands on comments he made as a member of a panel discussion at the Oscar Wilde Festival in Galway, Ireland, in 2014, in which he appraised Wilde’s legacy and his personal response to it.
(I) RISE AND FALL
Finding Oscar Wilde during his lecture tour of America in 1882 presented few difficulties. Throughout the year he made hundreds of appearances in public and thousands in the press. But his transatlantic sojourn was not merely prolific, it was a surprisingly formative time that saw Wildean firsts in all aspects of his career. Professionally, he nurtured the art of public speaking, began lecturing, and conducted his first press interviews. In his personal life he entered a new sphere of poets, writers, and statesmen; and he embarked upon a lifelong pattern of occasionally earning, but of always spending, large sums of money. Creatively, he became increasingly familiar with formulating his thought into thesis, while socially he was gathering material and honing epigrams for use in his early essays, short stories, and dramatic dialogues. Perhaps most surprisingly, it was in America that he staged the first ever production of a Wilde play.1 And lastingly, it was in New York City that the predominant image we have of him was formed with a series of photographs taken by Napoleon Sarony. After America, one might say, Oscar had become famous for more than just being famous.
Not surprisingly, given this degree of exposure and experience, contemporary opinion was that America had made a greater impression on Wilde than vice-versa. Supporting this view is the fact that his audiences, although they had attended his lectures, came to see rather than to hear him; and even though he was often personally liked, he was more often publicly ridiculed. Wilde’s maligned persona was so widespread that the ability to locate him in the abstract sense, even for those who had not seen him, also presented few difficulties. In sum: the breadth of his presence made Wilde familiar in person, and the stereotype of his character provided the measure of him as a personality.
We now see that Wilde cannot be so easily pigeon-holed.
Continue reading Finding Oscar
If you have six hours to spare, here is Neil Bartlett reading De Profundis. All of it.