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·         In an article for THE OSCHOLARS which she titled ‘Wilde on Tap’, Patricia Flanagan Behrendt, our American Editor, set out an agenda for our theatre coverage that we will try to follow.  This article can be found by clicking .


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Rainer Kohlmayer on Florina Tufescu on Wilde’s plagiarism

Florina Tufescu’s response

D.C. Rose on Wilde on Symonds


Mary Warner Blanchard on David Weir on Decadent Culture in the United States

Anya Clayworth on Anne Humpherys and Louis James on G.W.M. Reynolds

John S. Partington on Graham Johnson on Social Democratic Politics in Britain

Barbara Wright on Eric Karpeles on Proust




Review by Rainer Kohlmayer

Florina Tufescu: Oscar Wilde’s Plagiarism. The Triumph of Art over Ego. Irish Academic Press: Dublin / Portland, Oregon, 2008.  ISBN 978 0 7165 2904 0

Florina Tufescu’s book is a most enjoyable read written with a certain passionate brilliance, demonstrating the most important talent of good teachers, i.e. never to bore their audience. I enjoyed reading the book, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it to all admirers of Oscar Wilde. It is full of the light-handed wit and spirit of provocation the great Oscar is famous for.

And yet, having been brought up on the sobering diet of German philology myself, I feel I must suppress my stylistic admiration in order to formulate a serious, and one or two minor, objection(s). First of all, I object to the use of the term ‘plagiarism’ in the title of the book. Honestly, I fail to discover one single case of plagiarism in the legal sense of the word in Tufescu’s discussion of Wilde’s works. Tufescu talks about nothing but ‘intertextuality’, as far as I can see. She uses the term ‘plagiarism’ in a metaphorical sense, perhaps because it sounds so much more sensational than ‘intertextuality’. And ever since Bakhtin pointed out the polyphony in Dostoevsky’s novels, Tufescu’s so-called ‘plagiarism’ has become one of the commonest perspectives for analyzing literature. (So why does Bakhtin not even figure in the bibliography of this well-documented book?)  At several instances the author reduces her hyperbolic usage of the legal term ‘plagiarism’ in order to put it back into the context of modern literary studies, e.g.: ‘Explicit derivativeness – or what would today be termed ‘hyper/inter/textuality’, ‘palimpsest writing’, ‘writing in the second degree’, metafiction’ – has become not merely tolerated, but canonical’ (151). On the other hand, Tufescu protests against the legal use of ‘plagiarism’ as a means of protecting the writers’ copyright. Well, I prefer to disagree, and I am sure Oscar Wilde would have protested if one of his works had been published under another writer’s name, even if it had been only because of the loss in royalties. So, summing up my personal opinion, I would say: Tufescu’s book is a valuable study in the field of intertextuality but brilliant nonsense in its attack against the legalization of copyright.

There are some minor details I do not appreciate, like Tufescu’s attempt to stylize Mrs. Cheveley into the role of an ‘agitator’ and ‘agent of progress’ in the sense used in ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’ (104). One might blame Oscar for casting the poor woman in the worn-out role of a kleptomaniac but Mrs. Cheveley who enjoys a solid reputation in Vienna (according to Robert Chiltern’s Austrian sources ‘she occupies a rather high position in society’) does not try to overthrow the social order, far from it.

If my objections to Tufescu’s useful (and often brilliant) book sound a little blunt this should be attributed to my old-fashioned (or, rather, pre-Derridan) terminology. I hate to see how everywhere the differences between metaphorical and literal usage of terms get blurred. And I hope that Oscar Wilde’s seminal passages on language criticism in ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’ shall never be forgotten.

·         Professor Dr. phil. habil. Rainer Kohlmayer teaches at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz-Germersheim.  For his writings on Wilde, see our BIBLIOGRAPHIES.

Florina Tufescu responds:


Criticism is perhaps ‘the only civilised form of autobiography’, so it seems fitting that Professor Kohlmayer’s review should disclose his scepticism towards post-Bakhtinian trends, his indifference – or is it resistance? – to Derrida and even something of his intellectual history.  All of this is as remote from the questions raised in my book as plagiarism from the possibility of legal meaning.

The study does not protest against ‘the legalisation of copyright’, which would indeed be nonsensical and a few centuries out of date, only against its continued extension in scope and length (currently author’s lifetime+70 years).[1]  It also suggests there is a connection between the excesses of copyright legislation and litigation and the plagiarism obsession: both stem from a lack of generosity, from the refusal to acknowledge the essentially collaborative nature of artistic and indeed of all intellectual endeavour.

Plagiarism, that disenchanting enchanted word, derives its emotional and imaginative power from its ambivalence, which means that plagiarism scandals often turn into debates over artistic and scholarly values. (Intertextuality is a comparatively polite and uninspiring term that lacks historic resonance and is used almost exclusively by academics.) The story substantiated in my book is that ‘Oscar Wilde plagiarised Pater who plagiarised Baudelaire who plagiarised Poe who plagiarised Coleridge and their thefts begot Joyce, Gide, Borges et al.’.  Counter-romantic writers engaged in provocative textual games that thwarted the readers’ expectations of originality and sincerity, re-affirming the significance of tradition and of artistic restraint.  Some even wrote apologies of plagiarism, a scandalous banner for the nuanced return to classical values, as apparent, for instance, in Mark Twain’s definition of plagiarism as ‘the soul…of all human utterances’.

In The Portrait of Mr. W.H., Wilde fuses together sentences from a range of critical texts to produce his thoroughly modern theory of the sonnets; such creative transformation of sources is polemically modelled on that of Shakespeare, the arch-plagiarist and the pre-eminent English playwright.  In An Ideal Husband, to turn to the one interpretation which caught Professor Kohlmayer’s attention, Wilde pays tribute to his own genius through the creation of Mrs. Cheveley.  ‘A work of art, on the whole, but showing the influence of too many schools’, she is a flamboyant portrait of the artist as plagiarist who is allowed to leave the stage in triumph, with the stolen brooch/bracelet still on her arm, looking ‘much better’ than on its previous owner. Mrs. Cheveley’s high standing in Viennese society should no more prevent her from becoming a truly subversive character than it prevented the Czarevitch in Wilde’s Vera from becoming a Nihilist or Oscar Wilde himself, the autocrat of London dinner tables, from planting the most dangerous ideas in the minds of listeners past and present.

NOTE (1)

Irish Academic Press are offering a 20% special offer discount available for Oscholars. €45.00 €36.00/ £30.00 £24.00 / $55.00 $44.0.

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Please contact Toby Harris;  T: +44 (0)20 8952 9526; F: +44 (0)20 8952 9242 and quote OSFT09.

Alternatively, please click here to find an order form to print out. Offer lasts until 30/04/2009



5.  ‘Plagiarist: A Writer of Plays’: The Spectacle of Criticism in Nineteenth-Century Drama

1.      Is Oscar Wilde a Plagiarist?  Four Answers and a Biased Opinion

6.  Out of ‘The Prison-House of Realism’ and into ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’: The Plagiarists Goethe, Wilde and D.M. Thomas

2.      Plagiarism: A Decadent Tradition

7.  Let Us Plagiarize Wildely

3.      The Art of Collage from Wilde to T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats.

Appendix:  Annotated List of Likely and Confirmed Sources for The Portrait of Mr. W.H.

4.      Decadent (and Shakespearean) Versus Romantic Originality: Shaw’s Dark Lady, Wilde’s W.H., Joyce’s Ulysses.


NOTE (2)

By kind permission of author and publishers, we are posting Chapter 1 in our LIBRARY.  Please click here.


Review by D.C. Rose


Oscar Wilde: The Women of Homer.  Edited by Thomas Wright and Donald Mead.    The Oscar Wilde Society 2008.  ISBN 987-0-9560120-05-5. 103pp. £30.00.  Edition limited to 130 copies, of which 100 are for sale from the Society,


This is a difficult book to review, for, like The Portrait of W.H., it is not one book but many.  At the heart of it lies an essay by John Addington Symonds called ‘The Women of Homer’, a survey of the heroines of The Iliad and The Odyssey.  This was published in Symonds’ Studies of the Greek Poets (Second Series) in May 1876.  The book was taken for review by Wilde, but what Wilde wrote was neither published nor, indeed, completed.  It is the history of the fairly substantial fragment, confined to that chapter, that is the substance of this book, elegantly published by the Oscar Wilde Society; together with the fragment itself, reproduced for the first time in both its manuscript and subsequent typescript, and also in edited form, reconstructed from the former.  This task, which entailed both a considerable knowledge of previous references and a considerable flair for presentation, has found two editors of great qualifications: Thomas Wright, who has made a speciality of investigating the making of Wilde’s intellect, and Donald Mead, well-known as the scrupulous, not to say fastidious, editor of The Wildean, the journal of the Oscar Wilde Society.

What then, is one to review?  Not Symonds, for Wilde does that.  Not Wilde, for Wright and Mead do that.  Not Wright and Mead, for the work is Wilde’s.  Yet something must be said, perhaps beginning with admiration for the expertise with which the work and its scholarly apparatus have been assembled.  Rarely indeed does Homer nod; what matter that on p.25 the odd word ‘impractical’ has been forged out of ‘unpractical’ and ‘impracticable’, or that on p.61 the phrase ‘may be invented’ should have been ‘may have been invented’?  Or that (yet this is more grave) between paragraphs 3 and 4 on page 45, a passage seems to have got lost, and has not been found for the rescension of the same passage on p.87?  Or that, alone of those identified in the notes, M. Emile Burnouf should be deprived of his dates? Or that (yet this is more grave still) the editors reproduce Wilde’s (or Symonds’, or Homer’s) Greek shorn of breathing marks and diacriticals? These are but the quibbles of a reviewer who is short of faults to find.

What this book does reveal is the breadth of Wilde’s classical sympathies, even though these are cast in a Wardour Street English that seems to be embroidered on pieces of old brocade.  ‘And Athens [surely a slip for Athene] grew wrath’, ‘sore peril’, ‘Very wrath is Isocrates’,  and many similar phrases, being attempts at the high-sounding, jar on the modern ear – and must surely have jarred on many contemporary ones.  But within such language is Wilde himself, evolving an æsthesia that came to fruition in Salome, only to be discarded in the Society plays.

There is a further revelation and it is a minatory one.  ‘We are too prone nowadays,’  writes Wilde, ‘to look for similes and allegories where all is clear, and for hidden meanings where nothing is hidden’ (p.44).  This is faux naïf, for Wilde’s reviewing is itself an act of uncovering; but it is also an affirmation of the autonomy of the art work, an affirmation that lies at the heart of ‘art for art’s sake’, and one that Wilde was to make again.  Also, like much in Wilde, one may see even this apparently frank dictum as ambiguous.  He does not say that one should not look for meanings, nor that there are no meanings, only that the meanings that may be thought to be hidden are in fact clear – for those with eyes to see, presumably, or mind to understand.  Fortunately, Thomas Wright and Donald Mead are thus endowed; and the fragment that they have recovered is a valuable source in showing us Wilde’s progress.

·         D.C. Rose is editor of THE OSCHOLARS.





Review by Mary W. Blanchard

David Weir: Decadent Culture in the United States: Art and Literature against the American Grain,1890-1926. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, SUNY Series, Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century. Hb 2007; pb 2009.  256pp. ISBN 0791472787


In his compelling Decadent Culture in the United States: Art and Literature against the American Grain, 1890-1926,  David Weir notes, ‘In fin-de-siècle America, ‘decadence’ refers at once to a period of historical decline, an aesthetic sensibility, and a cultural movement.’  This analysis might aptly apply to a European context, but Weir’s contribution to the story is his insistence on a definite home-grown decadent movement in the United States. Weir argues, for instance, that, where Continental decadents remained within the orbit of their social class, American decadents deliberately separated themselves from many American traditions. This is not to say that American decadent groups did not follow and introduce European decadents (they did, particularly in New York through the work of Edgar Saltus, Vance Thompson and James Huneker). But Weir argues that America had not the fantasy of aristocratic decadence (so compelling in the figure of Oscar Wilde), as it had an aesthetic movement more domestic and female-centered than in Europe.

If the contours of a decadent sensibility were in marked contrast in American and European artists, the problem of historical decline relied heavily in the United States on ‘The Problem of the West.’ This was an aspect so singular to American culture that Weir can introduce a host of prophets and causes (George Miller Beard and neurasthenia or S. Weir Mitchell and cerebral exhaustion) to counter a closed frontier and the intensity of ‘modern civilization.’ To many, the fall of Rome became a paradigm for America’s historical decline. For decadents, the return to the virtues of the High Middle Ages paralleled their strong aversion to a modern commercial society. But in the mid-1890s, Teddy Roosevelt signaled a return to a muscular environment and to the attraction of an imperial empire. This was the impetus for Weir’s decadent groups to reject, not only modernity and this new militancy, but also the moral strain so rampant in society at large. In essence, Weir concludes, decadence became a separate cultural movement within the United States.

As Weir catalogs the interesting array of individuals within this cultural movement, he spotlights urban centers: New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. If this information may be known to many readers, the overlying analysis proves provocative. For Weir sets these artists as proud advocates of a ‘personal degeneration’ aimed to set off decadent groups as superior to a bland American culture. Yet Weir mischievously points out the anomalies within, say, the New York band. Edgar Saltus, friend and admirer of Oscar Wilde, adopted a ‘style of decadence’ in his novels (‘jeweled phrases…glittering surfaces’), yet prosaically came from merchant money and married a banker’s daughter. Saltus’s ersatz decadence and pessimism (Saltus described Schopenhauer as ‘this Emerson in black’) never really took. Introducing the interior monologue and the blurring of literary genres placed Saltus, Weir concludes, as an avant-garde modernist in spite of his decadent credentials (Wilde lauded Saltus’s work as both poisonous and perfect).

In describing the Boston circle, Weir centers on Henry Adams, the author; Ralph Adams Cram, the architect; and F. Holland Day, the photographer. It was easy for these cohorts to rebel, for Boston was the epitome of New England tradition and Puritanism. High Church Anglicanism, a flirtation with monarchy and an Anglophile tradition that celebrated Wilde produced, writes Weir, ‘an island community of cigarette-smoking, Wilde-reading decadents.’  This connection to Wilde, however, heralded the suspect charge of homosexuality. Cram’s The Decadent and Black Spirits and White: A Book of Ghost Stories was regarded in a negative light by the Boston group (possibly because of the 1895 publication date of the ghost stories, after the conviction of Wilde for ‘gross indecency’). Day would refer to The Decadent as a ‘queer’ indiscretion, while the format of Black Spirits and White (green carnation boards a la Wilde) suggested that decadence in Boston was a ‘euphemism for ‘homosexual.’’ Perhaps F. Holland Day, admirer of Edward Carpenter, epitomized the decadent homoerotic inspiration among Boston’s aesthetes. Mainstream critics attacked Copeland and Day, his publishing house, for issuing The Yellow Book and Wilde’s Salome (‘Publishers should discourage authors who bring these wares’).  Even Day’s Study for Crucifixion (where Day posed as Christ in a loin cloth on a cross) and his Symbolist nude boy photographs, highly acclaimed artistic works, betrayed a homoerotic proclivity. Weir concludes that these aesthetes in Boston provided an alternative to the realism of a William Dean Howells in literary circles and an American imperialism in politics, alternatives that heralded the pursuit of the ‘personal degeneration’ of these decadents.

The Chicago scene differed. Weir centers on Henry Blake Fuller, author of The Cliff-Dwellers (1893) and With the Procession (1895), two novels that spotlighted another dimension to Weir’s analysis of decadent culture in the United States. These two books, explorations of the expanding commercial and leisure classes in Chicago, exemplify Weir’s observation that ‘decadence’ in this country can also be linked to business enterprise (‘displays of culture to indicate social status’). Of course fellow Chicagoan Veblen enters into this discussion, but these realistic novels bear small resemblance to two earlier works: Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani (1890) and The Chatelaine of La Trinité (1892). Fuller emerged here as the virulent critic of democracy and modernism, as a misogynist and prophet of doom. And everywhere a decorous but blatant theme prevailed: the homosexual motif (a one-act drama, ‘At Saint Judas’s,’ is labeled a ‘closet drama’ by Weir). Dubbed ‘old Fuller’ in 1895 by the commercially successful journal The Chap-Book, the author slipped into obscurity.

In San Francisco, Weir warns that aesthetic culture again moved dangerously near to commercial enterprise. Highlighting Ambrose Bierce, a successful journalist working for William Randolph Hearst (‘among our three greatest writers,’ proclaimed William Dean Howells), Weir notes Bierce’s diatribe against Wilde on his 1882 tour, his socialist tendencies, and his disdain for bohemianism  – views certainly at odds with other American decadents. These views, however, did not complicate Bierce’s trajectory of ‘personal degeneration.’ The journalist, labeled a ‘pessimism machine,’ admired Schopenhauer, compiled The Devil’s Dictionary (1906) and wore satanic clothes (dressing in black, carrying a loaded revolver, and displaying a human skull and box of ashes on his desk). ‘Nothing matters,’ commented the cynic Bierce (Weir wryly labels him ‘a bayside Baudelaire’).

The mischievous enterprise that marked the San Francisco clique ends Weir’s story. Gelett Burgess, writer of verse and parody, parlayed bohemianism into a light-hearted raffish endeavor. Publisher of ephemeral little magazines (The Lark, Le Petit Journal des Refusées), Burgess targeted Boston decadents (‘many a silly ass’), Philistine morality, and the publishing establishment. And George Sterling, one of this gang, dubbed the ‘King of Bohemia’ complicates the ending survey. For Sterling was a member of the prestigious Bohemian Club, while at the same time composing  ‘A Wine of Wizardry,’ a sinister poem that alludes to Satanism and sadism, a ‘jeweled’ effort to recount a drugged intoxication.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this book is the coda: ‘The Decadent Revival’ and the ‘Afterword.’ Decadence made a surprising revival in the 1920s, notes Weir. Surveying the literary scene at this time, Weir spotlights H. L Mencken’s retrieval of Wilde as a literary genius, his praise for James Huneker (‘unearthly,’ ‘unhealthy,’ ‘genuine gusto’) and his virulent anti-Puritan, masculine agenda (praise of Nietzsche against a ‘feminine’ America). This misogynist support for fin de siècle decadence paralleled the celebrity of the young Khalil Gibran whose Prophet (1923) eventually became America’s best selling book. Weir admits that ‘yesterday’s decadence is often today’s popular commercial culture.’ It seems that the convoluted story of decadence had a foreseeable end: from the fantasy and role playing of a F. Holland Day to the slick commercialism of the shallow aphorisms of Khalil Gibran.

Yet Weir surprises us. The ‘Afterword’ ties these disparate stories together in a surprising locale: Hollywood. A nod to Ben Hecht, the screenwriter, as a decadent novelist (Fantazius Mallare) and the craze for Wilde’s Salome which appeared on screen in 1918 heralded the dissipation of decadence into film and popular culture. No longer attached to bohemian conclaves, the real decadents of the twentieth century were the depraved movie celebrities of Hollywood in the 1920s. The literary aristocratic decadence of the 1890s became the camp, commercial culture of the present day. Thus ends this fascinating, engaging account.

In summation, Weir’s Decadent Culture in the United States is a lively narrative, a book of rich academic resonance, and happily a well written, sometimes amusing story. (Weir shares such tantalizing quotes as S. Weir Mitchell’s warning on ‘cerebral exhaustion:’ ‘giddiness, dimness of sight, neuralgia of face or scalp.’  Symptoms, we are told, occur among manufacturers and certain classes of railway officials (though lawyers are less susceptible due to their ‘long summer holidays’). Or Max Nordau’s comment on impressionist artists whose neurotic paintings ‘made their eyeballs vibrate.’  Or the Adams brothers on contemplating a visit to Max Nordau : ‘he seems to have had no degenerates or hysterics of our type – fellows who know all about it but manage to get a world of fun and some pleasure from it.’

Indeed, this book is a pleasure to read. Yet there are some obstacles for the reader. The wealth of material and the array of actors often make a common thread hard to follow.  Weir is at home in his literary milieu and happiest dissecting the plethora of decadent novels and artistic cults. Not surprising, as he has a respected and innovative background. Weir is author of Anarchy and Culture; The Aesthetic Politics of Modernism; Brahma in the West; William Blake and the Oriental Renaissance and Decadence and the Making of Modernism, among others.  If Weir can be faulted for a somewhat disjointed analysis at times, he might be faulted as well for leaving a larger story untold.

If one widens the scope to include the entire social fabric of nineteenth-century America, a larger and, I believe, less exclusive ‘decadent’ culture appears. Within a greater lens, one discovers an earlier component of aesthetic counterculture that existed in the 1870s and 1880s – the aesthetic movement (Wilde, of course, was dubbed the Apostle of Aestheticism on his 1882 American tour). This counterculture was often peopled by women who, I fear, receive a minor role in Weir’s analysis at large. 

Indeed, Weir’s sub-theme among his decadents is the undercurrent of a homosexual affinity. But what about the lesbian groups that peopled this same bohemia? Even a popular nineteenth century writer like Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth featured cross-dressing in How He Won Her and The Hidden Hand. Constance Fenimore Woolson, expatriate friend of Henry James, flirted with a lesbian decadent sensibility in her short stories (‘Filipa,’ and ‘Miss Grief’). More prominent were women photographers at the turn of the century, artists like Frances Benjamin Johnston and Alice Austin. Johnston‘s studios in Washington D.C. and later New York catered to an artistic bohemian crowd. Johnston, a lesbian, photographed herself in male clothes. She also posed as a ‘decadent’ Victorian lady with beer mug holding uplifted skirt, and produced prints of naked models of both sexes. Another photographer, Alice Austin, shot daring scenes of women in bed, of ‘Trude and I Masked, Short Skirts,’ a mirrored image of two women smoking (this mirrored image was a known lesbian icon in turn-of-the-century European paintings). Thus another story can be told of the women’s groups and female artists that existed in tandem with Weir’s decadent males.

 It can be problematic too to label ‘personal degeneration’ as a ‘point of pride’ among (and here is Weir’s humor again) the ‘dudes and dandies of the fin de siècle.’  Patricia J. Fanning’s Through an Uncommon Lens: The Life and Photography of F. Holland Day (2008), for instance, mutes the obvious degenerate doings of this well-known photographer to emphasize the social and civic activities of Day. Weir himself understood this problem. As Fanning might find the model citizen in Day, Weir suggests that some canonical American artists might be closet decadents. ‘Even authors and artists who are securely a part of the American grain,’ writes Weir, ‘might very well have the culture of decadence working within them.’  Who will take on this next story?

·         Mary Warner Blanchard is an associate fellow and a member of the advisory board at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis.  Her book Oscar Wilde's America, Counterculture in the Gilded Age was published by Yale University Press in 1998.


Review by Barbara Wright

Eric Karpeles: Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to ‘In Search of Lost Time’.  London: Thames & Hudson, 2008. 352 pp, with 206 illustrations, 196 in colour. £25.00.


When André Malraux, in 1947, sketched out his concept of an ‘imaginary museum’, he had in mind, not merely each person’s reference points, as in their favourite works of art, but also the network of images which modern technology has made available, through mass reproduction, to humanity at large. It is this hinterland which the painter Eric Karpeles, seeks to open up, in offering a Visual Companion to the reader of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.

In this, he has rendered an invaluable service. The sheer range of Proust’s pictorial references is astonishing, encompassing paintings from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century, not merely in terms of works studied in museums, churches and private collections, but also as reproduced in books on art. In seeking to form a picture of one of the major characters in Proust’s work, Charles Swann, it is fascinating to spot the link between his principal model in real life, Charles Haas (the standing figure on the far right of James Tissot’s painting, The Circle of the Rue Royale (p. 237)) and the ‘striking resemblance’ of Swann to the Magus with an ‘arched nose and fair hair’, in the fresco of The Adoration of the Magi by Bernardino Luini (p. 99). Again, to see Botticelli’s Madonna of the Magnificat (p. 103) jolts the reader into a new awareness of the ‘uncontrolled, almost distraught movement of the Virgin who dips her pen into the inkpot’, to which an involuntary gesture by Swann’s lover, Odette, is compared. Thus, as Karpeles observes, paintings penetrate into the very life of Proust’s story (p. 21). They are indeed, for Swann, as dear as friends. The old man with polyps on his nose, in Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of an Old Man and a Young Boy (p. 55), resembled the Marquis du Lau, a distinguished aristocrat whom Swann cultivated in the years before his marriage. Madame Blatin is said to be ‘the very image of that portrait of Savonarola by Fra Bartolommeo’ (p. 93). This lavishly illustrated Visual Companion gives a new dimension to Swann’s tendency ‘to look for analogies between living people and the portraits in galleries’ (p. 64).

The analogies go much further, however. If a bleak Parisian sky conjures up the menacing backdrop of Veronese’s Crucifixion (p. 104), the link between the sky of Padua outdoors and the sky of Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel interacts in such a way that ‘it seems as though the radiant daylight has crossed the threshold with the human visitor in order to give its pure sky a momentary breather in the coolness and shade, a sky merely of a deeper blue now that it is rid of the glitter of the sunlight’ (p. 278). Sometimes the references are more general and allow for speculation — always well informed, under the expert tutelage of Karpeles — in relation to a billowing cloud over a Poussin landscape (p. 79) or the loop of a ribbon, in a portrait by Chardin (p. 106). Particularly interesting, among these suggested visual parallels, are Portrait of a Woman in a Hat, by Gustave Jacquet (p. 203) and Portrait of a Lady, by Pierre-Auguste Cot (p. 294), both little-known works of the 1870s.

At a broader level, this is the art of transformation, the art which enables us to see worlds other than our own. Françoise, in her self-appointed role as moral chaperone, watches the Narrator’s every move with Albertine, like the figure of Justice in Prud’hon’s Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime (p. 165). And Vermeer’s celebrated View of Delft (p. 235) constitutes a moment of epiphany, when Bergotte, the elderly writer, falls ill and dies at an exhibition, while examining a detail of the painting. There is no consensus as to the precise identification of the detail — ‘a little patch of yellow wall’ — but Lorenzo Renzi, in his Proust and Vermeer: An Apologia of Imprecision (1999), argues convincingly that it is a blend of past literary experience and direct observation of the painting. Art and life are so inextricably interwoven in the world of Proust that it is not always clear which imitates the other. It is for each reader-spectator to participate in the interplay between the two.

While welcoming this Visual Companion as an outstanding resource, it is important to set it in its own clearly defined context. It is improbable that Proust expected his readers to visualise all the references in his work, many of which are so general as to invite a host of exemplars. More importantly, In Search of Past Time is essentially a visual novel, in which the author moves like a somnambulist, writing with his eyes closed and drawing on his fabulously rich ocular memory. Flaubert resisted all overtures by publishers to bring out an illustrated edition of his Madame Bovary. He wanted each reader to visualise the work in his or her own mind’s eye. Similarly, for Proust, what mattered was not so much the iconic sign, in terms of the mimetic representation of the external world, but rather the plastic sign, in terms of colour, form and material support. In this way, a painting could, at times, replace the eye of a spectator.

This gradual evolution towards the autonomy of the image is deeply rooted in the nineteenth century and in Mallarmé’s call to order, in relation to the materiality of painting, ‘this art made of unguents and colours’. Whereas synaesthesia drew its strength from the ‘fraternity of the arts’, so vigorously proclaimed in the 1830s, in the period following the death of Delacroix in 1863 the specificity of the different arts was what was emphasised in the reaching across generic boundaries. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, as Karpeles states, there was a ‘subtle shift in the balance of artistic power’: ‘visual artists began to emerge from the tyranny of literary and historical narrative’ (p. 13). What resulted, however, was nothing less than a new world-view, in which the image received pride of place, where what one appeared to see was as important as what one saw, where impressions could be transformed in time and place, and where a succession of fragments afforded a new sense of relative continuity. On the threshold of our present world, in which the image is dominant, this excellent Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time stands as a potential key to aspects of the past, while fundamentally running counter to the primacy of subjectivity in the aesthetic universe of Proust’s masterpiece.

·         Barbara Wright is Professor of French Literature at Trinity College, Dublin.

·         Editor’s Note:  The book is supported by an impressive website.  Other articles on Proust at are by Robert Fraser, Emily Eells, and Mireille Naturel.


Review by Anya Clayworth



G. W. M. Reynolds: Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Politics and the Press, edited by Anne Humpherys and Louis James (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008). £60. ISBN: 978 0 7546 5854 2


Although G. W. M. Reynolds (1814–1879) is not now a widely known name from the nineteenth century, his influence on that century and indeed on those that followed cannot be underestimated. In his own time, Reynolds was well known as a Chartist politician, the publisher of a popular Sunday newspaper, Reynolds’s Newspaper, a radical journalist and author of the most widely read bestseller of the century, The Mysteries of London and its sequel, The Mysteries of the Court of London. The Mysteries of London sold over 40,000 copies per week as a penny weekly and over a million copies before it appeared as a bound volume. When he died, none other than the future Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, wrote Reynolds’ entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.

In addition to his prodigious literary and political work, Reynolds was a colourful figure who repeatedly sought bankruptcy after financial problems. He painted lurid and relatively sexually explicit views of London in his fiction and there were unsubstantiated rumours of Reynolds perpetrating fraud. Charles Dickens, a contemporary of Reynolds, noted in a letter to W.C. Macready in 1849 that ‘I hold his [Reynolds’] to be a name with which no lady’s, and no gentleman’s, should be associated.’ Given Reynolds’ background and achievements, it is perhaps surprising then that he dropped out of view in the early-twentieth century. Perhaps he was just too overshadowed by the ever popular and by comparison, figure of virtue and measure, Dickens.

G. W. M. Reynolds: Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Politics and the Press seeks to reacquaint a twenty-first century audience with Reynolds by examining his achievements in politics, journalism and editing. The book is divided into five sections, each of which takes an aspect of Reynolds’ life or work. It begins with a biographical sketch of Reynolds that provides a background framework for the rest of the book. The first section investigates Reynolds’ engagement with French literature and culture. He spent time living in France and was fascinated by French politics, in particular the revolution of 1830 which saw the overthrow of Charles X. The second section deals with Reynolds’ journalistic achievements with Reynolds’s Miscellany and Reynolds’s Newspaper. The third section looks in detail at the mighty Mysteries of London while section four explores Reynolds’ other, less well-known fiction, such as that published in Reynolds’ Miscellany. The final section looks interestingly at what the editors call the ‘afterlife’ of Reynolds’ work with a fascinating essay on Reynolds’ translations and adaptations in Bengali by Sucheta Bhattacharya.

The end of the book has a comprehensive bibliography of Reynolds’ work to give the reader an insight into his output. This bibliography, compiled by Louis James, also resolves some of the dating issues associated with Reynolds’ work. Reynolds habitually published his works without dates of publication ‘so that he could continue republishing novels without his titles ever appearing out of date.’ A select secondary bibliography is appended in order to give a starting point for further reading.

What is impressive about this book is that not only does it do a good job in establishing who Reynolds was and what his achievements were for the less knowledgeable reader, it also spends time challenging preconceptions that a more knowledgeable reader might have about Reynolds. For example, Juliet John’s essay on ‘Reynolds’s Mysteries and Popular Culture’ draws together the two giants of nineteenth-century fiction, Reynolds and Dickens and looks at their respective claims to be at one and the same time, popular writers and writers who spoke on behalf of the people. Both writers aspired to being the voice of the people by which they meant ‘the dispossessed, the marginalized and the oppressed.’

Dickens, as John notes, made no secret of his desire to combine ‘the affectionate regard of my fellow men’ with ‘heaps and mines of gold’. In contrast to Dickens, Reynolds was never quite able to throw off the suspicion that he viewed the people more as willing consumers of his fiction than fellow travellers in a political battle for equality. John takes issue with this view, arguing instead that Reynolds’ work, particularly The Mysteries of London, is both appealing to and critiquing the new mass cultural marketplace developing at this point in the nineteenth century. Reynolds was therefore very aware of the contradictions in his position as popular writer and radical politician and traded upon them.

Michael Shirley’s essay on ‘G. W. M. Reynolds, Reynolds’s Newspaper and Popular Politics’ also updates some outdated views of Reynolds. Shirley looks in detail, but nonetheless interestingly, at the minutiae of Reynolds’s Newspaper, examining how Reynolds put it together and used it as a political organ. Even the book reviews were designed to put forward the radical agenda of the paper. As Shirley notes, ‘These reviews were not neutral discussions of the merit of literary works; they most always focused on politics in context of the work under review.’ The goal of these reviews was then to alert the ‘working classes to the existence of a helpful book’ or to warn them about ‘trickery’ such as a propaganda piece about joining the Navy masquerading as Advice to the Mariners of England. This way of using reviews to underline the political motivations of a newspaper was later harnessed by another famous editor of the nineteenth century, W. T. Stead in his paper, the Pall Mall Gazette. The political content of reviews published by authors such as Oscar Wilde for the Gazette fits so neatly with the ideology put forward by the paper that one can only assume that Stead was using the reviews, like Reynolds, as an another way of underscoring his political concerns.

While the paper traded on its political stance, Reynolds, again like Stead in the latter part of the nineteenth century, was not above touting gossip and lurid headlines in order to attract readers. ‘Salacious goings-on in palaces, country house and the occasional brothel’ were the stock-in-trade of Reynolds’s Newspaper alongside of course denunciations of the political systems that made these things possible. While some critics have seen this as hypocrisy on Reynolds’ part, Shirley is firm that this is merely an example of Reynolds doing what newspapermen do, selling newspapers. It did not mean that Reynolds could not continue ‘to read, to argue and to see injustice’; it simply meant that he ‘had to earn money to live.’

This book is very successful in balancing the two aspects of its production. It reaches out effectively to those who do not know Reynolds and his work but also gratifies those who do by providing stimulating essays which lay out the current state of play in research into Reynolds. The quality of this book will surely lead to the editors’ desire for a ‘new burst of investigation’ into this interesting and controversial figure.

·         Anya Clayworth has been working on Oscar Wilde's journalism since 1992, and her edition of Wilde's journalism was published by Oxford World's Classics in 2004. She currently teaches for the Office for Lifelong Learning at the University of Edinburgh.


Review by John S. Partington

Graham Johnson: Social Democratic Politics in Britain 1881-1911. Lewiston, Queenston and Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002. Hardbound, viii + 245 pp. ISBN 978-0-7734-6947-1. £69.95 / $109.95


In his introduction to Social Democratic Politics in Britain 1881-1911, Graham Johnson observes that,

the SDF has usually been studied as part of a process variously described as the origins, advent, emergence or rise of the Labour Party. Consequently, they are studied in depth in the 1880s and then abandoned in the 1890s for the more fruitful ILP. […] While other socialists are found adjusting to their times and trying to adapt to developments in political theory, the poor old SDF is left trapped in the 1880s as if stranded in a broken down time machine. (6-7)

Thus, Johnson’s study aims to extend an interest in the SDF beyond its early years, looking at its continued development in the Edwardian period when, unlike other socialist groups, it grappled more directly with Marxist theory and reacted to Continental social democratic discourse, including the debates between Marxist orthodoxy and the revisionism of Eduard Bernstein. To achieve his objective, Johnson focuses on such SDF publications as the weekly Justice, the monthly Social-Democrat and books and pamphlets published by the Federation’s major activists and thinkers.

In a chapter entitled ‘Economics’, Johnson discusses a number of SDF debates and especially early considerations of Marx’s theory of surplus value which was cemented as SDF dogma by the publication of H. M. Hyndman’s Marx’s Theory of Value (1889). According to Johnson, the SDF supported Lassalle’s ‘iron law of wages’ even while arguing wage differentials between workers in different countries. Hyndman included additional factors, such as competition for work and skills, but saw these as marginal to the general situation. While Lassalle is often invoked in SDF debates on economics, Johnson argues that SDFers rejected the Malthusian basis of Lassalle and so fitted the ‘iron law’ into their Marxism:

The iron law was a concept that cropped up repeatedly in the works of SDF members; however, although Lassalle was often mentioned in conjunction with the term, it was not used strictly in his sense. More often than not, it was qualified and came to mean the action of competition in driving wages down to subsistence, something that could be modified by custom, tradition, and the action of trade unionism. (30)

Another area of economics Johnson focuses on is Hyndman’s appraisal of Japan’s transformation from feudalism to capitalism. Hyndman saw Japan as a model for Europe and for the potential of socialist change, and he criticised German Social Democracy, the largest organised working-class movement in Europe at the time, for its timidity.

In chapter four, Johnson considers SDF attitudes towards imperialism, which he claims shifted from an initial disregard to a general opposition by the mid-1890s. The latter position was determined by the fact that, according to such thinkers as Hyndman, fresh markets were sought by imperialism and so it was seen as merely an expansion of capitalism. This reasoning, not uncommon among socialists of a later generation, was not unanimous within the Edwardian left, and it predates V. I. Lenin’s similar observations in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917), as well as those of the liberal, J. A. Hobson, in his Imperialism (1902).

The SDF’s clear line on imperialism, cemented by Britain’s aggressive antics in southern Africa during the Second Boer War, was persuasive enough by 1904 to become the official policy of the Second International. Not only did Hyndman succeed in persuading that year’s international socialist congress to pass an anti-imperialist resolution, but he was also commissioned to elaborate the SDF’s position in what became his Colonies and Dependencies (1904) (83-84).

Following the Second Boer War, anti-imperialism became so significant to SDF ideology that it forced the Federation to alter its electoral strategy. As Johnson points out, ‘Before the war, their major political enemy had been the Liberals and they had agreed to give their votes to the Tory where no suitable socialist candidate was standing. The war had forced them to abandon this position and given the division in the Liberal ranks they felt able to work side by side with Liberal anti-imperialists’ (91).

A collateral result of the SDF’s anti-imperialism was its promotion of internationalism. For all the patriotism of the likes of Hyndman and Harry Quelch, the SDF advocated international fellowship and was consistently represented at the Second International. To many SDFers, nationalism and internationalism were not mutually exclusive, for ‘‘Social-Democrats,’ [Quelch] told the 1910 [SDF] annual conference ‘are Internationalists, not Anti-Nationalists. We should view with horror the crushing out of any historical nationality, however small it might be’’ (110). On this basis, the SDF’s internationalism would seem to sit within the Gladstonian tradition rather than the developing socialist one of the pre-Great War period. Indeed, as time passed, the SDF’s position, though never unanimous, leaned more towards national defence as against international solidarity, and, according to Johnson, ‘although deeply divided at the time of the Federation’s dissolution in 1911 members had been won over to the national defence of British interests in the event of an international conflict. Socialist internationalism thus took second place to the preservation of British liberty and the food supply when confronted by the perceived threat of the reactionary ‘German menace’’ (126).

The SDF, then, was never pacifist even while it claimed to be anti-militarist. Indeed, it advocated arming and training natives for the eventual overthrow of British imperialism (73-74) and Hyndman and Quelch were ardent supporters of a Citizen Army, not only for the training of workers for revolution, but also as defenders of the anticipated labour government which, it was feared, would be vulnerable to capitalist armed opposition (131-33).

In a chapter entitled ‘Reform and Revolution’, Johnson considers the SDF’s position on armed revolt, revisionist gradualism and the role of electoral politics in achieving socialism. In the 1880s British socialism was already divided between the reformist Fabians and the revolutionary SDF and Socialist League. By the end of the nineteenth century similar lines were being drawn within Continental socialism, with Bernstein throwing down theoretical challenges to orthodox Marxism. In Britain reformism was already deeply rooted by the time the Bernstein controversy erupted, though the SDF, being the sole remaining revolutionary party in the country, restated its position. According to Johnson,

When Labour politicians responded positively to Bernstein’s adaptation of Marx to new circumstances, the SDF leadership were critical and remained committed, like most of their European peers, to the unrevised Marxist canon. Where supporters of the ILP saw socialism as the means whereby class conflict was superseded and the harmony of interests between employers and workers asserted, supporters of the SDF continued to preach class hatred. Where the ILP perceived the state as neutral and capable of being used to benefit working people, the SDF saw it as an instrument of class domination. Only at the local level were they willing to see the state as something with potential for socialist transformation. (195)

The revolutionary position maintained by the SDF led to its being labelled ‘extremist’ and ‘Continental’ by other British socialists, but abroad it was seen as upholding socialist orthodoxy. Therefore, according to Johnson, ‘The SDF was the true representative of Second International socialism on British soil. They argued theoretically, related their ideas to the Marxist tradition, and worked pragmatically for social improvement, never losing sight of the long-term goal of socialism’ (199). Unfortunately, for the leaders of the Second International, the SDF remained a minority grouping within British socialism, and therefore Britain’s role within the International never matched the size and organisation of its working class movement.

For his detailed use of SDF publications, and his unravelling of Federation positions on diverse issues, Johnson deserves a lot of credit. Perhaps his greatest fault, however, is his claim for SDF ‘policies’ based on writings by various hands throughout the Federation’s publications. Whilst oft times Johnson uses the writings of SDF leaders such as Hyndman and Quelch, one must question how far even these outstanding figures necessarily represented the SDF as a whole. This is especially the case when considering the place of elections and trade unions within SDF strategy. Were elections merely opportunistic options before the dawning revolution for most SDFers, and was trade unionism really seen by most members as a necessary evil in the forwarding of working-class politics? Or were the grassroots much more enthusiastic about the potential of elections and trade unionism than the Federation’s leadership? Because of his focus on published sources as against conference reports and local activities, Johnson's picture remains one-sided. While this is inevitable in such a wide ranging study, Johnson might have cautioned his readers to this in his introduction.

Another, lesser query is Johnson’s choosing 1911 as an end date for his book. He claims this date as appropriate due to the SDF’s reformulation in that year as the British Socialist Party, but one wonders whether 1911 saw so great a break with the past as Johnson implies. Indeed, the SDF had already changed its name in 1907 to the Social Democratic Party (a fact Johnson acknowledges, but uses ‘SDF’ throughout for convenience), and later still, in 1916, the BSP would fissure into two groups (the second being the National Socialist Party) over the party’s attitude to the Great War. When the BSP largely merged into the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920 and the NSP again became the SDF in 1919 and affiliated with the Labour Party, the organisation was more marginal than ever.  And while a history of the SDF to its eventual demise during the Second World War would be interesting, one cannot help but think that extending his study to 1916 or 1920 would have rounded off Johnson’s work better than leaving the reader in 1911. In that year the SDF’s evolution from its origins was still close and relevant and its new position in the run up to the Great War was already taking shape, but it is difficult to claim 1911 as a watershed year in the party’s history.

These quibbles aside, Johnson’s book is a major contribution to British socialist history. He gives the SDF the prominence it deserves as a formative socialist organisation and as a forum for sophisticated consideration of socialist ideology. The Federation’s role in the Second International is also of interest, especially as the international aspect of British socialism in general is a field of study still requiring much greater research.

·         John S. Partington is editor of The Wellsian: Selected Essays on H.G. Wells. Equilibris 2003.


Review by Annabel Rutherford

L. E. Butler: Relief.  Nederland: Regal Crest 2008. 168pp.


The year is 1912 and the setting for L. E. Butler’s lesbian romance, Relief, is Venice.

As two young women’s lives weave together, the novel explores the bohemian lifestyle of impoverished artists and dancers in a city pulsating with artistic energy.  Katie Larkin, newly arrived from Boston, is attempting to distance herself from a traumatic event back home and begin afresh as a painter. As she winds her way through a maze of Venetian alleys in search of a model to sketch, Katie encounters Rusala, a dancing girl at La Fenice Theatre. Rusala, too, has a murky past, which adds necessary tension to a slow-paced plot. Although technically not a künstlerroman, Relief is a novel about the awakening of a young female artist.

The novel comprises a series of fleeting impressions – sometimes crystal-clear, sometimes distorted and hazy – seen through the eyes of the artist, Katie. As narrator and protagonist, Katie sculpts and etches the tale, using, as the novel’s title might suggest, a mixture of high relief, bas-relief, and intaglio to guide the reader through the highs and lows of the world of art: from the depths of artistic despair to the heady heights of success, from the struggling artist to the elite patron. In this way, the author cleverly blends the pictorial with the verbal art form.  Indeed, the tone is set in the opening paragraph with Katie recollecting how, as a child, she used to imagine ‘slipping into the scene [of a painting] and moving about undisturbed, pushing gently at the spattered green branches, crossing a path of multicolored brushstrokes, wading into a river of oily indigo’ (1). And this is also how the author portrays Venice: ‘static and airless as a painting’ (1), a painted canvas upon which characters drift in and out of focus as Katie explores the ‘many hidden spaces’ (36).

Symmetrical in structure, the novel begins and ends with a journey; the first initiated by the tragic events of Katie’s past and the second brought about through events linked with Rusala’s secret past. The plot balances upon two memorable key scenes. The first, early on in the novel, occurs in the same setting as the second, towards the end of the novel: a spectacular art gallery, Seagroves Gallery. Both scenes depict decadent parties of the grandest style, in keeping with the novel’s setting as early modernist. While the first party is, in part, by way of introducing Katie to future patrons and fellow artists, the second is to display her work and, thus, launch her career. As the party progresses, champagne flows freely and hashish and other such powder are used abundantly. The hot rooms are noisy with idle gossip among the European wealthy elite and political comments from smaller groups of the intelligentsia. Overheard are mutterings about firearms and a few isolated arguments about the possibilities of war as a leashed tiger cub, collared in jewels, snarls at Katie, who pushes her way through the crowd to see dancers from Theatre Slav perform an exotic, erotic ballet in full Ballets Russes style. Surprised to see Rusala dancing the lead in a performance of Tarquis and the Slave, Katie watches her, riveted. Captivated by Rusala’s eroticism, she becomes infatuated with the young woman and shortly after this event, their love affair between Katie and Rusala blossoms.

The magical effect of the first party is fully shattered during the second, which is also the dénouement. Nonetheless, with its cast of characters emitting an ‘unmistakable scent of wealth’ (132), the event is every bit as glitzy and opulent as the first. However, what promises to be a celebratory evening for Katie, whose work is being exhibited and sold, becomes her ugly awakening into the world of agents and art dealers. And just as the first stirrings of romance between Rusala and Katie are ignited shortly after the first party, so the flame is extinguished shortly after the second. Duped by her lover and her agent, Katie once more sets out on a journey, this time to Istria.    

The strength of this novel lies in the author’s ability to blend the verbal with the pictorial. Barely a scene occurs without a canvas somewhere in the background. Even the dancers are viewed, in large part, through Katie’s sketches as she watches them in daily class. As the reader views each scene through the eyes of Katie, varying shades and hues of the tale become visible as morphine, valerian powders and other such substances she depends upon cloud or brighten, dull or sharpen, her vision of the world around her. And it is through her drug-enhanced dreams that the reader is able to trespass onto the deeper recesses of Katie’s mind and discover the lingering, dark secret haunting her. Every so often, in welcome contrast to these darker areas, a vivid colour dominates a scene: as Katie moves through the gallery during the first party, her rich, scarlet gown glisters upon the novel’s canvas. Such moments permit the reader a rare glimpse of the protagonist from afar, farther enriching a memorable character. Interestingly, the author’s deliberate blurring of the boundary between different art forms reflects the style of early modernist writers who were searching for new forms and experimenting with new styles through which to express their art. Indeed, there is much in this impressionistic evocation of a young woman’s life that is reminiscent of works by Kate Chopin or Katherine Mansfield.

Arguably, one of the weaker aspects of the plot is the romance between the two women. Although in keeping with the hazy mood of the work, the generalized, tame descriptions of their sexual activities lack genuine emotion and are unconvincing. Overall, the novel could benefit from a slightly speedier pace, which would also help tighten the plot in places. Although the author successfully evokes the gentle mood associated with impressionism, she occasionally runs the risk of marring the atmosphere through sentence use top heavy with ornate adjectives. Nonetheless, for a first novel, L. E. Butler shows strong promise. While she captures the sparkle and dazzle of the early modernist years and those thoroughly decadent ‘bright young things’ attending the party, she is also able to evoke a more profound, ephemeral quality through Katie and Rusala that reflects their fleeting inhabitance of an ancient city. As the canvas is completed, a carefully crafted portrait of Katie emerges that is hauntingly beautiful.    


·         Annabel Rutherford is Dance Editor of THE OSCHOLARS.


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[1]  For a discussion of the difficulties faced by contemporary artists and scholars, see Lawrence Lessig’s book Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity (New York: Penguin, 2004), which is also freely available on his website For a succinct and entertaining introduction, see Bound by Law by James Boyle et. al. (Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Duke University, 2006), freely available at