Wilde's Intentions: The Artist in His Criticism

Wilde's Intentions: The Artist in His Criticism

Wilde's Intentions: The Artist in His Criticism

Wilde's Intentions: The Artist in His Criticism

Synopsis

What were Wilde's intentions? They had always been suspect, from the time of Poems, when the charge was plagiarism, to his trials, when the charge was sodomy. In Intentions (1891), and in two related essays, "The Portrait of Mr W. H." and "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," Wilde's epigrammatic dazzle and paradoxical subversions both reveal and mask his designs upon fin-de-siecle society. In the first extended study of Wilde's criticism, Lawrence Danson examines these essays/dialogues/fictions and assesses their achievement. He sets Wilde's criticism in context, showing how the son of an Irish patriot sought to create a new ideal of English culture by elevating "lies" above history, leveling the distinction between artist and critic, and ending the sway of "nature"u over liberated human desire.

Excerpt

He's everywhere again in the fin de siècle, on stage, screen, and T-shirt, in books and on bookbags, in Westminster Abbey and, God forbid, classrooms. and still we agree as little about him as when first his ubiquity was the talk of two continents: Whistler's 'aimiable irresponsible esurient Oscar'; Saint Oscar, the Irish outsider, the queer martyr, the spiritual Oscar, the subversive Oscar; Oscar the canonical, Oscar the imposter, the one and only original, the pasticheur, plagiarist, or postmodernist. All this diversity and disagreement despite the fact that (as I once thought of calling this book) Oscar Wilde Tells All! in his prison letter to Lord Alfred Douglas he tells it from the depths, with the result that for some readers he is Christlike in wisdom and suffering, and for others he is an Ancient Mariner of self-pity. in Intentions, the book on which his claims as a theorist and critic chiefly rest, he tells it from the heights.

Intentions was published in London on 2 May 1891 by James R. Osgood , McIlvaine and Co., a recently established firm which would also publish Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories in July and A House of Pomegranates in November: about a week, that is to say, after the first book publication of The Picture of Dorian Gray. a more expensive large-paper edition of Dorian Gray appeared in July. (Wilde presented a copy to his new friend Lord Alfred Douglas.) in February of that year 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism' had appeared in the Fortnightly Review. By autumn, Wilde had completed a play he called A Good Woman; retitled Lady Windermere's Fan, it was running in London shortly after the year's end. and in December he completed the French language version of Salomé. When the last decade of the nineteenth century opened, he was Britain's longest-running overnight sensation, with a reputation in excess of real production; by the end of 1891 the body of his work justified the notoriety of his personality.

Beginnings, middles, and endings are surprisingly elusive in the brief drama of Wilde's career, with its extended . . .

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