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Oscar Wilde (1854-1900): Aesthetics and Criticism

Megan Becker-Leckrone

 

[This article was first published in The Continuum Encyclopedia of Modern Criticism and Theory eds. Julian Wolfreys, Ruth Robbins, Kenneth Womack (New York: Continuum Press, May 2002) pp.658-65. It is here republished by kind permission and remains copyright © to the author, from whom permission for citation should be sought.]

 

Devoting most of his career to poetry, prose fiction, and drama, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) wrote the bulk of his critical work between 1885 and 1891.  Along with a number of book reviews and brief articles, this corpus consists chiefly of just six major essays:  ‘The Truth of Masks’ (1885), ‘The Decay of Lying’ (1889), ‘Pen, Pencil and Poison’ (1889), ‘The Portrait of Mr. W. H.’ (1889), ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’ (1890), and ‘The Critic as Artist’ (1890).  In May 1891, four of these six essays were published together in a volume suggestively entitled Intentions, although each of the six was at one time or another considered for inclusion in the book (Danson, 1997, 7-8).  Wilde also published in 1891 the well-known ‘Preface’ to his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray; a brief series of aphorisms on beauty and art, the ‘Preface’ serves as a pithy distillation of the paradoxical, subtly equivocal theoretical framework the essays collectively establish.  In 1895, Wilde’s own words would be interpreted, ironically, as utterly unequivocal evidence against him in the scandalous libel and criminal suits that eventually sent him to jail and effectively ended his career. 

This tragic conclusion did not extinguish Wilde’s legacy.  In fact, it is safe to say that his words have graced more greeting cards and bookbags than any other author featured in this book – all testaments to the prominent place Wilde holds in our cultural landscape to this day.  Yet such a distinction does more than indicate a unique literary and critical influence.  Most obviously, it attests to the witty, epigrammatic memorability of his declarations and, moreover, acknowledges that when many people speak of Oscar Wilde, they often refer to a personality and a life as much as a collection of ideas and texts.  Indeed, for a writer who famously explores the question of art’s relation to life, and whose life and work together offer an uncommonly rich site for examining the overdetermined sexual and social culture of late-Victorian England, such a focus is in many ways warranted.  For despite his avowed artistic detachment from the age in which he lived, Wilde was a keen social critic.  In ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism,’ to name just one example, his description of the public’s despotic potential to quash – like Mill’s ‘tyranny of the majority’ – independently thinking, creative individuals provides an eerily prescient analysis of the fate which would befall him.  Recent Wilde scholars have explored such issues in groundbreaking ways.  But noting his status as cultural icon also points to a peculiar challenge his critics face, that of diffusing the still popular idea of Wilde as just a stereotype or a sloganeer. 

Beyond the mannered eccentricities Wilde exhibited in his deliberate cultivation of a public persona, beyond the famous utterances that seem to serve as captions to it, lies a largely coherent and complex aesthetic theory of ‘art for art’s sake,’ derived from the aestheticism of Walter Pater, though not merely derivative of it.  Morality and immorality, art and life, truth and lies – throughout his work, each of these categories garner their very particular meaning by way of Wilde’s paradoxical rhetoric and self-consciously performative style.  In a generically diverse body of criticism – which includes lists of cryptic or ambiguously referential aphorisms, a story of a fatally wayward critic, an appreciation of a forging and murdering artist, and two dialogues involving voices that are not merely transparent representations of Wilde’s own theoretical ‘intentions’ – how he makes his arguments often matters just as much as what, at isolated moments, they assert.  Separated from their intellectual or discursive context – on bookbags or greeting cards – these statements amuse, convey a personality, and perhaps seem cleverly apt.  In their discursive context, they do much more.  Wilde’s response to important critical thinkers who preceded him, his critique of the prevailing wisdom of his time, and his relevance to theoretical debates that continue to this day are considerable and warrant serious consideration.

Wilde’s insistence on the separation between art and life, and his claim for art’s priority in that pairing, point significantly to questions of aesthetic representation and reception that span the history of critical discourse from the classical age to the present.  The privilege he gives to the imaginative, rather than mimetic, function of art recalls the ancient poetic dispute between Plato and Aristotle and also situates him in a tradition of poetic apologies from Sidney to the Romantics.  As Hazard Adams explains, Wilde recognizes in his own era that ‘the theory of imitation was undergoing a crucial change.  The trend, at least since Kant and Coleridge, had been to emphasize art’s power to make, not to copy’ (Adams, 1992, 657).  Like Pater’s, Wilde’s concept of aesthetic autonomy belongs to and raises the stakes of this intellectual current.  If art does not primarily ‘copy’ life or nature, then what does it do?  Wilde’s provocative response to this question at once severs and reverses this mimetic relationship, proposing instead that ‘Life imitates Art’ (Wilde, 1989, 985).  Although it is the second effect – the reversal – in Wilde’s proposal that has gained the status of truism, both of the gestures have significant implications within the history of critical theory.

In the first sense, the separation Wilde imposes upon the mimetic formula, upon a ‘natural’ order from life to art, elaborates a chief tenet of Pater’s aesthetic criticism:  art in its highest form is something more and other than a mere reflection of the natural world.  This emphatic distinction underwrites aestheticism’s notorious insistence that, in Pater’s words, ‘[t]he office of the poet is not that of the moralist’ (Pater, 1986, 427).  For Pater, the true source of art – its ‘active principle’ – corresponds to what Wilde also privileges, ‘imagination’ (Pater, 1986, 428).  What it generates, for both of them, is ‘beauty’ and ‘pleasure.’  Wilde’s at times outlandish preference for the artificial over the natural – his protagonist’s refusal, for instance, to go outside in ‘The Decay of Lying’ – are best read within this specific context.  As Pater explains in his essay, ‘Wordsworth’ (1874), the active principle in art is not entirely natural – not  ‘rooted in the ground’ or ‘tethered down to a world’ – but rather ‘something very different from this’ (Pater, 1986, 428).  In the ‘Preface’ to The Renaissance, Pater calls this ‘something’ Wordsworth’s ‘unique, incommunicable faculty, that strange, mystical sense of a life in natural things,’ but he implies that this ‘strange . . . sense’ might itself be of another order (Pater, 1980, xxii).  Even this quintessential nature poet, Pater audaciously suggests, produces his greatest work not in mirroring the world around him, but in ‘moments of profound, imaginative power, in which the outward object appears to take colour and expression, a new nature almost, from the prompting of the observant mind’ (Pater, 1986, 424, emphasis mine).  In such moments, ‘the actual world would, as it were, dissolve and detach itself, flake by flake, and he himself seemed to be the creator . . . of the world in which he lived’ (424).  In Pater’s figuration here, the visiting light of the imagination upon the natural object decisively transforms it.  The result is a ‘new nature’ and a different world.

The true task of the aesthetic critic, correspondingly, consists of discovering the elemental traces of such moments in the work of art – and again, aesthetic separation proves a key dynamic.  Pater outlines this project in the ‘Preface,’ where he characterizes the critic’s work as a subliming process of elemental ‘refinement.’  The ‘function of the aesthetic critic’ – like that of a ‘chemist’ – ‘is to distinguish, to analyse, and separate from its adjuncts’ precisely what generates beauty from what does not.  Reading Wordsworth’s poetry, in particular, Pater argues the aesthetic critic must ‘disengage this virtue from the commoner elements with which it may be found in combination . . . [and leave] only what the heat of their imagination has wholly fused and transformed,’ thus subtly dismissing in the domestic, earth-bound aspects of Wordsworth’s poetry nineteenth century readers typically privileged (what Paul de Man calls the ‘Victorian Wordsworth’) (Pater, 1980, xx-xxi). Though often by exaggerating it to the point of seeming elitism, translating it into impertinent solipsism, or playing it up as the stereotypical dandy’s hot-house cult of artifice, Wilde adheres closely to Pater’s aesthetic vision. 

The effective reversal in Wilde’s life-and-art formula draws less directly from Pater and has, perhaps fittingly, become Wilde’s signature claim.  Yet it does not just describe the uncanny way in which real events seem to offer types or act out scenarios prefigured by artistic media, as it is popularly interpreted.  Nor does it simply ‘refer . . . to the fact that fashionable ladies in the 1880s tried to dress and look like the beautiful figures in the paintings of Rossetti or Burne-Jones’ (Longxi, 1988, 90-1).  Rather, Wilde argues we perceive the world by means of the conceptual models provided for us by art.  ‘Things are because we see them, and what we see and how we see it, depends on the arts that have influenced us,’ explains Vivian in ‘The Decay of Lying’ (Wilde, 1989, 986).  No perception is immediate.  What is is culturally constructed, and in a sense interpreted for us, already, by existing forms of understanding.  While by no means original to Wilde, this observation highlights a significant post-romantic intellectual undercurrent to the prevailing realism and positivism of Victorian culture; namely, a growing skepticism in the possibility of objective perception, aesthetic or otherwise.  In ‘The Critic as Artist’ and ‘The Portrait of Mr. W. H.,’ his insistence on implicating critical discourse itself in this constructivist condition aligns him suggestively with Nietzsche and even Freud. 

For this reason and others, Wilde’s reversal resonates unmistakably with concerns central to contemporary theory.  If, as Jonathan Culler has recently suggested, theory characteristically involves a critique of common sense and an interrogation of what we assume is ‘natural,’ then Wilde’s work is theoretical through and through (Culler, 1997, 4).  The aestheticism or decadence Wilde espouses declares itself overtly ‘against nature’ in its emphasis both on art’s autonomy and on the constructedness of ‘life.’   As Linda Dowling argues in Language and Decadence in the Victorian Fin de Siècle, the aestheticist proposal announces a specifically late-Victorian state of affairs:  a linguistic and epistemological condition wherein ‘nature,’ ‘reality,’ and ‘truth’ cannot be sustained as self-evident, stable, or authoritative categories, if indeed they ever could be.  Both Wilde’s theory of art and his often affected stylistic self-consciousness, according to Dowling, ‘emerge . . . from a linguistic crisis, a crisis in Victorian attitudes towards language brought about by the new comparative philology earlier imported from the continent’ and largely inherited from romanticism (Dowling, 1986, xi-xii). 

One benefit of Dowling’s reading is that it obviates the need to reconcile the seeming inconsistency between the gravity of Wilde’s ideas and the levity of their presentation.  In this light, we can see the relentless play of Wilde’s texts – his dizzying use of paradox, the witty exaggerations, carefully staged dialogues and complex narrative frameworks – not as the frivolous camouflage for serious ideas, but as performative demonstrations of them.  What Wilde’s essays so often ironically present are occasions that raise, in Dowling’s words, the ‘spectre of autonomous language’ – that is, adumbrations that our words might not correspond to our world or, more ominously, our ‘intentions’ in a harmoniously referential way (xii).   In this sense, there is a profound consistency between the content of Wilde’s aesthetic theory and his performative style.  Dowling considers the latter a strategically formulated ‘counterpoetics of disruption and parody and stylistic derangement, a critique not so much of Wordsworthian nature as of the metaphysics involved in any sentimental notion of a simple world of grass and trees and flowers’ (x). For this reason, Dowling suggests that aestheticism and key poststructuralist projects – Foucault’s, Derrida’s – share a common critical lineage, albeit on separate sides of the ‘metaphysical rupture brought about by Saussurean linguistics’ (xiii).

A close look at Wilde’s notorious use of paradox serves as an instructive illustration of the ‘counterpoetics’ Dowling describes.  In all of his paradoxical assertions, Wilde takes the commonsense, apparently natural order of things (the doxa) and reverses it, goes against it (para) in a way that seems initially wittily absurd, but which comes to make a certain sense upon reflection.  To cite just one example, we can look at the concluding sentences of Wilde’s ‘Preface’ to The Picture of Dorian Gray, written in part to counter the moral opprobrium the novel’s serial appearance first precipitated.  Here, Wilde offers three declarations that, taken together, form a kind of skewed syllogism:

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it.  The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless (Wilde, 1989, 17).

In a text purportedly defending Wilde’s own work of art, it seems absurd to declare such a work ‘useless.’  But the paradoxical logic draws out a key cultural assumption – in this case, the presumed connection between utility and value, especially with regard to art.  He furthermore glosses the seemingly obvious truth that what is ‘useful’ would also have more value than what is ‘useless.’  Wilde’s apparently self-defeating defense, that ‘[a]ll art is quite useless,’ in fact, both articulates a long-standing bias – at least since Plato – that art is not socially or morally ‘useful’ and thus not valuable (or conversely, that it is useful, but only to the extent that it does serve society or morality) and turns it on its head.  In the process, Wilde dislocates utility and value, makes them opposites, and then reorders them, so that what is ‘useful’ becomes, paradoxically, what is not to be ‘admire[d].’  And art’s ‘uselessness,’ in turn and inextricably within these terms, becomes its unique, lofty essence.  Danson stresses the importance of context, both textual and intellectual, in understanding the force of such utterances:  ‘In Wildean paradox . . . the ironized new meanings of words are only realizable in relation to their old meanings, which the paradox, for its subversive purpose, keeps in circulation’ (Danson, 1997, 150).  Thus, the word ‘useless’ becomes a kind of portmanteau in which we may read a long history of aesthetic theory.  His paradox glosses at once Plato’s banishment of poetry from the republic, Kant’s description of the aesthetic object’s ‘purposive purposelessness,’ the ‘intense’ aesthetic admiration Pater advocates, as well as the contemporary popular sentiment Wilde means to subvert.

The longer essays employ this strategy and others to enact a similar theoretical engagement.  ‘The Decay of Lying,’ the first and most anthologized essay in Intentions, is a not-quite Platonic dialogue that considers the mimetic relationship between art and nature.  The dialogue’s title refers to an article Vivian (the parlor-room Socrates) reads to Cyril (his unequal foil) in the course of their discussion:  ‘The Decay of Lying:  A Protest.’  Vivian’s ‘protest’ most pointedly objects to realism’s dominance as an artistic method and aesthetic ideal in nineteenth-century art.  But the protest is embedded in a larger discussion that both articulates aestheticism’s central argument and situates it in long history of discourse on mimesis.

‘[W]hat I am pleading for is lying in art,’ not, Vivian emphasizes, in spheres where lying merely serves venal interests – in politics, for instance.  Vivian instead values the ‘fine lie,’ informed purely by the imagination, and created solely for its own sake (Wilde, 1989, 971).  This differentiation points to the first of his four ‘doctrines of the new aesthetics’; namely, that ‘Art never expresses anything but itself.  It has an independent life, . . . and develops purely on its own lines’ (991).  As does the ‘uselessness’ argument in the ‘Preface,’ Vivian’s doctrine calls art a distinct enterprise not properly judged according to normative, rational standards of truth.  In both instances, Wilde draws on the Kantian argument that ‘to judge an art object in terms of use’ – or truth value – ‘is not to make an aesthetic judgment’ (Adams,1992, 659).  Kant’s separation of aesthetic from rational or practical judgment also recalls Aristotle’s rescue of poetry from Plato’s banishment.  Wilde’s dialogue subtly restages the ancient poetic debate between Plato and Aristotle, echoing Aristotle’s insistence that poetry – in medium and manner – operates differently than other forms of representation and should be judged accordingly.  In characteristically paradoxical fashion, Wilde has Vivian explicitly enlist Plato himself in support of this argument as much as he does Aristotle.  Adopting Plato’s mimetic formula – wherein poetry, at two removes from ‘truth,’ is a ‘lie’ – Wilde also turns it on its head.  What Plato declares poetry’s ultimate weakness Wilde celebrates as its unique strength.  

Vivian’s second doctrine argues that realism strays from art’s distinct raison d’être.  ‘As a method, realism is a complete failure [for] it forgets that when art surrenders her imaginative medium she surrenders everything’ (979).  His supporting argument recalls Aristotle’s own mode of defense.  He offers an etiological history of aesthetic development that sees imaginative instinct as its ‘first stage’:  ‘Art begins with . . . purely imaginative and pleasurable work dealing with what is unreal and nonexistent’ (978).  Like Aristotle, Vivian too claims that this primal instinct is ‘natural.’  But even more so, Vivian’s ‘first stage’ is self-generated, ‘natural’ in that it stems from human nature, from within.  We ‘start . . . in life with a natural gift for exaggeration,’ and so too does art begin with this essential element (973).  The second stage in this history might surprise those who read Wilde’s separation of art and life absolutely, for here Vivian makes clear that there is indeed a connection – but a very particular one:  ‘Art takes life as part of her rough material, recreates it, and refashions it in fresh forms’ (978).  Like Pater’s Wordsworth, who throws the light of his imagination on nature and produces ‘a new nature,’ Vivian’s vision of art relies on nature (‘life’) as well, but secondarily.  Realism’s crucial error is to reverse this proper order, to present a ‘third stage’ in which ‘life gets the upper hand, and drives art into the wilderness.’  By Wilde’s subtle redefinition of the very label his critics used to condemn his aesthetic, realism’s late aberration becomes art’s ‘true decadence, and it is from this that we are now suffering’ (978).

Mistaking the proper relation between life and art, elevating life as an ‘artistic method’ instead of using it as ‘rough material,’ stems from a more comprehensive misreading of the mimetic formula.  This ‘third doctrine’ is the familiar suggestion that ‘Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life’ (985).  In its service, Wilde provides Vivian with some of his most outrageous claims:  that London fogs ‘did not exist till art had had invented them,’ that ‘the whole of Japan is a pure invention.  There is no such country, there are no such people’ (986, 988).  But of course, Vivian is not negating what ‘exists’ and what ‘is,’ but placing them within a specific theory of perception.  The outlandishness of the examples may stem from the fact that Cyril reminds Vivian he needs these proofs to make his theory ‘complete’ and challenges him to do so.  Vivian’s flourish demonstrates that he confidently accepts the challenge:  ‘My dear fellow, I am prepared to prove anything’ (986).

That Vivian indeed manages to show that what seems so patently false may possess a certain kind of truth underscores a further implication of ‘The Decay of Lying,’ as well as its fourth doctrine.  The aesthetic theory Vivian proposes does not sophistically devote itself to what is merely false.  And the ‘lying’ Vivian values, ultimately, does not merely oppose truth, but rather a narrow understanding of it:  ‘not simple truth but complex beauty’ (978).  Perhaps recalling Keats, Vivian supplants ‘simple truth’ with ‘complex beauty’ and thus implicitly equates the latter with some higher, ‘truer’ object.  The paradoxical, equivocal valence of ‘truth’ and ‘lies’ throughout the essay is contained in the essay’s ‘final revelation,’ that ‘lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of art’ (992).

‘The Critic as Artist,’ also a dialogue, pursues many of these same assertions.  Aestheticism’s spokesman here is Gilbert, who corrects a number of ‘gross popular error[s]’ regarding criticism’s proper relation to its aesthetic object.  In typical Wildean style, Gilbert presents this hypothesis by means of counter-intuitive paradoxes that Ernest, more pugnaciously than Cyril, earnestly resists. ‘The creative faculty is higher than the critical.  There is really no comparison between them,’ intones Ernest, Wilde’s voice of orthodox opinion (1020).  Gilbert counters that we are wrong to consider criticism merely secondary to the work of art it interprets and never creative in its own right.  He argues instead that this hierarchy is unstable, indeed ‘entirely arbitrary’ (1020). ‘Criticism is itself an art,’ and conversely genuinely ‘fine imaginative work’ is actually critical (1026, 1020).  For ‘there is no fine art without self-consciousness, and self-consciousness and the critical spirit are one’ (1020).  Like poetry, criticism too involves a working with existing materials and putting them into a new form (1027).  And here Gilbert insists that not only do poets work with words and generic conventions, they draw from existing works of art as well.  Like Vivian, Gilbert argues that art imitates art other art more often than life: Homer retells existing myths, Keats writes poems about a translation of Homer’s retelling, and so on.  The work of the critic is yet one more extension of that same process, its own retelling of what has been told before.  The argument glosses Arnold’s claim that ‘the proper aim of Criticism is to see the object as in itself it really is’ and rehearses Pater’s response to it (1028).   Like Pater, Gilbert believes instead that the critic’s ‘sole aim is to chronicle his own impressions’ (1028).  The critic deludes himself if he believes objectivity or ‘discovering the real intention of the artist’ is possible (1029). Gilbert’s supporting example – in which he claims ‘the work of art [is] simply . . . the starting-point for a new creation’ – subtly suggests that Pater’s much criticized, idiosyncratic reading of the Mona Lisa might be remarkable not for how willfully wrong it seems, but rather for how dramatically it demonstrates this discursive and epistemological condition (1029).

In fact, one may fruitfully read Wilde’s ‘Pen, Pencil and Poison’ by the light of this proposal as well.  Written in the style of Pater’s Appreciations and Imaginary Portraits, the essay studies the ‘artistic temperament’ of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, a minor nineteenth-century artist who was also a notorious forger and murderer.  In ‘The Critic as Artist,’ Gilbert tells Ernest that Pater’s ‘imaginative insight . . . and poetic aim’ – indeed his very words – suffuse Gilbert’s own impressions of the Mona Lisa.  ‘Pen, Pencil and Poison’ makes such a tongue-in-cheek avowal of influence its guiding principle.  Along with details from Wainewright’s life and work (which Wilde liberally embellishes), the essay is strategically laced with plagiarisms from Pater’s critical work.  Wilde’s ‘new creation’ from this raw material is at once a rehearsal of the critical ideal expressed in ‘The Critic as Artist’ and an ingenious parody of it.  Taking aestheticism’s purported separation between aesthetic and moral judgments, Wilde offers hyperbolic enthusiasm for Wainewright’s work, impertinently insisting that ‘[t]he fact of a man being a poisoner is nothing against his prose’ (1007).  By giving his detractors such an outrageous version of aestheticism’s ills – its flirtation with danger, its complicity with violence and amorality – Wilde satirizes their censorious objections and, in the process, offers his own subtle commentary on where the real force of Pater’s critical project might lie.  ‘The Portrait of Mr. W. H.,’ Wilde’s story of a wayward critic, explores similar ground.  Obsessed with the personally overdetermined belief that he knows the ‘true secret’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets, Cyril Graham wanders down the garden path from creative criticism to outright forgery, manufacturing evidence when he cannot find it.  The story shrewdly outlines just how much epistemological desire, perhaps at the heart of creativity, necessarily drives the critical impulse.  Our own critical projects, variously aimed at uncovering Wilde’s true ‘intentions,’ would do well to remember that lesson.

 

_________
Further Reading: 
Danson, Lawrence.  Wilde’s Intentions: The Artist in His Criticism.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.  A very detailed and thought-provoking study, unusual in its exclusive attention to Wilde’s long critical essays.  Danson argues that 1891, the year Intentions was published, was the key year in Wilde’s career, more significant than the year of his infamous trials.
Dowling, Linda.  Language and Decadence in the Victorian Fin de Siècle.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1986.  Dowling argues that the distinctive style and subject matter of decadent writing adumbrates a historically specific ‘linguistic crisis.’  She places Wilde in a lineage of writers concerned with this crisis that spans the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Gagnier, Regenia.  Idylls of the Marketplace: Oscar Wilde and the Victorian Public.  Stanford:  Stanford University Press, 1986.  Emphatically concerned with the broad context in which he produced his work, Gagnier argues that Wilde must be understood in relation to the audience and social institutions that ‘affected the construction of both’ the man and his texts. 
Zhang, Longxi.  ‘The Critical Legacy of Oscar Wilde.’  Texas Studies in Literature and Language 30 (1988):  87-103.  Zhang provides an excellent, succinct overview of Wilde’s place in the history of criticism.  Taking issue with René Wellek’s dismissal of Wilde as a serious late-Victorian thinker, Zhang connects Wilde’s ‘creative criticism’ and praise of ‘lying in art’ to the tradition of poetic apologies  as well as more recent theoretical currents.

Subject List:
Beckson, Karl, ed.  Oscar Wilde:  The Critical Heritage.  London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970.
Brown, Julia Prewitt.  Cosmopolitan Criticism: Oscar Wilde’s Philosophy of Art.  Charlottesville:  University of Virginia Press, 1997.
Dellamora, Richard.  Masculine Desire:  The Sexual Politics of Victorian Oxford.  Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1990.
Dollimore, Jonathan.  Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault.  Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1991.
Dowling, Linda.  Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian England.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994.
Ellmann, Richard.  Oscar Wilde.  New York: Vintage, 1988.
Gagnier, Regenia, ed.  Critical Essays on Oscar Wilde.  New York: Twayne, 1991.
Gillespie, Michael Patrick.  Oscar Wilde and the Poetics of Ambiguity.  Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1996.
Kohl, Norbert.  Oscar Wilde: The Works of a Conformist Rebel. Translated by David Henry Wilson.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Knox, Melissa.  Oscar Wilde:  A Long and Lovely Suicide.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.
Raby, Peter, ed.  The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
_____.  Oscar Wilde.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Rieff, Philip.  ‘The Impossible Culture:  Wilde as Modern Prophet.’  Salmagundi 58 (1983): 406-26.
Schmidgall, Gary.  The Stranger Wilde.  New York: Dutton, 1994.
Showalter, Elaine.  Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle.  London: Bloomsbury, 1991.
Sinfield, Alan.  The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde and the Queer Movement.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
Small, Ian.  Conditions for Criticism: Authority, Knowledge, and Literature in the Late Nineteenth Century.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.
_____.  Oscar Wilde Revalued: An Essay on New Materials and Methods of Research.  Greensboro, NC: ELT Press, 1993.
Stokes, John.  Oscar Wilde: Myths, Miracles, and Imitations.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Wilde, Oscar.  The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde.  Edited by Richard Ellmann.  New York: Random House, 1969.
_____.  Oscar Wilde’s Oxford Notebooks: A Portrait of a Mind in the Making.  Edited by Philip E. Smith and Michael S. Helfand.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Willoughby, Guy.  Art and Christhood: The Aesthetics of Oscar Wilde.  London: Associated University Presses, 1993.

Works Cited:
Adams, Hazard, ed.  Critical Theory Since Plato.  Revised Edition.  Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, Jovanovich, 1992.
Culler, Jonathan.  Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Pater, Walter.  Three Major Texts: The Renaissance, Appreciations, and Imaginary Portraits.  Edited by William E. Buckler.  New York: New York University Press, 1986.
_____.  The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, The 1893 Text.  Edited by Donald L. Hill.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.
Wilde, Oscar.  The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde: Stories, Plays, Poems, and Essays.  New York:  Harper and Row, 1989.

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