A Portfolio of Theatre and Book Reviews

No 45 : JULY 2008


Wilde theatre reviews appear here; Shaw reviews in Shavings; all other theatre reviews in

Exhibition reviews and reviews of books relating to the visual arts now appear in our new section VISIONS which is reached by clicking its symbol

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


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Ann M. Bogle on Thomas Kilroy on Constance Wilde


Richard Fantina on Adrian Wisnicki on Conspiracy


Tina Gray on Joy Melville on Ellen Terry


Christine Huguet on divers hands on Michael Field


Yvonne Ivory on Lucia Krämer on Oscar Wilde


Sondeep Kandola on Corin Redgrave on Oscar Wilde


Ruth Kinna on Brian Morris on Peter Kropotkin


Mireille Naturel on Evelyne Bloch-Dano on Jeanne Proust


Maureen O’Connor  on Jarlath Killeen on Oscar Wilde


Gwen Orel on the Pearl Company on Earnest


Virginie Pouzet-Duzer on Rhonda Garelick on Loïe Fuller



In the main editorial pages of this month’s issue of THE OSCHOLARS we are sheltering a new section called MELMOTH.  Edited by Sondeep Kandola, this will treat of  the Gothic as a trope of the fin-de-siècle and Decadence, and reflect current scholarship.  In this, the first MELMOTH, the following reviews appear:

Glennis Byron on Bram Stoker, a Literary Life by Lisa Hopkins

John Plunkett on Jack the Ripper: Media, Culture, History (eds.) Alexandra Warwick and Martin Willis

Ruth Robbins on The Routledge Companion to the Gothic (eds.) Catherine Spooner and Emma McEvoy and Gothic Literature by Andrew Smith

Andrew Tate on Catholicism, Sexual Deviance and Victorian Gothic Culture by Patrick R. O’Malley




Review by Sondeep Kandola

De Profundis, the National Theatre, London (16th June, 2008; dir: Richard Nelson)


Given Oscar Wilde’s interest in performativity, artifice and social theatricality, De Profundis, a letter in which the author purports to be revealing both his ‘real’ self and his (lack of) motivation for the first time, is certainly a text that  occupies a special place in Wilde studies. In his performance of it at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre, Corin Redgrave gave a subtly nuanced reading in which he managed to convey the full range of emotions that Wilde sought to articulate (bewilderment, exasperation, self-recrimination, bravado and shame) without ever losing sight of his unstinting generosity and compassion in the face of immense personal trauma. The masterful control that marks the shifts in moods with which Wilde recalls and re-assesses the ‘lamentable friendship’ that had now left him a ‘disgraced and ruined man’ is a quality that derives entirely from the original text, a quality that is made all the more striking because, as we know, the author never had the opportunity of editing it. [Oscar Wilde, De Profundis and Other Writings (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986) pp. 97–8]

With regards to Redgrave’s revival of his 2000 performance, the question of editing continues to loom large but in a different way. The edition of the text from which Redgrave was reading is one specially edited for him by Merlin Holland, Wilde’s grandson, and it is here that anyone familiar with the original might notice some striking editorial choices. It is my sense that both the decision not to include Wilde’s attempts to console himself by meditating on the life of Christ (‘He has all the colour elements of life; mystery, strangeness, pathos, suggestion, ecstasy, love. He appeals to the temper of wonder, and creates that mood in which alone he can be understood’) and his own sense of moving from a Decadent materialism to a mystical Symbolist position somewhat diminishes the powerful growth in spirituality that Wilde clearly underwent in prison (173). While, in the spirit of dramatic economy, such an editorial decision rightly accents the unravelling of the love affair with Bosie, I , for one, certainly regretted that such an omission in the performance made Wilde’s final resolution ‘to make everything that has happened to me good for me’ appear hollow and unconvincing (155).  And in this respect, this sense of Wilde’s spiritual development cannot be overlooked both because of the way that it importantly explains the final resolution of the text (Wilde tells Bosie: ‘Perhaps I am chosen to teach you something much more wonderful – the meaning of sorrow and its beauty’) and also for the way in which it foreshadows what we might term the humanism of The Ballad of Reading Gaol (211). Another striking decision (this time one suspects, a directorial one) was to give Redgrave a mild Irish accent which was used to intimate that under enormous emotional pressure that the mask of the English gentleman that Wilde had worn had now slipped. A brave decision, perhaps, and one in keeping with recent academic work that has sought to recuperate the politics of Wilde’s Irish identity but, at the same time, a decision that does not fit with what we know of Wilde’s own regret at having completely lost his Irish accent on entering English society. Nonetheless, these reservations aside, this was a very welcome, if sadly short-lived, revival of De Profundis and one that was given a powerfully haunting rendition by Corin Redgrave, an actor who is clearly much loved and respected by his audience.

Review by Gwen Orel

The Importance of Being Earnest

Presented by the Pearl Theatre Company, 80 St. Marks Place at First Avenue, NY, NY

15th April –8th June 2008

Oscar Wilde's status as a fuzzy toy for American culture vultures has never been so secure.  In fact, I recently bought an Oscar Wilde fuzzy toy (a stuffed doll) at a Greenwich Village store.  Wilde's face is on the Barnes and Noble café murals and mugs, and The Importance of Being Earnest is included on high school reading lists.   But while the play has never really been out of fashion, it is not often produced professionally in New York.  Reasons for this include the several sets, the large-ish casts, and the precise skills those casts need to deliver (for similar reasons, Shaw is also deplorably underproduced).

There hasn't been a Broadway production since 1977 (and you have to go back to the 1940s to find a Rialto staging of Lady Windermere's Fan).  2006 brought a production helmed by Sir Peter Hall, with the Theatre Royal, Bath, to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  Charles Isherwood of the New York Times couldn't manage to praise it beyond ‘respectable;’ other critics suppressed the faint praise.

For the Pearl Theatre Company, founded in 1984, whose mission is to produce a classical repertory with a resident company of actors, these conflicting forces (Wilde is popular; Wilde is not often produced) must have seemed to create a haven of artistic security.  There are not too many resident companies in the U.S., as Mike Daisy, in his much talked-about performed monologue ‘How Theatre Failed America,’ pointedly noted.  Ensembles who have worked together over years can do extraordinary things—Tracy Letts' August: Osage County would not work so well, and might never have been written at all, without the strong ensemble in place at Steppenwolf Theatre.

The Good

The Pearl production, for the most part, delivered the comedy intact.  The production received positive reviews from New York critics, and audiences clearly enjoyed themselves.  There were belly laughs, not polite titters.  The production succeeded on many levels, clearly, particularly when it just got out of Wilde's way and allowed the play's humor to emerge.

This is no small feat, particularly for American directors and actors, who can be intimidated by English phrases and titles (particularly if they've seen the 1952 movie).  That intimidation can lead acting companies into delivery that is halting and affected, if not lisping. That was not the case here.  Wilde, of course, was Irish and not English, and the essence of his humor is a very Irish style of deadpan reversal.  Pauses before a surprising word kill the surprise (and the humor).  To Director J. R. Sullivan's credit, the actors delivered each comic line fluently and naturally, allowing Wilde's iridescent humor to bubble lightly along.  American actor training is rooted in Stanislavskian techniques, and Sullivan used her cast’s best skills, and served the play most effectively, by letting the truth of the moment highlight the absurdity. 

Sullivan clearly also understands the strong comic dramaturgy underpinning the play.  Wilde's creation of a man who has invented a bad brother to escape from country boredom, and his rakish friend who impersonates the fictional brother to flirt with the man's charming niece, has charm and theatricality built in, and Wilde's addition of the lovely nonsense names and the girls who love them, is sweetly bizarre.  Of course, Gilbert and Sullivan had already presented many a pert heroine with odd notions, inhabiting many a calm topsy-turvy world, before Wilde left his melodramatic structures behind and let his wit drive the plot (a precedent dramatic literature scholars often conveniently ignore).  Still, it isn't just one, or two, or three comic reversals and impostures that make the play work, but the comic stakes in each scene that keep the play humming along.  Again, the Stanislavski-based sincerity in such actions as competing for the last cucumber sandwich or tussling over a cigarette case brought out the situation’s humor.  While the Pearl's production didn't really excel, its mechanism never flagged for a moment.  In comedy, that is an achievement.

The Bad

What the show lacked, primarily, was cohesion and a strong point of view. 

The show also lacked an overall directorial approach, other than a determination to keep the pace up and the delivery speedy.  Those are good things, but they don't add up to a real ‘take’ on the play.  Nice as was not to suffer the feminist deconstructed version of Earnest, or the Queer Theory reading of Earnest, the show lacked the distinction of one person’s unique, unifying vision. 

The actors, resident company or no resident company, didn’t always relate well to one another.  None of them attempted a British accent, and while it was nice not to have to suffer through a labored one, it's a mark against the Pearl's company.  Standard British should be in the repertoire of any professional performer, and the play is so firmly situated in the English countryside that the absence of the accent was glaring.  Sullivan’s use of standard comic staging (actors moving in unison, comic ‘takes’) did not make up entirely for real fluency in language.

The Specifics

Respect for the play, and the playwright, surfaced in the elegant sets by Harry Feiner and costumes by Devon Painter, as well as in the choice to take two intermissions (Nineteenth Century plays do not always fare well when forced to conform to 21st century act break norms, and nothing kills humor faster for an audience than the nagging desire to move one's legs). The Act One set included a backdrop of painted peacocks in secondary tones, displaying both opulence and period attention. The design of the garden had a pointillist appearance, with a brown and green backdrop. Act Three presented another full set, with large purple drapes, and a library full of books.  There was no attempt to make the sets realistic, which worked nicely with Wilde's pleasure in artificiality. Painter's costumes for all of the ladies were elegant, and it was nice to see Bracknell dressed for her rank without any attempt to make her look, for example, like a piece of upholstery.  The lines are funny; the costumes don't need to be.

Overall, the older actors were most memorable. Chasuble in particular emerged as a role with some of the funniest lines in the play—he's always had them, but where there are stronger juveniles, one doesn't always take them in.  In this production, the almost surreal riffs the older characters indulge in were made even funnier by the essentially naturalistic environment.  TJ Edwards' droll Canon Chasuble's digression about his sermon on manna, for example, had a touch of Ionesco about it.  Carol Schultz as Lady Bracknell brought a sweet, almost ditzy quality, to the role.  Joanne Camp's Miss Prism emphasized the writer of the three-volume novel—an interesting choice that supported her throaty flirtations with the Canon. The director also emphasized how all of the characters fell into their own inventions, and forgot that they were just inventions. 

As Algy, Sean McNall had puffy hair that just made him look weird (probably not what Wilde had in mind describing his wavy hair).  It took McNall most of Act One to warm up and relax into the role; in early scenes he tried too hard to make the lines funny, with the result, of course, that they went flat.  McNall won a 2008 Obie Award (the Village Voice gives these out for Off-Broadway productions and performers) for ‘sustained excellence in performance,’ but his other roles must be less mannered in style.  He seemed self-conscious for the first half of the play.

Bradford Cover's John Worthing was as square-jawed and determined as the cartoon character Dudley Do-Right, so his moments of boyishness, as when he leaps over the sofa to sit down, were particularly charming (Note: during the play's extension to June 8th, the role was played by Erik Steele).  Rachel Botchan's Gwendolen had charm and wit; she also brought just a hint of sexuality, devoid of vulgarity, on the line ‘it produces vibrations.’  She had, like Bracknell, a real sweetness, which made her assertions and demands even funnier.  Ali Ahn's Cecily

was the right age for the role, and she looked well in her flowered dress, but her sing-song delivery grated very quickly.

It's easy to get a little bit ahead of Wilde as Act Three winds down.  Sullivan, in keeping the energy high and the moments motivated, succeeded at building a strong finish.  Cover’s Jack, went all the way into broad melodrama for his ‘why should there be one law for men, and another for women?’ and received a well-earned laugh.  Sullivan milked the final scene’s suspense, adding fumbling bits with the register, and the added suspense allowed the actors to play the denouement naturalistically.  The Pearl's Earnest was very much in keeping with other work at the Pearl.  Wilde's comedy of manners performed naturalistically sacrificed some style in favor of the situational humor—making it overall funny, and rather forgettable.

·         With a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh on English-language theatre in post-communist Prague, Gwen Orel is a scholar and freelance journalist in New York.  She has written for the New York Times, the Village Voice, American Theatre, Time Out New York, Back Stage and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, among others.  She has loved Oscar Wilde since age 14, and he helped her get into Stanford; as literary manager for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, she worked on a production of An Ideal Husband.

Review by Ann M. Bogle

The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde by Thomas Kilroy

Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, July, 2008

Leaving New York City this 4th of July holiday weekend, I visited the famous Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, which was presenting The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde by Irish playwright Thomas Kilroy; director, Marcela Lorca through July 11. (Surely the play, in view of its reception here, will travel on to other cultural hubs & centres of Oscar Wilde interest.)

This is a ‘women’s lives’ kind of play, based on available historical information on Oscar Wilde’s wife, Constance, with whom Wilde had two sons. It debuted at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in 1997 to great acclaim but has not had a major American production until now.  The subject matter made my companions and I squirm at times – though the mores represented in the play are supposedly antiquated – since child abuse and perversion scandals figured in all the principals’ early lives.  Oscar Wilde’s gay proclivities – enacted rather frankly on stage – and his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (dear ‘Bosie’, the pretty ephebe who ultimately would betray & abandon Wilde) caused a love triangle to form with Constance Wilde.  Constance, for her part, sympathizes with her husband’s brilliance and unconventional pursuit of love, while at the same time she suffers alone due to a mysterious fall down the staircase in their ‘house beautiful’ that leaves her partially paralyzed and painful flashbacks to her own childhood.  Oscar sympathizes with his wife’s human ordeal, but Bosie – revealed later in the play to have an erotic interest in Oscar’s sons, represented by puppets and not child actors – might prefer she didn’t exist at all except for access to her money.

The Guthrie has become ‘edgy’ – it does its measure of counter-culture theatre, surely – but this time, the sordid side of the tale (the sad expense of Oscar’s wild life) dominates the play, which is not a celebration of gay history, but rather a grim reconstruction of Mrs. Wilde’s haunting plight: her largely unexamined story. Constance Wilde is center-stage, and what she experiences as Mrs. Oscar Wilde shows her strange moral fiber. Though she maintains an abiding love of Wilde, she perforce has to recalibrate such affection: he effectively loses all the family money; he stays away from her and the children for long stretches of time in order to indulge his lifestyle; and he achieves fame whilst they are dragged into tawdry headlines & slurring controversy. Interestingly, Wilde is accurately depicted as a conflicted soul: marriage and fatherhood are a duty, yes; but he is an artiste (a privileged individual, a cultural creature) who shall do as he bloody pleases. For all his talents & gifts, his debauchery seems unjustifiable or like so much dionysian madness. 

My companions and I had just been discussing Henry James’s presumed repressed homosexuality with some sorrow at its estimated cost to his work (but on that score, better repressed, I had said, than if he had been a caricature or drag queen as were some of Wilde’s street friends and jailed for it).  As I watched the play, I started to think of parallels between life with an alcoholic – another recurring theme at the Guthrie – and life with a gay outlaw such as Wilde.  The more relaxed mores with which we live today – perhaps, in part, due to Wilde’s tragic melodrama – may tempt us to think romantically about the times in which he lived, but this production refuses to be romantic.

The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde by Thomas Kilroy was bald, harsh, realistic. All the players were superior; costuming & staging (as always), splendid; set design, disturbing and correct.

·                     Ann Bogle is a writer who lives in New York.



Review by Yvonne Ivory

Lucia Krämer, Oscar Wilde in Roman, Drama und Film. Eine medienkomparatistische Analyse fiktionaler Biographien. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2003. Regensburger Arbeiten zur Anglistik und Amerikanistik, no. 46. 332pp. $62.00 paperback.

The 2006 art-house hit Paris je t’aime offered moviegoers eighteen vignettes about love lost and found in the City of Light.[1] Predictably, one of the short films (Wes Craven’s tribute to the 20th arrondissement) was set in Père Lachaise cemetery. Here we follow a woman who is criticizing her fiancé while she searches for the grave of a man she claims really knew what passion meant: Oscar Wilde. The looming crisis in the relationship is averted, however, when Wilde’s ghost appears to the young man and counsels him in the ways of love. The association of Wilde with wit, passion, and a pedagogical bent is clichéd, certainly; but the short film reminds us of the enduring attraction of Wilde as an imagined figure, and suggests that even the afterlife of Oscar Wilde is ripe for fictionalization.

Precisely what it is that has inspired novelists, playwrights, and filmmakers to constantly re-imagine Wilde in the century since his death is a question that lies at the heart of Lucia Krämer’s study. Its title, Oscar Wilde in Novels, Drama, and Film: A Comparative Media Study of Fictional Biographies, points to the two axes along which Krämer aligns the work. Her main goal is to understand the nature and function of fictional biography as a genre–a task that is best served, she argues, by comparing the various ‘means and strategies’ (29) by which historical figures are fictionalized in different media. The Wilde case study constitutes a secondary line of investigation: Krämer analyzes nine novels, thirteen plays, and three films about Wilde, all of which appeared in Great Britain between 1924 and 2000, to flesh out her theory of fictional biography.

Although Krämer might have looked to representations of other historical figures to probe the nature, possibilities, and limitations of fictional biography, Wilde proves to be a particularly apt subject. His declarations about the relationship between life and writing--his frequent dismissal of conventional biography, his insistence on the truth of masks, his theory that fact is best accessed through fiction, and so on–coupled with the large number of twentieth-century works of fiction in which he appears as a character, make him a natural choice for her study. Krämer argues that it is not only Wilde’s own championing of the life that is ‘suggestive’ for art that accounts for his popularity with other authors; but also the extraordinary trajectory of his story, with its ready-made tragic emplotment (224). Fictional biography, too, allows for speculation about areas of life that are generally hidden from the public eye, and Wilde’s polymorphous sexuality has long been a compelling subject of conjecture. (Krämer shows how other private aspects of Wilde’s life–his childhood, his early married life, his experience of fatherhood, and, more rarely, his creative process–are also explored in the works she is examining, but concludes that none has the same draw as his sexuality.) Despite the upsurge in serious Wilde scholarship since the 1980s, many aspects of his biography remain obscure, and it is these shadows, Krämer shows us, that fictional biography attempts to illuminate.

A key reason for the rise of academic interest in Wilde over the past two decades is undoubtedly the 1987 publication of Richard Ellmann’s monumental biography.[2] When read alongside Horst Schroeder’s volume of corrections, Ellmann’s study appears to offer a comprehensive account of Wilde’s life.[3] It is the very model of what Krämer calls an ‘academic’, ‘factual’, or ‘scientific’ biography, a genre against which she defines fictional biographies.[4] Krämer is very careful in her opening chapter to tease out the differences between these two forms, and to think through the implications of Ina Schabert’s claim that they represent ‘two literary genres . . . governed by different laws of establishing coherence’ (23). Whereas the principles of historiography establish coherence in traditional biography, the fictional biography is governed by ‘[n]ovelistic structures’ (23-4), according to Schabert. Although Krämer grounds her study in this distinction, she is not so naïve as to imagine that historiography is without its own novelistic structures. Indeed, Krämer gives more than a passing nod to Hayden White’s Metahistory, the work that sowed the seeds of the linguistic turn in historiography (41): implicit in her study is the argument that fictional biographies are more likely to be self-reflexive, and that, in shedding the mantle of objectivity, they also avoid the emplotment traps into which conventional biography can so easily fall (303).[5]

Krämer finds that this meta-biographical impulse is more common in fictional biographies that have appeared since the 1980s[6]–just one of the ways in which such works have changed over the course of the twentieth century. She takes the diachronic aspect of her study very seriously, investing as much energy in comparing how the genre has changed over time as she does discussing the idiosyncrasies of the media used to represent the fictionalized Wilde. At times, this diachronic analysis reveals quite radical changes in the structure and content of fictional biographies: Constance Wilde has become a more central character since the advent of feminism (243-9); Brechtian efforts to break theatrical illusions are evident in almost all of the more recent plays about Wilde (211, 216); films no longer rely on voice-over techniques to convey a character’s innermost thoughts (173); and whereas earlier fictional Wildes spouted direct quotations from the Irishman, in more recent works their words amount to a pastiche of Wilde-like utterances (155). At other times Krämer acknowledges that a diachronic analysis shows precisely how little has changed in the realm of biographical fiction since the 1920s (205, 214).

Similarly, Krämer recognizes that occasionally the fictional Wildes share characteristics across media, that comparative analyses point to similarities rather than differences. But the study focuses for the  most part on how the medium does change the message. She is not, she insists, proffering an abstract, comparative treatise on the semiotics of the three media--that work has been done by others (149); her contribution is rather to flesh out the theories of how these media function with a sustained (and diachronic) analysis of a set of related examples. Rather than breaking her study into sections that deal with novels, plays, and movies in turn, she structures it around three categories established by Joshua Meyrowitz, whose 1993 essay ‘Images of Media’ is a founding text in the field of comparative media studies (12, 150 n98). According to Krämer, Meyrowitz contends that there are three basic (and braided) metaphorical ways in which the word ‘media’ is used: it can refer to the ‘environments’ of production, distribution, and so on, through which material passes on its way to its ultimate reception; semiotics, or the ‘languages’ that convey meaning; and the ‘conduits’ used to present actual content. Accordingly, Krämer breaks the bulk of her study into three sections: ‘Umwelten’, in which she looks at the material conditions of production, distribution, and reception that impact on fictional biographies (93-149); ‘Sprachen’, which compares the semiotics of novels, dramas, and films about Wilde, focusing specifically on strategies used to represent figures, settings, and time (149-235); and ‘Kanäle’, in which she compares the various aspects of Wilde’s life that are treated in the 25 works of fictional biography under review (235-300).

While the latter two sections (which essentially focus on form and content, respectively) are well researched and written, by far the most interesting of the three sections is the first, Krämer’s discussion of the contexts within which fictional biographies are produced and consumed. This may be due to the fact that questions of reception clearly interest the author deeply: in her introduction she makes plain that the question driving her research is just how readers and viewers decide to categorize a work as fictional rather than factual (11, 37, 45). She theorizes that we use a number of markers to distinguish expository from fictional discourses when consuming fictional biography (49), and that those markers vary by medium (35). Much of the rest of the work is spent illustrating this theory of reception, one which she believes has been utterly neglected (13). Using concepts developed by Umberto Eco and Stanley Fish, Krämer demonstrates convincingly that fictional biography needs different markers for different media, that more recent works (plays, especially) presume a more knowledgeable consumer, and that a focus on reception highlights the extent to which contemporary fictional biographies almost always have a meta-biographical component (133-49).

Krämer deals with more than just questions of reception under the rubric ‘Umwelten’: she also discusses at length how conditions of production and distribution impact the form and content of plays and films. Here she offers insights into such diverse phenomena as the rise of the one-man show in the 1990s (108), the superficiality of biopics featuring Wilde (105), the differences between US and British theatregoers (112), the rise of publishing conglomerates and multiplex cinemas (120, 122), and the impact of the DVD and VHS markets on films of the 1990s (123-5). This line of investigation places Krämer squarely among a group of scholars who see Wilde as a lynchpin in the history of consumer culture.[7] Regenia Gagnier’s 1986 study Idylls of the Marketplace was the first of a number of works to explore the economics of the Wilde phenomenon; since then the material culture surrounding Wilde in the late nineteenth century has been the subject of studies by Mary Blanchard, Nicholas Frankel, Jonathan Freedman, Josephine Guy, Mark Samuels Lasner, Ian Small, Margaret Stetz, and others.[8] Krämer’s Marxian analysis complements these works by looking at how the problems of global capitalism play out in twentieth-century works about Wilde (30, 115, 133).

Although Krämer focuses on fictional biographies that appeared in English, her research also covers German and French works. This linguistic diversity is one of the study’s strengths, and serves as a reminder that important work has been done on Wilde in languages other than English. Indeed, after the 1895 scandal, Wilde’s name was first rehabilitated and his works first reappeared in print in Germany,[9] starting a decades-long conversation about Wilde between British and German scholars that was interrupted only by the rise of the National Socialists.[10] Krämer’s is by no means the only volume that examines Wilde as a fictional character, but she is the only one to recognize, for instance, that the very first fictional biography of Wilde that did not disguise the Irishman’s name was Carl Sternheim’s 1925 play, Oskar Wilde: Sein Drama.[11] Angela Kingston’s otherwise excellent 2007 study of Wilde as a character in Victorian fiction, meanwhile, does not refer at all to Krämer’s research, which had appeared four years earlier.[12] Other surveys of works which use Wilde as a character are similarly anglocentric; in this sense Krämer’s study is an important addition to that group of texts.[13] Krämer’s is also the only study to look at Wilde as fictionalized in drama, film, and prose. Kingston’s analysis focuses on Wilde-like characters who appeared in prose fiction during the Victorian period; John Stokes’ extraordinary Oscar Wilde: Myths, Miracles, and Imitations concerns itself mainly with the performing arts; and Robert Tanitch’s monograph looks at Wilde on stage and screen, but not in fiction. This latter title is possibly the weakest of the group, lacking the kind of close readings and theoretical framing to be found in Krämer, Kingston, and Stokes.

Oscar Wilde in Roman, Drama und Film, then, complements other works in this field, but does not replace them. It is a nicely-produced addition to a well-respected Lang series, a revised dissertation that orients itself toward a comparative media studies audience, but is nonetheless of great interest to a Wilde studies audience. As is typical for a German academic publication, it has no index, but the bibliography is well organized. Still, for an annotated bibliographical survey of all (English-language) texts that represented Wilde between 1900 and 2007 we must turn to Kingston (233-46). Krämer’s comparative media studies approach sets her study apart, as does her focus on the closing decades of the twentieth century. Her most compelling section deals with fictional biographies as an aspect of globalised material culture; readers will also find useful Krämer’s introduction to the to the rise of biography in all its forms (37-44), and her nuanced treatment in particular of dramatic works about Oscar Wilde in the 1990s. No doubt this is not the last study of its kind that we will see: as the apparition in the ‘Père Lachaise’ segment of Paris je t’aime demonstrates, fictionalized Wildes will never go out of fashion.

·         Yvonne Ivory (Ph.D. UCLA, 2001) is Assistant Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. Her research revolves around the intertwined histories of sexuality and aesthetics; in her most recent project, ‘The Homosexual Revival of Renaissance Style, 1850-1930’ (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2009), she examines how late-nineteenth-century British and German sexual dissidents deployed redemptory discourses of Renaissance self-fashioning in their lives and writings. She has also published articles on the fin-de-siècle German anarchist movement, Oscar Wilde’s reception of the Italian Renaissance, and the relationship between Wilde’s early poetry and his dramatic fragment ‘The Cardinal of Avignon’. Her article on Wilde’s significance for the early German gay rights movement will appear in Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture: The Making of a Legend (Ohio University Press, forthcoming 2008).

Review by Maureen O’Connor

Jarlath Killeen: The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd 2007

Jarlath Killeen’s study of the fairy tales attempts to address an enduring lacuna in Wilde studies in which, with few exceptions, the texts remain marginal.  Killeen locates the source of this neglect in a reductive insistence on Wilde’s subversiveness, difficult to reconcile with a genre understood to be ‘didactic and conservative’, an oddly inappropriate example of what Declan Kiberd refers to, in a discussion of Wilde, as ‘the manic Victorian urge to antithesis’,[14] an anachronistic ‘urge’ which misleadingly extenuates the complexity of both the writer and the genre.  This potentially powerful opening argument is mitigated somewhat by Killeen’s overreliance on the work of Jack Zipes—who includes Wilde in his surveys of the fairytale, but sees him exclusively as British—and the absence of references to other relevant authors such as U.C. Knoepflmacher on the Victorian child and children’s literature or texts that consider the Irish tradition of writing for children, such as the work of Mitzi Myers on Maria Edgeworth, a writer Wilde greatly admired.[15]  Both Knoepflmacher’s and Myers’s attention to gender would be useful in supporting Killeen’s contentions; for example, Myers’s positing of an Irish practice of ‘cross-writing that shakes up standard hierarchies privileging masculine over feminine, adult over child, learned universalism over oral particularity’.[16] The Irish child, particularly the complicated case of the Anglo-Irish child, is theorised somewhat cursorily, and I found myself thinking of another missing reference, Margot Gayle Backus’s study of the gothic family romance and her interrogation of the passionate but necessarily covert identification of the Protestant Ascendancy child with the native Irish.[17]  The attenuated nature of these aspects of the discussion may be explained by the author’s real interest lying elsewhere; that is, in the case he desires to make for Wilde’s Irish folk-Catholicism, an eccentric-seeming contention, but one argued with great ingenuity and brio.  The resulting readings of the individual fairy tales are brilliant and convincing, even if one hesitates to accept Wilde as a fully committed crypto-Catholic.

Killeen begins with the assertion ‘that the fairy tales should be read in relation to the field of force from which Wilde drew much of his creative energies—Ireland—and that when placed in this context the strange, often disturbing qualities of the stories begin to make sense’ (1). It is not simply Ireland that provides this field of force, but Gnosticism, an introduction to freemasonry at Oxford, and most powerfully, folk Catholicism, which informs the imagery and moral structure of the fairy tales.  A backward Victorian Ireland irremediably other to Britishness, due to its essentially rural character and above all its ‘peasant Catholicism’, was a place recreated by the diasporic Irish of London, marginalised and living in poverty.  Killeen argues that this little Ireland was on Wilde’s mind when writing the fairy tales, particularly the first collection, The Happy Prince and Other Tales.  It is in the course of his consideration of this tale that Killeen brings together Wilde’s concerns regarding the conditions of the Irish in England with his choice a non-realist genre, a discussion that provides a solid foundation for much of what follows: ‘There is a large cognitive gap between language and experience when describing life of the poor… Wilde decided that such liminal spaces, hovering on the edges of language and meaning, required analysis through a form less obvious than realist novel… the fairy tale form operated in this marginal space, hovering between hegemony and rebellion’ (24).  Killeen sees in the collection’s title story a lesson about economics and philanthropy, as the Prince reaches ‘radical poverty,’ like that delineated in his essay, ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’: ‘Conversion of the soul must precede social revolution… It is society that must align self with Prince, not the Prince who must somehow forcibly alter society’ (38). This is not a new reading of this or other of the fairy tales, but what is new is Killeen’s assertion that the text’s message is that ‘England must become more like Ireland to be truly philanthropic’ (37).  Killeen comes to the rather thrilling conclusion that, according to Wilde, ‘the periphery can only hope to achieve some version of empowerment through the doctrines and discourses of the Catholic religion. …Diaspora critiques empire from within’ (38-9).  

The fairy tales as critiques of empire provides one of the analytical tools in the following chapter on ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’, in which Killeen observes that in the nineteenth century the ‘Virgin Mary became point of contact between theology and empire’ (55).  In this story, Killeen also finds support for Wilde’s feminism, or ‘proto-feminism’, particularly in Wilde’s use of  the Virgin, claiming ‘Wilde’s attraction to the Virgin Mary can in part be explained by his sexual marginality’ (52).  Mary’s historical function as model for women seeking an escape from patriarchal heterosexist imperatives makes her useful for Wilde who ‘exploits positive and proto-feminist potential within Marianism’ (53).  Killeen’s knowledge of early Christian literature and its system of symbols makes this particular reading a sometimes dizzying tour de force that sees Wilde offering through the tale ‘an androgynous or bi-sexual economy of salvation to a gender divided world’ (54) in its deployment of both ‘Christ and Mary as appropriate models for his own struggle against heterosexist and patriarchal empire’ (56).  To bring the discussion back to Ireland, Killeen concludes. ‘More than other writer dealing with the trope of Woman as Nation, Wilde theologises the imagery.  He utilises the triple associations Rose-Virgin-Ireland extremely effectively’ (58).

The anti-patriarchal power of the Virgin, and in particular how the nineteenth-century Church attempted to neutralise it, serves to explicate some of the difficulties of interpretation presented by ‘The Birthday of the Infanta’.  This reading also bring ecocritical theory to bear, as does the chapter on ‘The Selfish Giant’.  Throughout the study, there is a thematically coherent yet theoretically diverse approach to the material.  Some stories seem to yield more riches to Killeen’s analysis than others, however, and the organisation of the book by individual stories unnecessarily emphasises this unevenness. This organisational strategy also makes for a certain amount of repetition in a fairly short book.  The author has been very ill-served by the proofreader, as the text is littered with distracting typos, such as ‘salve’ for ‘slave’ and ‘lions’  for ‘loins’.  Despite these mechanical infelicities, the thesis is finally persuasive and Killeen elevates the relatively neglected stories to their deserved status.  One of the difficulties the stories have always posed is the question of audience, and there remains in literary studies an unacknowledged Arnoldian disdain for certain kinds of readers. As Killeen points out, however, ‘Wilde didn’t write down to children—he challenged them’ (171).  Wilde saw children for the rebels they are and in his usual witty, transvaluing way collaborated in the Victorian identification of the Irish with the child, as Killeen observes early on.  Wilde understood that there would always be wise and appreciative readers of the tales.  In the nineteenth century, Catholicism in England and Irish folk-Catholicism figured as ‘spiritual and sexual heresy to the dominant modes of thought…we need not worry that Wilde’s arcane symbolism and covert gestures toward both spheres of secrecy [sexual and religious] alienated his audience or made the tales extraordinarily difficult to decipher: these stories have, after all, become part of the discourse of childhood’ (172).

·         Maureen O’Connor’s ‘Maria Edgeworth's Fostering Art and the Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde’ was published in Women's Studies vol. 31, no. 3 pp. 399-429 January 2002.

Review by Virginie Pouzet-Duzer

Rhonda K. Garelick: Electric Salome: Loïe Fuller’s Performance of ModernismPrinceton and Oxford: Princeton University Press 2007.  264 pp. | 6 x 9 | 44 halftones. 3 line illustrations. $35.00 / £19.95.  Text available on line.

‘I assure you that there is nothing original in me’ wrote Loïe Fuller to Gabrielle Bloch in February of 1892. Chosen by Rhonda K. Garelick as epigraph to her first chapter, this quote is itself the best sign of Fuller’s paradox. Later in June of the same year, the outcome of a lawsuit brought out again this idea of a non-original being. While Fuller wanted to prevent others from imitating her famous serpentine moves, the judge indeed decided and stated that the dance was too impersonal to be copyrighted. As a matter of fact, Loïe Fuller’s eponym performance of modernism – as it is clearly revealed in the pages of this Electric Salome – is to be found in a constant dialectic between originality and banality, between the self and the universal. This dialectic is itself actually embedded in the title, through the conjunction of the modern adjective ‘electric’ to the mythical name of Salome. The near oxymoron of an ‘electric Salome’ enables a constant a-historical twinkling which connects the past of everlasting myths to Fuller’s vibrant present, turning her into a kind of fairy of modernity. Wasn’t electricity named ’’Fée électricité’ when it was first introduced to the Parisian public of the 1881 World’s Fair? A few years later, in 1900, at a very similar World’s Fair in Paris, magic was not only to be found in technology but in its aesthetic use: in Loïe  Fuller’s choreographies, admired and praised, art and technique converged.

Following a chronological order through the five chapters of her study, Rhonda K. Garelick manages to expose, explain, analyse and discuss Loïe Fuller’s perfect chameleon’s quality. Electricity, Cinematography, World’s Fair, Romantic Ballet, Modern European Drama – Fuller’s eclectic aesthetic journey enables Garelick to trace a very nice cubist-like-collage of modernist matters. The reader is hence enlightened not only about Loïe  Fuller’s life but about a whole trans-Atlantic epoch inhabited by the multi-faceted dancer and choreograph, from the Americana ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody’s Wild West Show in 1883, through Tristan Tzara’s pre-surrealist Mouchoir de Nuages during the avant-garde springtime festival of the arts named Les Soirées de Paris in 1924. 

One of Fuller’s lifelong paradoxes is that on the one hand, she managed to develop a dance at first sight very natural, instinctive and remote from the romantic ballet, as it is shown in chapters three and four – but on the other hand, she taught this barefoot choreographic style to her troupe of dancers, making it reproducible and hence recognizing that even instinct and naivety could be learned. Moreover, one might wonder how a dance which relayed heavily on techniques and technology, an elaborated dance with sticks, fabric and games of lights (all thoroughly patented by Fuller) could seem so bodily and natural. Let us not forget that, as Garelick reveals in her first chapter, Loïe  Fuller who loved science visited her friend Thomas Edison’s New Jersey laboratory in 1896, and brought back on the stage some phosphorescent salts to create ‘starlit’ effects in the darkness and mesmerize her public. That is to say it is very difficult even for Garelick to distinguish in Fuller’s choreographies what was truly a natural effect and what was actually an artificial produce of some careful scenery. No wonder that, as the fifth chapter shows, Fuller shared with the naturalist theatre of her time a liking for the concept of staged unconsciousness. In her narratives which are thoroughly taken into account in the book, Fuller continuously both claimed and staged unknowingness: she presented her experience at the age of two and a half on the stage of Chicago Progressive Lyceum as a magical sudden gift, and one of many later accidental discoveries; she also stated that her performance in the Quack, M.D. in 1891 unconsciously gave birth to the serpentine dance thanks to the shouts of the public, eager to see shapes of flowers or butterflies in what was meant to be simply a staged-trance. In other words, Fuller liked to play with the idea of luck and chance, and cultivated her own naivety which might have been an aesthetic kind of a pose.

Far from choreographic questions, Loie Fuller is also everywhere to be found when considered through a post-colonial perspective. Fuller indeed managed to embody American earliest myths as well as to integrate exotic ones. In her first chapter, Garelick introduces us to a dancer who not only went on tour for the Wild West Show – and was hence ‘exposed to this highly mythological and exportable version of Americana’ (24) – but had early roles as Aladdin where she played with veils and possibly initiated her taste for the Orient before becoming the exotic dancer she initially was at the Folies-Bergère in Paris. Later in the second chapter, the reader will understand that Fuller’s central and eminent position in the World’s Fair of 1900 was a good political way of disavowing any possible tensions between France and the United States. At the same time, Garelick argues that this disavowal was itself acknowledging a strong stylistic difference between American and French Imperialism. Here Garelick takes Ariel Dorfman’s main thesis in The Empire’s Old Clothes as a relevant example of cultural differences between the French and the American way of dealing with colonialism. Garelick shows that these two imperialists stylistics revealed by Dorfman were already seeable in the World’s Fair of 1900, and that the dichotomy between the possible kinds of Salome was a symptom of these two colonial gazes. Chaste, presenting to the public an image of ‘self-professed American purity’, Fuller was, as Garelick name her, a ‘proto-Disney Salome’ (117). And indeed, Loie Fuller’s early version of Salome presented at the World’s Fair turns the famous temptress into a childlike martyr, offering her own life in exchange of the Baptist’s and dying in shock at the final sight of the head. Salome’s dance is there ineffective since it does not seduce Herod, and the dancer remains an innocent, nearly Christian figure. Unthreatening and non sexual, this technologic, electric and a-historic dance could be seen by everybody and parents were actually bringing their children to the shows. But at the same World’s Fair, the French colonies were on display and ‘authentic’ women from Northern Africa were to exhibit their exoticism. Yet, Garelick reminds us that while the belly-dances in the re-implanted ‘Rue du Caire’ of the Trocadéro had been quite successful in 1889, new decrees and ‘decency codes’ promulgated by the Senate forbade nearly all of them in 1900. The veiled women were hence exhibited and looked at as exotic and possibly erotic, but were also deprived from their dance. Ironically, these original Salomes, products of the French imperialist systems, were seen as dangerous and necessarily too erotic ones while a mimetic and electric ‘Yankee’ Salome – as Garelick names her – was given space, applause, and consideration. That is to say that the unthreatening glimmer of American imperialism had begun taking over the French more direct, possibly physical if not bloody way of colonizing the world.

Through the reading of the whole book – scattered with beautiful black and white reproductions of photographs and postcards – it appears that Loie Fuller not only embodied modernity but managed to be both its metaphor and its allegory. Ironically as Garelick points out in the last chapter, it is because Fuller offered to the public of her time a perfect space of psychoanalytic transference that she so promptly ‘evaporated from cultural consciousness.’ (223) In other words, if Fuller possibly helped her public by providing a safe way for them to project their unsaid issues (sexual, political, colonial etc.), she had herself to withdraw if she really wanted the process to be effective. Garelick argues that it is through the help of several doubles and mirror-games that the dancer managed to be present as an image and physically gone at the same time. Yet, captured into sculptures, poems, paintings and even objects such as lamps or vases by artists and creators of her time, Fuller’s figure has been very rapidly turned into a reproducible commodity. At the same time, Fuller’s dance went beyond the manichaeism of dualities by playing with lights and the fleeting and elusive fluidity of fabric, while remaining rooted in a bodily realm of effigies. However, if the symbol Fuller represented on the stage might have been forgotten, it is because its effect had to be caught in the instantaneity of the performance. And one of the best aspects of Rhonda K. Garelick’s book is that it enables a virtual re-enactment of Fuller’s performance of modernity: in the end, the initial butterfly/illusion shimmers and stays for good in the reader’s mind.

• Virginie Pouzet-Duzer is Assistant Professor of French at Pomona College, California. Her latest scholarly publication ‘Du blanc lisse au pli de la crise: hyphologie mallarméenne’ appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Cahiers Stéphane Mallarmé. For the Salomé website, Les voiles de Salomé. created by Dr Pouzet-Duzer, see

Review by Ruth Kinna

Brian Morris: The Anarchist Geographer: An Introduction to the life of Peter Kropotkin. Minehead, Somerset: Genge Press 2007. ISBN 0-9549043-3-3, pp. 119, £8.00.

Brian Morris says that his short and very accessible book on Kropotkin has one aim: ‘to keep alive the memory of an anarchist scholar and revolutionary socialist, and to introduce the reader to the life and times of Peter Kropotkin’.  In many ways this book succeeds in both.  The discussion covers the span of Kropotkin’s life, drawing on the existing biographical and auto-biographical literature, taking the reader from his privileged childhood to his death in Russia, at the point of the Bolshevik seizure of power.  Morris touches on the important milestones in Kropotkin’s revolutionary career: his membership of the Chaikovsky Circle, his meeting with the anarchists of the Jura, his imprisonment and his active involvement in anarchist propaganda through the papers Le Révolté and Freedom.  And readers are introduced to some of Kropotkin’s leading contemporaries and friends: Reclus, Malatesta, Guillaume and Stepniak.  Yet a good half of the book is devoted to Kropotkin’s time in Russia which seems strange given that he then spent the greater proportion of his life in exile.  Moreover, the attention given over to Kropotkin’s decision in 1914 to support the Entente against Germany seems disproportionate, perhaps reflecting Morris’s own obvious disappointment with this position.  In the course of the discussion, Morris provides an account of the divisions which split the socialist movement and of the growing antipathy between anarchists and Marxists.  There is a tendency here to over-simplify the argument but Morris succeeds in outlining the broad principles of anarchism for anyone unfamiliar with the history. 

The weakness of the text, I think, is that it is not always entirely clear whom Morris is writing for.  In its narrative style and chronological structuring, the discussion seems to be designed for genuine beginners, who have never encountered Kropotkin and who know very little about anarchism.  On the other hand, comments within the text – for example about the failure of academics to engage with Kropotkin, his important influence on contemporary anarchism, political theory, ecological thought and urban geography; issues of terrorism and divisions between communists and individualists – suggest that the audience is assumed to be sufficiently well versed in the basics of anarchist thought and Kropotkin’s life to make sense of these references.  Perhaps the problem here is that Morris tends not to develop the important points he wants to make, so that they appear as mere assertions, difficult for anyone to evaluate properly.  Admittedly, Morris refers readers to other more detailed treatments of Kropotkin’s anarchism but it would surely have been possible, in an introductory text, to have given readers a greater sense of what has been written about Kropotkin and to have outlined the lines of debate in order to provide context for the conclusions he wants to draw.  I agree with Morris that Kropotkin is a substantial figure and that his work is a rich source of inspiration.  And his enthusiasm for his subject is refreshingly open and honest.  But I think that it’s a shame that Morris identified one aim, rather than two.  Had one chapter been devoted to the biographical material, readers would not only have known who Kropotkin was, they might also have been better placed to know why we should keep his memory alive. 

·         Ruth Kinna teaches political thought in the Department of Politics, International Relations and European Studies at Loughborough University, UK.  She is the author of Anarchism: A Beginner’s Guide (Oneworld, 2005) and the co-editor, with Laurence Davis, of Anarchism and Utopianism (Manchester University Press, 2009, forthcoming).


Review by Richard Fantina

Adrian S. Wisnicki: Conspiracy, Revolution, and Terrorism from Victorian Fiction to the Modern Novel.  New York and London: Routledge 2008.


Since the assassination of JFK, conspiracy theories have become a permanent feature of our socio-political landscape. Adrian Wisnicki's Conspiracy, Revolution, and Terrorism seeks to provide an archaeology of this phenomenon through literary texts, most of which predate what some historians refer to as ‘the crime of the century.’ This book demonstrates that the idea of conspiracy theory has been evolving in fiction since at least the mid-Nineteenth Century.

The author begins with a discussion of fictional detectives as exemplified by M. Dupin in Edgar Allen Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), Sergeant Cuff (and others) in Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868), and Inspector Bucket in Charles Dickens's Bleak House (1852). The detective investigates solvable cases that involve the more or less common criminal actions of individuals. The fictional detective ultimately evolves into the lone conspiracy theorist (or the ‘Subject Who Tries to Know’), such as Nicholas Branch in Don DeLillo's Libra (1988), a novel about Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination, and Oedipa Mass in Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 (1966). To establish this connection, in Chapter Two Wisnicki identifies ‘The Hidden Hand’ representing an often unknown but inexorable force that intervenes in human activity. The author points to Professor Moriarity and his crime network in the Sherlock Holmes tales as a typical fictional representative but the chapter focuses primarily on Magwitch's effect on Pip in Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861). Later, in an afterword on Proust's In Search of Lost Time (1909-1922), Wisnicki writes that to Marcel, ‘inverts assume the role of a sinister and powerful Hidden Hand, one which acts from behind the scenes to manipulate political and historical developments’ (198). Clearly, to Wisnicki, conspiracy theories can take many forms.

A major development in the process described in Chapter Three consists of actual (i.e. fictional) conspiracies with two or more human agents who seek to defraud a third and who are willing to commit other crimes to further their purpose, inspiring a sense of paranoia in their potential victims. Wisnicki chooses Collins’s The Woman in White (1860) as the prototypical novel of this phase, with Count Fosco and Sir Percival Glyde as the conspirators seeking to defraud Laura Fairlie and willing to murder anyone who stands in the way of their purpose. Collins's novel is especially significant in that it introduces the concept of political conspiracy in the persons of Fosco and Pesca as members of the underground organization, the ‘Italian Brotherhood.’ Wisnicki asserts, quite plausibly, that the ‘Italian Brotherhood’ constitutes a fictional stand-in for the Fenians, also known as the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood who advocated armed struggle against the English. Contemporary readers could readily see this connection. In addition, the author discusses the European revolutions of 1848, still fresh in readers’ memories, and includes a brief but useful discussion of the Chartists and the perceived threat they posed to a British bourgeois readership (107). Police surveillance and repression helped to prevent the Chartists from launching a revolution. According to Wisnicki, Walter Hartwright, the primary narrator of The Woman in White, ‘affectively attempts to transfer ‘paranoia’ to the reader’ as he (and others) relate the machinations of Fosco and Glyde, and the retribution exacted by the Brotherhood against Fosco for treason to the group. (110). The combination of threats—from foreign agents, radical workers, and a repressive police apparatus—led to an increasing sense of public paranoia. From here, the modern political conspiracy theory evolves almost organically.

The argument of Conspiracy, Revolution, and Terrorism suggests that the political unrest and the repression it provokes, along with the increasing bureaucratization and atomization of society, gives rise to a sense of helplessness in individuals who look to conspiracy theories to make sense of a fragmented reality. In his most compelling chapter, ‘The Inaccessible Authorities and the Vanishing Subject,’ Wisnicki discusses Foucault's Discipline and Punish (1975), reading it as a conspiracy narrative. He faults Foucault for failing to provide an answer to the question of who controls the conspiracy and that ‘the narrative loops back on itself: disciplinary practices are both their own cause and effect’ (117). Yet this is precisely one of Foucault’s points, that power diffuses itself through bureaucratized networks in the public and private sectors, and that its pervasiveness enables it to become internalized and reproduced by its victims. Wisnicki further asserts that in Foucault, ‘the authorities become inaccessible, and the reader is left with the disciplinary loop and with Foucault, the conspiracy theorist’ and that ‘in Discipline and Punish, Foucault produces one of the most ‘paranoid’ works in conspiracy theory history’ (117). Wisnicki also suggests that Foucault’s paranoia leads him to turn Bentham’s panopticon from a discrete entity into a multipurpose, abstract model, without conceding that Foucault is simply using the panopticon as a metaphor for the diffusion of power (119). Rather than a conspiracy theorist, Foucault and his work demonstrate why conspiracy theories are so prevalent. Certainly Wisnicki recognizes all this, yet he still insists on seeing Discipline and Punish as ‘one of the most pervasive, resistant, and formidable conspiracies yet imagined in literature’ (123). While this chapter offers intriguing hypotheses on conspiracy theory in fiction—Kafka's The Castle (1922), DeLillo's Libra, Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49—the author's inclusion of Discipline and Punish may appear to many as incongruous.

In the same chapter, Wisnicki continues his discussion with a counterintuitive reading of Trollope’s The Warden (1855). Trollope’s early one-volume novel attempts a variety of satire by portraying Carlyle as ‘Dr. Pessimist Anticant’ and Dickens as ‘Mr. Popular Sentiment.’ Wisnicki discusses the role of Trollope's fictitious publication, The Jupiter, as a stand-in for The Times. The novel invests The Jupiter with control over the lives of the people it chooses to attack, in this case the innocent title character, Mr. Harding. As with his satire on Dickens, Trollope’s purpose here is largely conservative as he portrays the writers and editors of The Jupiter as misguided reformers or sinister agents of surveillance. He writes that the power of The Jupiter is ‘divided among many’ (qtd. 125), suggesting a view of power similar to Foucault's. He emphasizes the point by noting that ‘Trollope fosters this contrast between the newspaper’s power and authority and the nondescript site from which the power issues’ (127). Linking two such dissimilar texts as The Warden and Discipline and Punish makes for an intriguing argument that demonstrates the author's contention that conspiracy theories are pervasive across a broad political and ideological spectrum.

The chapter, ‘From Conspiracy to Conspiracy Theory,’ ties together the elements that have preceded it as it links earlier remarks on The Woman in White and mid-century revolutionary movements to Henry James’s 1886 novel The Princess Casamassima, and early Twentieth Century works such as Conrad’s The Confidential Agent (1907) and Under Western Eyes (1911). Wisnicki also discusses the paranoia, described by Stephen Arata, involved in the idea of ‘reverse colonialism,’ in Dracula (1897) as well as that novel's oblique references to Sinn Fein. The discussion demonstrates that conspiracy theory was beginning to come of age by the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century. The afterword credits Proust's novel with crystallizing many of the disparate elements discussed in the previous chapters and, in effect, inventing the modern conspiracy narrative.

Wisnicki's selection of text covers a century and a half, and shows a refreshing lack of respect for boundaries of era and genre. While his conclusions are not always convincing, they are consistently compelling. Ultimately, the value of Conspiracy, Revolution, and Terrorism lies in the author's often brilliant discussion of a selective group of texts, from the Victorian era to our own, that presents a highly original analysis of the development of the modern conspiracy theory narrative.

·         Richard Fantina is Professor of Graduate Studies at Union Institute & University in Montpelier, Vermont. He is the author of Ernest Hemingway: Machismo and Masochism (Palgrave-Macmillan 2005); editor of Straight Writ Queer: Non-normative Expressions of Heterosexuality in Literature (McFarland 2006); and co-editor (with Kimberly Harrison) of Victorian Sensations: Essays on a Scandalous Genre (Ohio State University Press 2006).

Review by Tina Gray

Joy Melville:  Ellen Terry.  Haus Publishing Limited 2006.  ISBN-10: 1904950140; ISBN-13: 978-1904950141 256 pages.


This is a delightful book, quite literally, as it a book full of delights.  Ellen Terry was deeply loved and admired during her long and amazing life, and, because of her genius as an actress and her unconventional and quite ‘private’ private life, she continues to fascinate us today.

Joy Melville has spotted a gap in the market!  There are many books about Ellen, for example, Joy’s previous work Ellen and Edy and numerous others, some of which are listed in the bibliography.  There are many collections of Ellen’s letters, for example, her correspondence with George Bernard Shaw.  There are also many poems written for Ellen, for example, the Oscar Wilde sonnets.  There are many wonderful paintings of Ellen, for example, The Choosing by G F Watts and Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent.   There are many telling personal notes, for example, to her children.  There are also many descriptions of Ellen’s magnetism as an actress, for example, those by her great nephew, John Gielgud.  There is much interest in Ellen as a woman ahead of her time – her ability to be accepted by the establishment whilst unable to accept the mores of her time.  There was and, indeed, still is much dispute about Ellen’s relationships with men, for example, her three husbands, Edward Godwin, and maybe Henry Irving. 

So, what is good about this book is that, to tell Ellen’s story, Joy Melville has simply chosen what she considers to be the clearest facts, the best quotes, the most amusing anecdotes, and, above all, the most glorious pictures, beautifully presented in warm sepia tones.  It might seem insulting to say that this a perfect birthday present or coffee table book but I intend this as praise, because it is a splendid book to dip into for solace and inspiration.  My only quibble is with the most un-Ellen-like fussy writing of her name on the front cover, but this is happily compensated for by Sir Donald Sinden’s charming comments on the back cover.

We learn that Ellen achieved in Victorian England a life style that we in the 21st century struggle to emulate: a dazzling career, marriages (three), children (two), travel for work and pleasure (America, Canada, Europe, Australia), passionate love affairs, staunch friendships, and, in spite of hardships, a joie de vivre and sense of fun, a concern for others, and an open mindedness that shone through her life.

Ellen’s life was not an easy one and Joy is very strong on the darker side of it all – problems in youth with a disastrous early marriage, problems with her adored but precocious children, and, in her later years, problems with her sight, her health, her memory for lines, and her dwindling career.

The following quote, discussing Ellen’s relationship with Henry Irving, is a good example of the strengths of this book:

Both Irving and Ellen were dedicated to their profession, yet were remarkably different in temperament.  Irving, summed up by his grandson, Laurence Irving, was ‘single-minded, self-centred and self-sufficient’, as opposed to Ellen being essentially extrovert, ‘easily distracted, prone to further anyone’s interests but her own, and lacking the power of concentration.’  But Ellen admired rather than deprecated Irving’s egotism and accepted that all his faults sprang from this.  He always, she said, put the theatre first, ‘He lived in it, he died in it.  He had none of my bourgeois qualities – the love of being in love, the love of a home, the dislike of solitude.  I have always thought it hard to find my inferiors.  He was always sure of his high place.’

Ellen’s daughter, Edy, was later to counter-argue the idea of Ellen being more woman than artist, pointing out that her work was always the most important factor in her life; that most of her time at home was spent nursing her energy for rehearsals and performances; that her house was better managed by others than herself; and that significantly none of her domestic relationships lasted as long as her 20-year artistic relationship with Irving.

I recommend this book as an excellent starting point for anyone discovering Ellen for the first time.  It is clear, well researched, and very detailed.  Of course, I also recommend Ellen’s autobiography, The Story of My Life.  In this you really hear Ellen’s own voice, but you don’t get the whole picture or, indeed, the later years.  I also await with bated breath Sir Michael Holroyd’s book about Henry Irving and his two children and Ellen Terry and her two children due out later this year.   This will be definitive I’m sure. 

·         Tina Gray is an actress and President of the Ellen Terry Fellowship.  Among her notable roles is that of Ellen Terry in Our Ellen, a play written for her by Richard Osborne.

Review by Christine Huguet

Margaret D. Stetz and Cheryl A. Wilson, eds.: Michael Field and Their World. High Wycombe: The Rivendale Press, 2007. Hardbound, 256 pp, illustrated. ISBN 1 904201 08 3. £30.00 / $55.00


The book under consideration contains a selection of the papers given at the ‘Michael Field’ and Their World Conference, held at the University of Delaware on 27th-29th February 2004. This was the first symposium devoted to the lives and writings of the poets and playwrights Katharine Harris Bradley (1846-1914) and her niece Edith Emma Cooper (1862-1913), whose works became bound together as early as May 1884 under the masculine pseudonym, ‘Michael Field.’ From the start the conference convenors, Margaret D. Stetz and Mark Samuels Lasner, both of the University of Delaware, opted for a broadening of the scope of this three-day event, turning it into an Educational Weekend. Speakers were invited to explore not only the literary achievements but also the cultural milieu of this – now again – notorious fin de siècle couple. Thus, a number of talks focused upon some of the famous friends who formed their literary circle (such as Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, John Ruskin, Robert Browning, ‘Vernon Lee,’ George Meredith, Charles Ricketts, Bernhard Berenson and many others) and on the visual artists who influenced them, notably the Pre-Raphaelites. As a result of the organisers’ interest in addressing these women’s diverse body of work and multifaceted talents, programme highlights were a first-time performance of song settings by Michael Field, a visual presentation centering on their collaborative work, as well as two keynote lectures examining the aesthetic implications of their work. The final day of the weekend aptly included a tour of the Delaware Art Museum, home of the Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Collection, with its very fine holdings of Pre-Raphaelite art.

Obviously, for a number of practical reasons not all of this very attractive and ambitious programme could find its way into the conference proceedings. The net result of this is that one comes out of the reading of the book with, for instance, an understandable yearning for more visual evidence of Michael Field’s awareness of the poem-object than can be found in the three photographs featuring pp. 213, 214, 222 (of the handsome binding and title-page of Sight and Song, 1892; of the front-cover of Wild Honey from Various Thyme, 1908). Notwithstanding the scarcity of the illustrations and the inevitable limitations of the 256-page format, this seminal collection offers a fascinating survey, at once comprehensive and finely nuanced, of the couple’s aesthetic aspirations and production. This is mainly due to the theoretical variety among the twenty-three contributions and the wide array of topics broached. In order to pay homage to the sheer diversity and range of Michael Field’s body of work, also to their passionate ‘desire to question and overthrow limiting labels of various sorts’ (8), the editors (above-mentioned conference organiser Margaret Stetz and Cheryl A. Wilson, from Indiana University of Pennsylvania) perceptively capitalize upon the interdisciplinary approaches adopted by several of the contributors. Although the collection is neatly divided into four sections, Stetz and Wilson urge readers to regard their distribution of the essays as a largely pragmatic and purely advisory strategy. And indeed, one of the major assets of this book is its protean character, its combined synthesizing structure and complex overlappings, even though an index pinpointing some of the more obvious cross-references would have been a welcome addition.

The four broad sections into which the articles have been shepherded are the following: Biography; Contexts: Literary and Cultural Worlds; Thematics: Sexuality and Religion; Translations: Textuality and Genre. One should note that despite a conspicuous recent revival of interest in biographical details of Bradley and Cooper, five contributions out of twenty-three still engage with the remarkable life history of these gifted women. The pleasant surprise is that their authors do break new ground on the intricate question of the biographer’s special task when a couple’s life – and lives – is/are concerned. In their own individual way, Rachel Morley, Katharine (JJ) Pionke, Holly Laird, Sharon Bickle and Joseph Bristow all overtly swerve away from a routine handling of biographical matters. The last-named of these contributors more avowedly situates himself on the ground of publishing history in his well-documented examination of the complex case of Underneath the Bough, 1893. Morley’s brief essay develops into a sober yet cosily intimate meditation in poetic prose on how the dead past may be recaptured and reconstructed, while Pionke and Laird look at the female couple’s history from the linguistic angle, viz. the vexed issue of self-naming and gender identity building. As the editors of this volume humorously point out in their introduction, a basic, albeit out-of-the-way, issue awaits academic readers of the two literary collaborators so far conveniently referred to by the present reviewer, after the conference organisers and editors themselves, as ‘Michael Field.’ One of the inferences to be drawn from the reading of the opening section of ‘Michael Field’ and Their World is that the biographical perspective will certainly never be all plain sailing. The situation just cannot be straightforwardly formulated in this way: Katharine was ‘Michael,’ Edith was ‘Field’ (or ‘Heinrich’ or ‘Henry’) and the lesbian couple functioned smoothly and single-mindedly under the wise penname of ‘Michael Field.’ If the equation worked, where would ‘Field,’ ‘the Field,’ ‘the Fields,’ or again ‘the Michael Field[s]’ come in, as the present contributors choose to name the inseparable couple? Also, what kind of borderline runs between Bradley & Cooper (the aunt and the niece, the distinct individuals readily romanticized as the defiant ‘poets and lovers evermore’ par excellence), ‘Arran and Isla Leigh’ (the 1881 fledgling coauthors of drama and verse), the pseudonymous male persona ‘Michael Field,’ twosome and singular, which came into being on the title-page of two separate plays in May 1884, and the anonymous ‘author of Borgia’ (1905)? Sharon Bickle figures out a convincing ‘rethinking’ of the bewildering puzzle: in an attempt to pinpoint the impact of the late Victorian community in the development of the rebellious artistic unit, she revisits the neglected letters from the 1880s that are held by the Bodleian Library and evaluates the key role of Emma Cooper, Edith’s Victorian mama.

The second part of this book contextualizes Michael Field’s collaborative authorship in an attractive and informative manner. A string of great names becomes associated with these ‘two dear Greek women,’ as Robert Browning once called them: ‘Shakspere,’ for a start, through rather than against whom, Rhian E. Williams lucidly demonstrates, the lesbian union of Underneath the Bough ‘speaks’ (73). Unsurprisingly, given the spirit of the age and the philosophical bias of many a Bradley poem, another important name cropping up in this book is that of Spinoza. The philosopher’s discourse of multiplicity and ‘fine grasp of unity,’ as Katharine Bradley saw it, is analyzed by María DeGuzmán as enabling these women’s joint work to acquire ‘a virtuous and a divine status’ (77). Directly reverberating DeGuzmán’s examination of the dual authors’ mystical sacralization of their working relationship, Ed Madden explores the Victorians’, notably Matthew Arnold’s, Tiresian mythology, with a view to foregrounding the Fieldian rehearsing of the classical celebration of sexual experience. Revised and expanded in the direction of the ‘Sapphic’ literary tradition, the Arnoldian legacy, Madden contends, provided the Fields with an elaborate analogy for poetic power at a time when Katharine Bradley, a great Classicist herself, was mourning the death of the poet (April 1888). In the first essay in this collection addressing the perplexing question of the women’s conversion to Roman Catholicism when, possibly, their essential Paganism was finding its best expression, the convergences established by Kit Andrews between Long Ago (1889) and Marius the Epicurean further recall the relevance of intertextual readings in the complex case of this outstanding duo.

Pouring over these contextualizing articles, readers of the Fields’ corpus will probably agree that a basic requirement in poetic studies has here been met: one of the strong points of Section Two consists in the in-depth rhetorical analyses of highly stylised lyrics such as ‘Sapphic Tiresias’ (by Madden) and ‘It was deep April’ (by Williams). Beyond the interplay of the pagan and the Christian, for instance, what these explorations also alert the reader to is the web of complex interfaces and the resulting tensions characterizing much of the couple’s lyrical work.

Prefiguring some of the contributions grouped together in Section Three, the last three essays in this section look across the turn-of-the-century aesthetic and decadent scene to address the feminist debate. Valerie Fehlbaum’s re-examination of a contemporary literary pair, the Hepworth Dixon sisters (Ella and her elder sister Marion) makes vivid reading but will be found too exclusive to serve the ‘‘Michael Field’ AND Their World’ problematic which is the official object of the present book. A more thorough juxtaposition of the two eccentric pairs of women writers would have more made sense, one feels. Linda K. Hughes’s article on Michael Field and the transatlantic salon of Louise Chandler Moulton, the American poet and critic, will be found more to the point if one is concerned with issues of reception and artistic cross-influences. Hughes provides insightful clues to why Moulton could at once annoy the Fields, provoke their resistance, and provide the requisite entrées (definitely not entrèes, [120], the present French reviewer unfairly insists) that would enhance their careers. In the final article devoted to literary and cultural influences and heritage, Richard Dellamora discusses the representation of sexual dissidence in Long Ago (1889), seen as ‘the most complex and capacious celebration of Sapphic desire in late-Victorian culture’ (128). According to him, this would account for its recuperation in the 1915 and subsequent Sapphic lyrics of Radclyffe Hall, an apt indication in itself of the enduring force of decadent aesthetics in England in the late 1920s.

Also containing seven articles, ‘Thematics: Sexuality and Religion’ makes up the third, fittingly generous section of the volume. The first four essays explicitly address the question of gendered identity and art. Elizabeth Primamore offers an analysis of Michael Field as dandy-aesthete-poet, as the product of the conflating discourses of aestheticism and of the gay male dandy (137). Probably because the focus is on the Fields’ understanding of dandiacal self-construction, this otherwise perceptive essay fails to read their inward turning, their rhetoric of uniqueness as also, to a large extent, a belated romantic yearning for what Primamore somewhat ponderously names ‘the status for non-reproduceability’ (144). Brooke Cameron explores the apprehension of otherness and the elaborate links between the observer and the observed in Sight and Song. Hers is an insightful essay, although one is left wondering if a narratological approach might not have provided additional tools of great help in the pages devoted to the gendered economy of the gaze. With Frederick S. Roden, an interesting link between the topics of queer sexuality and religious trajectory becomes established. In order to reconsider the issue of the women’s catholicism, Roden follows Bradley and Cooper into the twentieth century and relates them to the Catholic homosexuals Father John Gray and André Raffalovich whom the two women had befriended. He points out that lesbianism and Catholicism were not seen as mutually exclusive in twentieth-century literature and demonstrates that the Fields should be understood as precursors to lesbian writers such as Radclyffe Hall (also discussed by Dellamora) and Vita Sackville-West. The following article is by Dinah Ward and it examines the Saint Sebastian figure as a distinctly erotic motif in three poems from Sight and Song evoking contrasting Renaissance representations of the Christian martyr. The transdisciplinary approach which these poems invite is enlarged by a series of relevant comments on the references to Richard Wagner in the Fields’ journals. Chris Snodgrass and Camille Cauti continue the exploration of the artistic duo’s paradoxical religious sensibilities, the former by showing, like Roden but with special reference to the dramatical production, how neoclassical paganism and the Church of Rome can both be understood in the light of a Dyonisiac logic. Snodgrass is good on the theme of sacrifice and its widely different orientations in Classical tragedy and Catholicism, and shows convincingly how the Fields found a novel way of reconciling the two. With her essay on Michael Field’s pagan Catholicism, Cauti is also obviously concerned with artistic consistency but places herself more conspicuously on the psychological rather than the literary terrain when she examines their representation of Christ as a feminized, erotic object. Last but not least in the third section of the book, Diana Maltz’s crisp study proposes a challenging reorientation of perspectives: the thematic highlighted is neither the Fields’ post-conversion poetical trances nor their contribution to the New Woman debate. Instead, this essay looks at Bradley’s links with ‘the religion of socialism’ (195): ‘another form of Victorian “religion’’’, Stetz and Wilson agree (10). Also, a further novelty is that, unlike her fellow contributors, Maltz chooses to single out Katharine Bradley for a class-oriented inspection. She studies her against the backdrop of the community of socialist activists and female charity workers under Ruskin’s influence (that everything should have destined Bradley to associate with). Maltz concludes on an insightful observation about Bradley’s very individual brand of socialism when she traces her political principles in her dramatic characters’ struggle to preserve the sacredness of the social self. This was indeed one of the tenets of the FNL, the Fellowship of the New Life, which she had joined in 1889.

The four essays brought together in the concluding part of the book, ‘Translations: Textuality and Genre,’ address the question of Michael Field’s remarkable capacity for artistic and generic border crossings. Julie Wise starts from the prefatory declaration of intention (‘to translate into verse what the lines and colours of certain pictures sing in themselves,’ Sight and Song) to identify Field’s innovative theories of the visual by comparison with those of men like D. G. Rossetti or Matthew Arnold. Nicholas Frankel’s essay on ‘the concrete poetics’ of Michael Field is the one that comes with the three photographs mentioned above. Admittedly, no research on these exquisitely refined women could possibly disregard the materiality of their poetic gesture. Both Nicholas Frankel and Marion Thain, the next contributor to the ‘Translations’ section, underline the tensions between the aesthetic and the economic at the turn of the century by recalling the fussy care the artistic couple devoted to the sheer beauty of their books (the choice of publication format, design and binding) in the aggressive context of commodity culture and mass-market literary production. Providing a fit conclusion to the section and the whole volume, Ana Parejo Vadillo finds a distinct anti-materialistic strain in their neglected, largely outmoded historical dramas – more than thirty of them. She looks at their loud protest against reified art, at their defiant transgression of the limits imposed by capitalism: a further illustration, if need be, of their devotedness to art.

What a long way this volume of essays takes us from Robert Plunket’s wistful comment on the occasion of the publication of Irish writer Emma Donoghue’s We Are Michael Field: ‘The name Michael Field is virtually forgotten now, but in late-Victorian England it was an intellectual force to be reckoned with’ (The Advocate, March 2, 1999). If, as Frederick Roden reminds us too, ‘the invisibility of the Field’s corpus and vita during the middle two-thirds of the twentieth century’ (156) is a fact, thanks to this handsome and carefully-edited collection of essays, the answer to the question should they have stayed buried now makes no doubt. This is not the place to grapple with the issue of the canon-forming process but, admittedly, the Fields’ artistic achievements offer a refreshing perspective both on fin de siècle women’s poetry and on queer writing. And Michael Field and Their World is the kind of book that will distinctly add to their appeal. More importantly, like a number of recent scholarly studies choosing the two lesbian poets and playwrights for fullscale discussion, Stetz and Wilson’s volume challenges us to (re)read their œuvre for its intrinsic literary value – for there is always the uncomfortable suspicion that twenty-first-century academic canonisation of female-authored texts may have something, if not much, to do with the degree of their anti-Establishment transgression of gendered norm. Such is obviously not the case with Michael Field scholarship. And if we keep in mind the numerous book projects mentioned in the endnotes of this volume as well as Sharon Bickle’s recent call for submissions for the inaugural edition of The Michaelian (no, not The Fieldian, curiously enough: an academic online journal that will be dedicated to the study of Michael Field and their circle), we may confidently trust that the academic world will long continue busy on their work.

·         Christine Huguet is a Senior Lecturer at the University Charles-de-Gaulle Lille 3 (France). She has published extensively on Victorian fiction and poetry, on the picaresque heritage and the Don Quixote tradition in British literature. She is the editor of a collection of short stories by, and essays on, George Gissing: Spellbound, George Gissing (Equilibris, March 2008). She is currently co-editing George Moore: Across Borders. She is also starting work on the editing of Writing Otherness: The Pathways of George Gissing's Imagination, the proceedings of the Third International George Gissing Conference which she convened in Lille, March 2008.

Review by Mireille Naturel

Evelyne Bloch-Dano: Madame Proust, A biography. Translated by Alice Kaplan. Paris: Grasset 2004; Chicago: The University of Chicago Pres 2007.


Evelyne Bloch-Dano has given to her biography a title that evokes that of Flaubert’s novel, Madame Bovary.  Each of the two heroines is the wife of a doctor, but whereas one suffers under the mediocrity of her husband, the other could take great pride in having married one of the glories of the Third Republic.  The first description given of Jeanne Weil resembles that of Emma when Charles Bovary sees her for the first time.  The same circumstance: she is seated close to the window; the same technique of establishing the point of view: she is described by her hairstyle and her white summer dress and her dark eyes; the same detail – she chews her lip.  That is to say that this biography has literary qualities, through its intertextual references, and in the way that it is written.  The author adds something of the picturesque in adorning her text with various Yiddish words which give local colour.  The marriage is the starting point of the book, constituting a social investment, but above all giving the specific character formed by the uniting of a young Jewish girl and a man of Catholic background, in 1870.  From the opening pages the three themes that one finds again and again throughout the book are brought together: family, politics, money.  There unfolds for our interest the daily life of a Jewish family in the second half of the nineteenth century, its genealogy (the family Baruch-Weil, porcelain manufacturers from Alsace), the central role played by Nathé Weil, the strategic place held by their great-uncle Adolphe Crémieux, Minister for Justice, who had defended the status of Jews.  Nor is geography absent from this biography, with a focussing on 40 bis Faubourg Poissonnière. 

Madame Proust reads like a novel.  Always following a Flaubertian technique, the author takes us into the consciousness of the characters; we hear their interior monologue.  Evelyne Bloch-Dano knows how to make the reading pleasant through her mixture of portraits (that of Jeanne Proust painted by Anaïs Beauvais, which one can see in the museum at Illiers-Combray, figures on the dust-jacket), of tales, of scenes, of letters quoted in their entirety.  A collection of black and white photographs, rich and varied, illustrates the family saga.  The ‘carnet de Jeanne’ allows the discovery of the social environment of the family.  It is also the charm of this biography that it gives us a sociological picture of its epoch, from the practice of ‘thermalism’ to the fashionable Paris shops. The Dreyfus Affair brings us, the final chapters, to the Jewish question, though the long quotation from the speech that the parish priest gave on Good Friday accusing the Jews in this respect, seemed to be to be excessive.  The author is decidedly strict on the subject of Combray, designated as ‘such a tiny world’ and the grandmother from Illiers described in less than fetching terms. It is true that the filial links are important in the book, as they were in life.  Differing from Madame Bovary, Jeanne Proust had a very strong maternal character, and one watches her come to live more and more through her children.  An exemplary daughter, a model wife to a husband who, typically of his day, combined glory with frivolousness, a devoted mother, Jeanne Proust is the incarnation of a remarkable integrity, all through remaining faithful to her origins.

Very often constructed from the outset of the work, biographical fiction carries with it an authenticity that one cannot derive from archives.  The author does not hide her borrowings for the book; indeed she affirms them explicitly when she titles one chapter ‘The evening kiss’.  Rightly, Esther, the heroine of Racine’s tragedy, is the point of reference which imposes itself throughout this book.  Madame Proust is what one may call a biography of empathy.  The work is complete with family trees (where one notably discovers that Karl Marx and Marcel Proust were cousins), and various appendices.

The translation by Alice Kaplan succeeds perfectly, reproducing the clarity, flow and charm of Evelyne Bloch-Dano’s writing.  Her decision to leave two chapter headings in French – ‘Monsieur Proust et Madame Weil’ and ‘La vie à deux’ – gives a ‘frenchy’ touch, amusing yet at the same time speaking to the essence.


·         Mireille Naturel is Secretary-General of the Société des Amis de Marcel Proust.  The original French text appears in Rue des Beaux Arts no 15 (July/August 2008); this translation by D.C. Rose.

·         For more on Evelyne Bloch-Dano, see

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[1]             Paris je t’aime, dir. Olivier Assayas et al., Victoires International, 2006.

[2]             Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987).

[3]             Horst Schroeder, Additions and Corrections to Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde (Braunschweig: H. Schroeder, 1989). Schroeder is thanked in Krämer’s acknowledgements for his expertise on films about Wilde.

[4]             Krämer refers to traditional biographies variously as ‘wissenschaftlich’ (‘scientific’), ‘akademisch’ (‘academic’), or ‘sachlich’ (‘factual’).

[5]             The nod to the linguistic turn notwithstanding, Schabert’s heuristic distinction works well for Krämer throughout the study.

[6]             She also subjects her own writing to this kind of metacritical analysis, when she considers why she decided to include or exclude certain texts, for instance (75), or when she describes her attempts to approach each new fictional biography with fresh eyes (92).

[7]             For a discussion of this trend in Wilde scholarship, see Dennis Denisoff, ‘Wilde, Commodity, Culture,’ in Palgrave Advances in Oscar Wilde Studies, ed. Frederick S. Roden (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 119-42.

[8]             Regenia Gagnier, Idylls of the Marketplace: Oscar Wilde and the Victorian Public (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1986); Josephine M. Guy and Ian Small, Oscar Wilde’s Profession: Writing and the Culture Industry in the Late Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Margaret D. Stetz and Mark Samuels Lasner, England in the 1890s: Literary Publishing at the Bodley Head (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990); Mary Blanchard, Oscar Wilde’s America: Counterculture in the Gilded Age (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998); Nicholas Frankel, Oscar Wilde’s Decorated Books (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press; 2000); Jonathan Freedman, Professions of Taste: Henry James, British Aestheticism, and Commodity Culture (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990).

[9]             A translation of ‘The Canterville Ghost’ appeared in German in 1897, the year Wilde was released from prison. This edition, with illustrations by Fritz Erler, was limited to only sixty copies and is the very first Wilde work that appeared in book form in German. Oscar Wilde, Der Geist von Canterville, trans. A. M. von B[öhn] (Munich: Brügel, 1897).

[10]           The recent re-emergence of a European dialog about Wilde, hinted at in the appearance in English of Norbert Kohl’s Oscar Wilde: The Works of a Conformist Rebel, is apparent in such interventions as Uwe Böker, Richard Corballis, and Julie Hibbard’s edited volume The Importance of Reinventing Oscar: Versions of Wilde During the Last 100 Years (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002).

[11]           Carl Sternheim, Oskar Wilde: Sein Drama (Potsdam: Kiepenheuer, 1925).

[12]           Angela Kingston, Oscar Wilde as a Character in Victorian Fiction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

[13]           John Stokes, Oscar Wilde: Myths, Miracles, and Imitations (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Robert Tanitch, Oscar Wilde on Stage and Screen (London: Methuen, 1999).



[14]    Declan Kiberd . Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995) 38.

[15]   See, for example, U.C. Knoepflmacher, Ventures into Childhood: Victorians, Fairy Tales, and Femininity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); ‘Female Power and Male Self-Assertion: Kipling and the Maternal’, in Children's Literature 20 (1992): 15-35; and ‘The Balancing of Child and Adult: An Approach to Victorian Fantasies for Children’, in Nineteenth Century Fiction. 37 (4): 497-530’. By Mitzi Myers, see, ‘Child’s Play as Woman’s Peace Work’, in Girls Boys Books Toys: Gender in Children’s Literature and Culture, ed. Beverly Lyon Clark and Margaret R. Higonnet (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1999); ‘Daddy’s Girl as Motherless Child: Maria Edgeworth and Maternal Romance; An Essay in Reassessment’, in Living by the Pen: Early British Women Writers, ed. Dale Spender (New York: Teacher’s College Press, 1992); and ‘Goring John Bull: Maria Edgeworth's Hibernian High Jinks versus the Imperialist Imaginary’, in Cutting Edges: Postmodern Critical Essays on Eighteenth-Century Satire, ed. James E. Gill. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995).

[16] ‘Goring John Bull’, p. 368.

[17] Margot Gayle Backus, The Gothic Family Romance: Heterosexuality, Child Sacrifice, and the Anglo-Irish Colonial Order (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999) 76 and passim.