Wilde’s world of journalism

Oscar-Wilde_c_1881_1072926hStefano Evangelista at the Times Literary Supplement:

Again and again, Wilde writes amusingly but passionately against small-mindedness and chauvinism, and is supremely irritated by dullness. He is a gifted polemicist, as his spats with the American painter Whistler demonstrate, and he is skilled at using polemics as a means of self-promotion. He has a positive passion for picking out banal statements, which he enjoys quoting with minimal commentary, hanging his victims out to dry. Even more crucially for a reviewer who worked largely on commissions, Wilde can always be trusted to make something interesting out of unpromising subject matter. So, of a collection by the American poet and artist Atherton Furlong, he writes that it is “a form of poetry which cannot possibly harm anybody, even if translated into French”; while J. Sale Lloyd’s Scamp is dismissed as one of those novels that “are possibly more easy to write than they are to read”. When Wilde was given boring books to review, he did something daring and brilliant with them: he turned them into Oscar Wilde.

One of the most rewarding ways of reading Wilde’s journalism is therefore as a giant workshop for the making of the Wilde that readers know better from his more famous writings of the 1890s. It is in the journalism that Wilde comes up for the first time with many of the ideas and phrases that he would reuse in critical essays such as “The Decay of Lying” or “The Critic as Artist”.

more here.