The Aesthetics of Self-Invention: Oscar Wilde to David Bowie

By Shelton Waldrep | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 2
Attributing Wilde

Wilde as “Type”

What is the general type of your build—heavy or slight, muscular or
not robust, fat or thin, tall or short (for your sex) in stature?

Neil Bartlett

Although Wilde was aware of his connection to the past—the Hel lenism and romance that were once again alive in his day—his acute sense of the modern often took the form of a desire to create something that was available for the first time to him and those who would follow him. Wilde's desire to create something new has been described as a bewildering series of beliefs that changed with each new persona that he donned, as the putting on of various fashionable ideas belonging to others (Arnold, Pater, Whistler), or as the subtle “maturing” of a talent away from theatricality and toward genuine art. In each of these cases, however, the telos is the same: Wilde's life ends when he becomes involved with a gay subculture. In these scenarios it is assumed that De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol are simply the mannered or sentimental leftovers from a career that—ending more or less with Earnest—was at the brink of becoming something substantial. What this other phase would have been is never quite clear. What is known is that Wilde himself considered An Ideal Husband to be his best play,

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