Oscar Wilde and His Contexts

Spring 2012-2013

21919 / 41919

Benjamin Morgan

In this course we read the work of Oscar Wilde in its historical, intellectual, and cultural contexts. Perhaps more than any other author of the period, Wilde speaks to the issues that mattered to late Victorians: gender relations, women’s rights, class, fears of decadence and degeneration, socialism versus individualism, the rise of celebrity culture, sexual identity, and the social value of the arts. Our intensive reading of one author’s work will therefore also be an introduction to the transition from Victorian to modernist culture and aesthetics. In addition to contextualizing Wilde, we will study how and why he has been decontextualized and recontextualized: if Wilde’s writing is so attuned to a national and historical context, then why has he remained internationally popular for well over a century? The self-image that Wilde constructed has outlived him with remarkable longevity: “Wilde” is a persona as well as a person, an idea as well as an author. We will examine how Wilde’s image has been appropriated in various historical moments and national contexts through adaptation, translation, and homage. Readings will include Wilde’s poetry, plays, novel, journalism, and lectures as well as related works by Walter Pater, Gilbert and Sullivan, Arthur Symons, Aubrey Beardsley, and Richard Strauss.