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his American experience, his men, his women, his friends, his enemies, his wit, his letters, his published works, his unpublished works, his recorded life, his unrecorded life, and, for good measure, his afterlife.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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Textual Analysis for Students
A verse parody appeared just three weeks after Oscar Wilde arrived in America. It was one many such newspaper items in 1882 that poked fun at Wilde and the aesthetic movement.
It was notable for its affected and satirical overuse of alliteration. Although Wilde was known for his occasional penchant for this verbal prose style (something that Whistler later parodied), it was probably not recognized by the author of this verse when it was written in January 1882.
It is more likely that its use was prompted by expressions such as “too-too” and “utterly utter” that were connected to the also alliterative Apostle of the Aesthetes.
As such, the text is instructional in understanding allusions to Wilde and the aesthetic movement. Let us examine the terminology:
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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?
Continue reading “Oscar” the Opera | The Art Of Darkness