Oscar Wilde in America

Wendy Graham at The Dublin Review of Books:

After decades of attention to Oscar Wilde’s 1895 trials and his incarnation of the homosexual subject, a spate of recent publications reconsiders his 1882 American lecture tour, among them David Friedman’s Wilde in America (2014), Roy Morris Jr’s Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America (2013), and Sharon Marcus’s “Salomé!! Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, and the Drama of Celebrity” (2011). Editors Matthew Hofer and Gary Scharnhorst set the stage for this reappraisal by assembling the first complete and reliable record of Wilde’s interviews in Oscar Wilde in America: The Interviews (2010). While these publications illuminate Wilde’s redefinition of Victorian masculinity, they also highlight his self-promotion, burgeoning celebrity, and vending of aestheticism before he became a gay icon. To this compendium, Michèle Mendelssohn adds an exciting new chapter, or one so old that it deserves fresh examination. She ponders coverage of the Irish aesthete Wilde, which harmonised with racist caricatures of black dandies in American minstrel shows and newspapers. Back in 1882, Lloyd Lewis and Henry Justin Smith’s Oscar Wilde Discovers America offered a whistle stop account of Wilde’s tour replete with historical magazine illustrations, reviews, and gossip, which frequently conflated aestheticism with race matters. A juxtaposition that seemed unremarkable and inoffensive in 1882 receives extensive scholarly elaboration in Mendelssohn’s fascinating book.

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