A Portfolio of Theatre and Book Reviews


No 49 : MARCH / APRIL 2009


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

All authors whose books are reviewed here are invited to respond.  This page is edited by D.C. Rose and Anna Vaninskaya.

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


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Saralinda Abitbol on Corin Redgrave’s De Profundis

Andrew Eastham on Philip E. Smith’s Approaches to Teaching Wilde

Tine Englebert on Salomé in Geneva

Tiffany Perala on Earnest in Oregon


Bruce Bashford on Michael Robertson on Walt Whitman

Regenia Gagnier on Sheila Rowbotham on Edward Carpenter

Melissa Knox on Esther Rashkin on Unspeakable Secrets

John S. Partington on Deborah Mutch on English Socialist Periodicals, 1880-1900

Annabel Rutherford on Catherine Maxwell on the Victorian Visionary Imagination




Review by Tine Englebert

 Oscar Wilde / Hedwig Lachmann / Richard Strauss: Salomé. Grand Théâtre de Genève, Friday 13th February 2009

A Gothic Girl

Salomé has disappeared from the Geneva stage since 1983. In the 1983 production by Maurice Béjart the splendid Julia Migenes-Johnson embodied the ideal combination for this role: a world-class opera singer and a graceful dancer. Her performance became history. Already in the season 1966-1967 another striking singer, Anja Silja, had been a revelation in the production of Wieland Wagner at the Grand Théâtre.  A heavy heritage for the German soprano Nicola Beller Carbone, who appeared for the first time in the Grand Théâtre de Genève. Since 2003 she has performed the role several times in productions by Michael Schulz, Robert Carsen and others. During the years Nicola Beller Carbone grew in the part; she showed in Geneva an impressive Salome.

Richard Strauss turned the biblical story into an opera which caused a scandal when it was first performed in 1905. German director Nicolas Brieger revisited the opera by the Bavarian composer at the Grand Théâtre in Geneva. Bieger presented a production that seemed intensely and profoundly interpretive, almost all interpretation. Bieger did not choose for beauty ,rather for offending and showing all the evil in the human nature. Bieger: ‘The opera tackles a very sensitive subject. It evokes something we have never accepted in our culture’s history. It is about incest.’ Especially in the performance of the 10-minute ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ the director goes his own way. In an enormous sac of beige tricot Salome wiggles without grace, soon accompanied by Herod. Result is a lascivious ballet, a rather ridiculous image. At the end Salome and Herod leave their cocoon, Salome in petticoat wearing the waistcoat of her stepfather, Herod himself stripped to the waist.

Bieger’s production, with sets by Raimund Bauer and lighting by Alexander Koppelmann, uses a contemporary setting. In the background is a slaughterhouse, in the foreground a dirty terrace. On the first floor in the background is the palace of Herod. Brieger describes the decadence of Salome’s environment by scenes of abuse and violence:  not only are the guests of Herod throwing rubbish and glasses from the balcony to the central terrace, they are also raping naked girls.

Andrea Schmidt-Futterer, who designed the costumes, dressed most of the characters in modern European style clothing, save Jokanaan. Herod’s soldiers are real contemporary soldiers, the Jews have the orthodox corkscrew curl dangling before each ear, Herodias is in evening dress, Herod in a dark suit. Salome is dressed as a gothic girl and seems like a groupie of some obscure gothic band. From the dance of the seven veils she is in petticoat.

Nicola Beller Carbone’s Salome is a young woman fascinated by the effect she has on people. The leering men of Herod’s court – inclusive Herod himself – are constantly ogling her. Salome herself is exasperated by Jokanaan. We first hear him from the underground cistern, and see him later when he appears and is taunted by Salome. In the final scene, some 15 minutes of musically voluptuous necrophilia, when Salome kisses Jokanaan’s severed head, Nicola Beller Carbone sounded and acted possessed. It was a vocally blazing and dramatically shattering portrayal of the title role of Strauss’s opera. The fascinating personality of Nicola Beller Carbone makes us forget the other fine performances, as bass-baritone Alan Held in a strong debut at the Grand Théâtre, the bright-voiced tenor Kim Begley in a dynamic portrayal and Hedwig Fassbender as Herodiade.

Gabriele Ferro conducted the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Sad to say this was not their best performance. Was it the confused conducting style of Ferro which caused the orchestral weakness at the opening night?

All in all an interesting production, with a splendid Nicola Beller Carbone. She really deserves a place among the most memorable who have tackled the role in the last half-century.

Grand Théâtre de Genève 13th – 28th February 2009

·         Tine Englebert is Music Editor of THE OSCHOLARS.

Review by Andrew Eastham

Approaches to the Teaching of Oscar Wilde, ed. Philip E. Smith II (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2008).

Philip E. Smith provided some of the most important intellectual resources in Wilde scholarship with his edition of the Oxford Notebooks. In this new volume he has provided a very different form of academic resource, focusing on the variety of ways that pedagogic practice has disseminated Wilde’s work. The majority of the essays are written by academics working in the American system, and the approaches are often different to the British text per week model, but the intellectual and cultural contexts mobilized here are generally international in scope. Smith divides the book into a series of sections which are largely decided by genre, with drama being dominant within a wide remit that includes the teaching of the trial, the critical essays and the short fiction. For the purposes of this review I shall separate the volume into wider treatments of methodology and course construction, treatments of drama, and then a general consideration of the fiction and criticism which is concerned in particular with the relative claims of contextual and theoretical pedagogy. Unsurprisingly, Wilde’s sexuality is a dominant contextual and theoretical concern, but the collection traduces multifarious critical regions, passing through Ireland, Nietzsche, and synaesthesia, Ibsen, Hollywood, and deconstruction.

Course Construction and Pedagogic Method

The first essay, Bruce Bashford’s ‘The Critic as Student: An Argumentative Approach’, promotes a student centered interpretative method which encourages students towards effective argumentation. What Bashford describes is a largely common sense approach to what most of us do intuitively week to week, but his treatment of class discussions gives a detailed sense of how arguments are constructed, of inference and dialectic in action. He also gives an example of how he constructed and revised very detailed essay questions according to student response. His persistent demands for evidence from his students are clearly rigorous, but they also suggest a legal analogue; this is as much the student on trial as the student as critic/artist. This is of course a fundamental aspect of the educational system, but when the subject is Wilde the trial analogue cannot help but provoke questions about power and discourse, institution and authority. This volume is not meta-critical or theoretical in this sense; the ideology and conditions of academic authority are not questioned, in spite of Wilde’s anarchism, but it does provide many useful ways of approaching Wilde’s work.

The majority of the essays treat individual works or a small selection, but some notable exceptions provide more ambitious course plans. One of the most inspiring essays in the collection is Philip E. Smith II’s account of his course on Wilde and the 1890’s, which positions Wilde’s work in terms of an impressively wide range of European artistic and intellectual contexts: as well as the familiar and necessary contexts for British Aestheticism (Ruskin, Pre-Raphaelitism, Arnold, Pater), Smith includes Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals, Ibsen’s Ghosts and Hedda Gabler, passages from Nordau’s Degeneration, and stories from Daughters of Decadence. The inclusion of Nietzsche is significant: Smith sets the final chapters of the Genealogy alongside Dorian Gray and the critical dialogues, in order to focus ideas about art as lying, the will to power, and the relationship between art and morality. This is the real sign of the intellectual ambition of this course, since it suggests a pedagogical practice which is not bound my historicist and contextual orthodoxy. This is not to say that Smith’s course is not clearly alive to the extensive contextual resources of Wilde scholarship; these are clearly, and necessarily, important for his teaching of the trial and De Profundis towards the end of his course. But the use of Nietzsche allows for a different form of comparative philosophical and aesthetic questioning. In my experience, which is largely limited to British higher education, this kind of pedagogic method is very common in the teaching in modernism, and ubiquitous in the study of contemporary literature, but seems to have become outlawed in Victorian Studies.

Equally inspiring is Alan Ackerman’s account of teaching The Importance of Being Earnest on a course on Western Drama. Although the account is ostensibly focused on a single text, the remit is actually much broader. Ackerman suggests that students interrogate the notion of form, making a useful transition between notions of dramatic form since Aristotle to the idea of social or ceremonial form stated in The Picture of Dorian Gray, where Dorian reiterates Henry’s thoughts about ‘the canons of good society’ in which ‘form is absolutely essential’. This is just the kind of insight that we would hope for from an essay on teaching, since it reminds of us an issue of which we should be well aware as scholars, but which provides a simple but effective template for a class discussion of the play. Ackerman’s subsequent discussion of Earnest maintains a compelling focus on the tensions between form and freedom – the pressure to live up to formal conventions, and the relationship between the formal contrivances of the well made play with the way that characters shape, or fail to shape, individual destiny. This involves diverse and illuminating intellectual contexts – Coleridge on organic form, Bergson’s ideas about automatism, ceremonial and the comic, Hegel and Plato’s contrary ideas of form and development– which are synthesized into a general contrast between mechanical and organic conceptions of form. This might seem to some like an excessively weighty and earnest theoretical architecture for the reading of Earnest, but Ackerman makes it exciting by demonstrating how relevant it is to the breadth of Wilde’s critical and dramatic texts.

Teaching Wilde’s Drama

It is notable in this volume that the more comparative and theoretical approaches tend to emerge from courses where ‘modernity’ or ‘modernism’ is the primary period remit. Francesca Coppa begins her essay on the teaching Wilde’s drama with the information that she will invariably teach Wilde on courses with ‘modern’ in the title, in this case Modern Drama, but notes the difficulties that Wilde’s historical position causes for teaching. In between Victorian and modern, Wilde demands that we are acquainted with a variety of C19 forms; melodrama, naturalism, the well-made play; whilst at the same time his epigrammatic and paradoxical play with morality and convention calls to modernist and post-modernist intellectual paradigms. In approaching Wilde’s Victorianism and modernity Coppa, like Smith, uses Ibsen as an important comparative focus, cleverly following William Archer’s comment on Salome as ‘an oriental Hedda Gabler’ to stage a comparison between the different modernities of the two plays, as well as Strindberg’s Miss Julie. She subsequently frames a different kind of theatrical modernism, based on political realism, in a comparison between An Ideal Husband, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Strindberg’s The Father, and Shaw’s Candida. This leads to a detailed account of her teaching of Lady Windermere’s Fan, which suggests that many of Wilde’s strategies are familiar to students through the cultural arena of post-modernity; ‘poaching’ or mimicry, parody and self-conscious melodrama, and ironic reference in which complicity and subversiveness are often indistinguishable.

This still leaves the question of what intellectual contexts we use to articulate Wilde as post-modernist avant la lettre. If that is to be a pedagogic method, it might be argued, then it deserves to be followed through in earnest.  Do we set students to read Butler on performativity, Bhabha on mimicry, Jameson on pastiche, with the risk that we merely reiterate somebody else’s course on post-modernist fiction and theory, or do we use the usual Victorian suspects? Some approaches to the drama in this volume are resolutely Victorianist; Kirsten Shepherd-Barr’s teaching of A Woman of No Importance is closely focused on C19 theatre history and the conventions of melodrama, although once again, Ibsen’s modernity is a key comparative context. Sos Eltis’s essay again promotes the comparison with Ibsen and Shaw, but within the context of a very broad survey of C19 drama, including Pinero, Jones and Granville Barker. The emphasis is still on the traditional period-based contextual course, and although Eltis’s essay does mention legacies such as Joe Orton, the general impression of this book is a rather uniform tendency in the teaching of late C19 drama. A contrasting approach is Robert Preissle, who focuses on ‘transgeneric’ and ‘transhistorical’ reception issues. Filmic adaptation is central to his genre approach, but the inevitable translation this effects leads in to his questions about the historical dimensions of teaching Wilde: to what extent can we transpose the text from the Victorian to the contemporary, and conversely, to what extent can we transpose a contemporary cultural or theoretical paradigm on to Wilde’s texts?

The contextual method also tends to dominate in the series of essays on Salome, which receives extensive and welcome attention. Ezsther Szalczer describes a theatre history seminar she taught which focused on the symbolist theatre of the 1890’s. This allowed for an extraordinary 6 weeks on Salome alone, examining biblical and literary sources, theatre history, Beardsley’s illustrations, dance and operatic incarnations. Group projects are assigned which look at the work ‘not as an isolated piece but as an integral work of a cultural and historical process’; one group, for example, works on filmic versions of the play in relation to the development of the early twentieth century Entertainment industry. In general, the essays on Salome suggest how a profusion of classroom possibilities can emerge from one text through interdisciplinary work which properly uses cultural and academic resources. Joan Navarre begins with group discussion of relevant Bible passages, then examines dramatic structure in detail with a continual focus on gaze relations, using Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. Petra Dierkes-Thrun is lucky enough to have significant filmic resources for her class, using amongst others the Bryant/Nazimova camp masterpiece and the inspired foolishness of Ken Russell’s Salomé’s Last Dance. Her approach is properly multi-media, offering students a taste of Maeterlinck’s drama, Mallarmé’s poetry, Huysmans ekphrasis of Moreau, and a variety of Symbolist painters. This is surely the best approach to the formal avant-gardism of Salome, and Dierkes-Thrun’s teaching is primarily orientated by the Symbolist poetics of synaesthesia. Beth Tashery Shannon gives a more detailed comparative treatment of Symbolist sources, also making Moreau, Huysmans and Mallarme central. This approach is so dominant in this section of the book that there is some repetition across the essays, and in this sense we might have hoped for a greater diversity from the volume. A more theoretically focused argument is provided by Samuel Lyndon Gladden, whose classes are orientated towards a specific and interesting argument about the erotic and pornographic regimes of the play. Gladden brings together the religious and erotic spheres through the concept of incarnation, and distinguishes both these dimensions from the raw materiality of the pornographic. It’s not entirely clear how he illustrates this distinction to students with the considerable visual and filmic material at his command, but the approach is clearly ambitious. What is striking about many of these accounts from a UK perspective is just how much classroom time they have to give to a work which rarely receives a full seminar worth of discussion in British English departments.

Theory and Fiction /  Translation and Context

The essays on the theory and fiction are perhaps more diverse in methodology than those on drama. Joe Law’s brief but useful essay on teaching Intentions focuses on ideas of personal development, individualism and the tendency towards self-multiplication in decadent self-fashioning. Students are given sections from Plato’s Republic on education and mimesis – clearly sources for Vivian’s manifesto’s in ‘The Decay of Lying’ – and passages from Arnold and Pater relevant to ‘The Critic as Artist’. The main motivation here is to present Wilde’s critical work as the culmination of a course on Victorian on non-fictional prose, but the discussion of the critical dialogues in relation to Dorian make it apparent that, perhaps against Law’s intentions, Wilde’s critical masks, ‘Gilbert’ and ‘Vivian’, might be more profitably studied in a trans-generic course on the mask in fiction, drama and criticism.   

David Rose’s approach to the shorter fiction is informed by a broad combination of material and cultural contexts, following an inter-textual web from the tales to fin-de-siècle gothic works, then to criminal London. Rose is essentially provoking his students to become detectives: he enacts a move from historical to geographic context, encouraging students to use cartographical archives and follow a series of elliptical name and address references in a Holmes like manner. This leads in to a consideration of the wider tradition of London writing. This spatial focus is equally suggested by the title of Shelton Waldrep’s essay, ‘Gray Zones’, which is primarily concerned with the Gothic contexts for Dorian Gray. In the context of a course on the Gothic in C19 Fiction Waldrep bases his classes on the shift from the fear of ‘reverse colonization’ to the discourse of degeneration, and moves from the cultural anxieties mobilized by the gothic mode to a consideration of sexuality. Waldrep problematizes definitive identifications of Dorian as a gay text, and the move from the gothic to sexuality works well; if students are thinking about the gothic uncanny and concealment they will better be able to articulate whether Dorian is a text about the closet, and they will also be alert to the ways that its shifts between realism and romance inflect the representation of desire.

Nikolai Endres, in contrast, teaches Dorian as a definitively ‘gay’ text (his quotation marks) by asking his student’s the simple question: ‘If you wanted to convey homoerotic activity but were prevented from speaking it out, how would you do it?’. He subsequently asks students to put Dorian’s sexuality to the test, according to Victorian images of effeminacy and homosexuality, and his seminar proceeds by teasing out the queer undercurrents of a series of material and cultural contexts, including dandyism, Roman Catholicism, flowers, and, charmingly, bumble bees.

Jonathan Alexander’s intention is to teach students to queer the text through film, illuminating methods of suppression and closeting by reference to the more spectacular medium. He outlines the different sexual politics of three filmic adaptations, from 1945, 1970 and 1983, using the most recent movie, The Sins of Dorian Gray, as an example of narrative transvestism, since Dorian is now a female actress and her jilted lover, Stuart Vane, a young male musician. This account is in some ways representative of the interpretative decisions involved in teaching Dorian, precisely because Alexander’s pedagogic intentions are not necessarily borne out; although he reads The Sins as a queering of Dorian, the effect of his account of the various films is to highlight the text’s extraordinary translatability across sexual and gender identification - its exemplary capacity to be grafted and recontextualised.

These questions of historical translatability are crucial to the teaching of sexuality and identity in Wilde’s work. Heath A Diehl’s brings them into focus in his essay on teaching De Profundis and Moisés Kauffman’s Wilde trial play, Gross Indecency, and Frederick Roden uses the same texts to teach the complex relationship between religion and sexuality, with the humanist aim of promoting tolerance.  Diehl prescribes an ‘earnest’ mode of reading which is attentive to the historical specificity of gay experience in the late nineteenth century and afterwards, but also comparative in a trans-historical treatment of coming-out narratives. Wilde is taught in a four-week section of a course on ‘Growing Up Gay/Lesbian’, which is Diehl’s adaptation of a more general course on ‘Growing Up’, which previously focused on the bildungsroman. The process of adaptation and translation itself is in many ways representative of Aesthetic and Decadent self-fashioning, but these accounts of sexuality in Wilde’s work intrinsically raise questions about the translatability of experience – between historical frameworks and different sexualities. Historicists frequently give the impression that the context of production is the only valid focus for reception, so that reading mirrors that kind of archeological practice that Wilde himself prescribed, following Godwin, in his piece on Shakespearean production, ‘Shakespeare and Stage Costume’. It is well for us to remember that Wilde moved away from this method radically, particularly in ‘The Portrait of Mr W.H.’, where he recontextualised Shakespeare’s Platonist love narratives in an extraordinary feat of trans-historical imaginative scholarship.

The one essay on the teaching of ‘Mr W.H.’ in this volume uses the complex textual conditions of the work as an opportunity to introduce students to post-structuralist theories of textuality. Jarlath Killeen uses Barthes on authorship and Derrida on logocentrism to illuminate the problems of reading that are integral to Wilde’s forged narrative of Shakespearean interpretation, and he proceeds to contextualise these hermeneutic questions in Victorian biblical scholarship, following his own research on Aestheticism and Catholicism. This is a rigorous and impressive method, and unusual in its combination of the contemporary orthodoxy of contextual scholarship with the deconstructive approach that historicism has largely replaced and repressed in the study of Victorian literature. One can imagine how Killeen’s student’s are challenged by these reading experiments, but one thing that is lost from this highly specific approach is the theatricality which Wilde promotes as intrinsic to the narrative of Mr W.H., but also to the history of Western culture. In this sense the more relevant Derrida text would be Dissemination, which is concerned precisely with the Platonic rejection of mimesis and the ways that this is overturned by fin de siècle theatricality – the model of this theoretical subversion being a morally perverse mime text by Mallarmé.

It is interesting to compare Killeen’s deconstructive approach with that of Joseph Bristow, one of the godfathers of contextualism. In his essay on The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Bristow builds up an extremely detailed set of contextual resources; after a harrowing account of Wilde’s incarceration he looks at comparable works by Henley and Kipling in order to frame the question of The Ballad’s conditions – is it propaganda or poetry? What are the consequences of the combination of realism and romance that so discomforted Wilde himself? Bristow frames these questions with such detail that it’s not easy to see how the information would inform seminar practice, but this is closer to the format of an original research essay than a pedagogic survey.

Clearly some texts and cultural phenomenon suit a context-of-production method more than others. If literary texts are always translatable, offering us infinite possibilities to graft them onto alternate contexts, then Wilde’s great achievement as a performance artist – his own life – is historically specific. Melissa Knox uses a biographical template to teach Wilde, in this case to German students who are less familiar with British and Irish cultural contexts, and Neil Sammells teaches the complexity of Wilde’s relation to Ireland. Both of these essays suggest an awareness of Wilde’s performativity within specific historical conditions. Sammells asserts that ‘Irishness was for Wilde a form of discursive play and performance’, and the tension between performative play and organic identification in this account might be loosely connected between the tension in Knox’s teaching between a confessional Wilde, whose ‘very name is compiled of heroes of ancient Ireland’, and the Wilde of stylized Neronian reconstruction and elliptical surfaces. One would hope that these contexts inform a wider discussion of the ways that Wildean texts mobilize and complicate depth-models of personality and Victorian ideas of self-culture. In this light, S.I.Salamensky’s short essay on the libel trial is useful for the numerous questions it focuses around the trial, many of which are generally applicable to much of Wilde’s work – the nature and use of the epigram, the location of sexual identity, the nature of the pose and the relationship between seeming and being.

These familiar formal and theoretical questions were all integral to late Victorian literary and aesthetic discourse. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this collection is that, in spite of all the varying contextual and thematic resources it documents, it actually pays relatively little attention to Aestheticism as a specific late-Victorian discourse about the fate of art in society. Whether we see Aestheticism as a genuine cultural movement or as a hybrid set of discourses given retrospective coherence, there is no doubt that the young Wilde saw it as the former. Joe Law’s essay on Intentions and Philip Smith’s course survey are amongst the few pieces to pay much attention to the discursive presence of Pater and Ruskin in his work. The one essay to promote Wilde as apostle of Aestheticism is Nicholas Ruddick’s account of teaching the fairy tales, which uses ‘The Happy Prince’ to articulate Wilde’s ideal of beauty and critique of utilitarianism. He briefly suggests ways in which the tales would lead into a consideration of belated Romanticism, the Christ figure of ‘De Profundis’, and that marginal but representative figure of Aestheticism, the Young Syrian in Salome.

That it should fall on one short piece to articulate the claims of Wildean Aestheticism is demonstrative of the extraordinary proliferation of pedagogic approaches to Wilde in the contemporary academy. A symptom of this range is that an impressive and useful collection such as this should be lacking in what may would regard as fundamental to the teaching of Wilde. This is surprising when its editor has done more than anyone to promote the intellectual coherence of Victorian Oxford in the 1870’s. Wilde considered The Renaissance his ‘golden book’ and it has always been fundamental to my approach to teaching Wilde, but conversely, I should accept any challenge to this habit; the teaching of Aestheticism should be deliberately diverse, ‘never acquiescing in a facile orthodoxy’ of the more obvious contexts. In this light, it might have been an interesting subject for this collection to examine the relations between student learning and the construction of pedagogic authority in the light of Wilde’s articulation of anarchism in ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’. But there is room for this in other forums. Smith’s volume is an ideal beginning for us to reflect and expand on our own teaching practice.

Review by Saralinda Abitbol

Redgrave performs Wilde’s De Profundis at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris

Corin Redgrave, the prominent English actor and activist graced the stage at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris in February.  Redgrave performed Oscar Wilde’s love letter ‘De Profundis’ to a packed room.  The letter, which was written by Wilde while he was in prison, is dedicated to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas.  It is a tell-all of Wilde’s profound love and passion for Douglas, but it is also laced with regret, anguish, and resentment.  At times sentimental, at times sarcastic, but always profoundly insightful, this letter takes us to the heart of a broken man who has fallen from grace.

From the beginning of Redgrave’s performance, the audience was emerged into the harsh truth of Wilde’s suffering and loss.  During the 50 minute monologue I felt pity for Wilde as he recounted the selfish and indifferent attitude of Lord Alfred Douglas; however, at the same time, I felt as though I have been in his place before, too.  As have many of us.  For, as Wilde knew all too well, nothing is fair in love.  Perhaps this is what makes this piece a true love letter.  And Redgrave’s thoughtful performance takes you to that place, so deep and buried in your heart.  Redgrave managed to make the audience cry and, surprisingly, laugh – just as Wilde would have done.  On a lonely chair, with paper and pen in hand, Redgrave captured the essence of a man, once the darling of Bourgeois society, now alone in a prison cell writing one of the most beautiful and tragic love stories of all time.  But ironically, and therefore so Wilde, that is love: sometimes beautiful but more often dirty. 

Redgrave received a standing ovation as he was helped off the stage.  He left the audience wanting more, if only to discuss the piece with the legendary actor.  However, parting in silence and humbly is how the dignified Wilde would have wanted it.

·         Saralinda Abitbol is an English teacher at Sciences-Po Paris and a freelance journalist.  She is currently working on a piece about Oscar Wilde's Paris. For Sondeep Kandola’s review of Redgrave’s De Profundis at the National Theatre in London, click here.

Review by Tiffany Perala

Chris Coleman directs The Importance of Being Earnest at Portland Center Stage

24th February-29th March 2009


The programme touts the play as ‘A Wildean frolic… in three acts’, and though it essentially is as advertised, Artistic Director Chris Coleman’s treatment of Earnest is clearly more serious than trivial. The setting is thoroughly Victorian in mood and manner and this comes as a welcome surprise. I have seen Wilde staged in and out of period and though it is amusing to see Earnest queered, such as the KAOS Theatre’s burlesque interpretation notably does, it is also good to remember that Wilde’s lines undermine the age in which they were written in Worthing (1894) and staged in London (1895). Earnest is a mirror into which Wilde’s contemporaries saw a reflection of themselves just as today’s audiences do. The beauty and brilliance of depicting Earnest true to period, paying particular attention to character, diction, plot and costume, is that it reinforces the fact that it does not require embellishment in order to appeal to a 21-century audience, and Coleman’s production justly qualifies this point.

James Knight, as Algernon, instantly captivates the audience as he steps on stage from the adjoining piano room into the morning-room in a rich navy satin smoking jacket. Lane (Todd Van Voris) is tidying the tea-cart and, in what appears to be the only obvious deus ex machina of the production, tosses a brassiere off stage.  Knight’s mannerisms and delivery are impeccably ‘Algernon’s’, as we might ideally imagine him, from the script.  Indeed, he is the most convincing Algy I have seen and this is apparent in the smallest details as well, such as the distinct way he fondles and then pinches a pink rose from the bouquet to wear in his button hole. This, of course, foreshadows Cecily (Nikki Coble) as does the entire set, which is framed in pink roses.

There are several fine points to this production, but one that must be mentioned outright is costume design, coordinated by Jeff Cone. Cone’s use of texture and colour to emphasise character and mood, city and country, parallel Coleman’s artistic vision and attention to detail. As mentioned, Algernon enters in a smoking jacket which underscores his languid demeanor and also serves to contrast Jack, who enters fully dressed for ‘business’ though we know he is in town for ‘pleasure’, or, rather, to propose to Gwendolen. Algernon’s quip ‘I thought you had come up for pleasure? I call that business’ received an applause, and I believe this is a testament to the parallel form and structure of the play that scaffolds Knight’s effective elocution, balanced delivery, and stage presence.

Throughout the play, it was moments such as this where Knight radiated precisely because he delivered the lines fluidly and with the right amount of emphasis rather than exaggeration. The same can be said of Jack’s (Matthew Waterson) interplay with Algy, especially his well-crafted agitation with Algy’s apparent disregard for the serious nature of marriage, or the stance one must assume in order to appear ‘earnest’.

Lady Bracknell (Jill Tanner) and Gwendolen Fairfax (Kate MacCluggage) enter in gorgeous gowns complete with feather hats, Gwendolen in pink and Lady Bracknell in bronze. Again, Cone’s design choice conveys style and position without seeming overtly ostentatious. Likewise, Lady Bracknell was not the overbearing ‘gorgon’ that I have seen in other productions of Earnest, though I admit that I typically look forward to her dominating the stage. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the ‘softer’ Bracknell alluring and suggestively aggressive, which, after rethinking my expectations, is in many respects a bold move because the lines are not overacted.

Ahh, Miss Prism (Sharonlee McClean) and Chasuble (Tim True), where to start: the underlying sexual tension was enhanced, and though tension is evident in the script, by the Second Act I was beginning to expect downplaying, or at least subtle undertones rather than ‘reckless extravagance’ in ones so old. I suppose this was the point, as the mirroring effects throughout were keenly interpreted. 

Without hesitation, the muffin scene in Jack’s country garden at the close of the Second Act was delightful. Again, I attribute this to Knight’s impeccable skill and presence as Algernon and the interplay with Jack (Waterson) who was consistently agitated with Algy’s ‘absurd’ behaviour at critical times:

Jack: How you can sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble, I can’t make out. You seem to me to be perfectly heartless.

Algernon: Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.

This exchange highlights the relation and difference between Jack and Algy rather tellingly, and though I have seen it performed ‘well’ in other productions, this scene was by far my favourite, and gauging the audience’s reception, I would say they definitely concurred.

Part of the brilliance of the production must also be attributed to the stage design and clear acoustics. Balanced sound resonates at the Gerding Theatre and this was a main concern for the architects and sound technicians when converting the 19th century Portland Armory into a modern theatre in the heart of Portland’s Pearl District. Of course, lighting and ambience contributes to the aesthetic impression and experience as well and I believe any theatergoer in Portland would tell you just how unique the Gerding is.

Overall, PCS’s The Importance of Being Earnest was a pleasure to see. I have a newfound respect and appreciation for balanced delivery and subtle undertones.  During the second intermission between the Second and Third Act I ordered a Gwendolen inspired Champagne with Chambord and mingled a little with the audience. I asked the couple standing next to me what their initial impressions were, and in line with my own thoughts, they ‘loved’ Algernon’s performance. James Knight holds an M.F.A. from the University of Missouri Kansas City and though he has performed widely at venues across the nation in roles ranging from Marc Antony in Julius Caesar to Achilles in The Iliad, this was his first appearance in Portland and he performed Wildely as Algernon to a delighted audience.

Cast of Characters:


Nikki Coble

Lady Bracknell

Jill Tanner


James Knight


Tim True


Kate MacCluggage


Todd Van Voris

Miss Prism

Sharonlee McLean


Matthew Waterson

*For an interview with Chris Coleman, artistic director of Portland Center Stage, on Earnest, the economy, and The Gerding Theatre:


·         Tiffany Perala gained her Ph.D. at The University of Nottingham and now teaches in the English Department at Marylhurst University, Portland, OR.  She is an Associate Editor of THE OSCHOLARS.




Review by Bruce Bashford

Michael Robertson:  Worshipping Walt: The Whitman Disciples.  Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008.  xiii + 350 pp. ISBN 978 0 691 12 808 5.  $27.95.

The Disciples in Michael Robertson’s subtitle are persons who regarded Walt Whitman not simply as a poet but as a seer or prophet.  They saw Whitman, for instance, as presenting a religious alternative to a Christianity badly damaged by Darwin. Of one Disciple, R.M. Bucke, Robertson says, he ‘took the typical Victorian belief in progress and applied it to the religious realm: human consciousness was evolving and, Walt Whitman was the latest, best, and most perfect example of a fully evolved spiritual being’ (99). Or they saw in Whitman’s paeans to affection and friendship the basis of a classless democracy.  Or they found in his frank acceptance of the body a new sexual freedom, heterosexual or homosexual.  Robertson focuses on nine Disciples, with several others receiving briefer mention.  Here, somewhat abridged, are identifications of six, based on Robertson’s own initial list (xi-xii): William O’Connor (1832-1889), American author of the influential pamphlet on Whitman ‘The Good Gray Poet’ (1886); John Burroughs (1837-1921) ‘American nature writer’; Anne Gilchrist (1825-1885) ‘English writer’; R.M. Bucke (1837-1901) ‘Canadian psychiatrist,’ author of Cosmic Consciousness (1901); J.W. Wallace (1853-1926) ‘Leader of the Whitmanite Eagle Street College in Bolton’ England; Horace Trauble ((1858-1919) ‘American writer,’ compiler of the nine volume With Walt Whitman in Camden.  Robertson’s identifications of the remaining three, John Addington Symonds, Edward Carpenter, and Oscar Wilde, aren’t required for readers of The Oscholars.  Robertson says he selected these nine in part because they all, with the exception of Symonds, met Whitman in person; Symonds is included because he carried on a correspondence with Whitman for over twenty years.

Robertson reports that Whitman scholars in the academy usually dismiss the Disciples as  fanatics; one of the first serious academic studies of Whitman dubbed them the ‘hot little prophets’ (279), a title that has stuck.  Robertson defends the disciples’ mode of responding to Whitman; his Afterword contains interviews with readers in our time who continue to respond in this mode, even if they’re more ‘eclectic’ in their sources of spiritual guidance (294).  The book argues by example, or better, by testimony, principally the testimony of the nine. While I’m not a Whitman scholar, it seems to me Robertson makes his case; as Aristotle observes, whatever has happened is possible: if Whitman’s writing and Whitman himself affected so many intelligent persons so profoundly, then this is certainly a possible response.  What’s less clear to me is what difference, if any, recognizing this response as legitimate would make to the academic study of Whitman, which I assume is based on the explication of his works.   The Disciples as represented here don’t seem, even in Robertson’s eyes, to be particularly careful readers.  Of course, Robertson isn’t asking that the disciples’ mode of response replace the cooler academic manner, only that the human value of the intense mode be respected.

It’s not easy to tell what Robertson’s intended audience is.  His discussion is informed by scholarship, but he isn’t obviously trying to advance that scholarship. There are end notes gathered at the back of the book and arranged by page numbers; notes introduced by ‘See’ list books and articles on persons or topics discussed in the text.  In some notes, Robertson indicates a special debt to an item, but for the most part it’s not apparent how he’s drawing on or adjusting this commentary.  Some potential readers of the book well acquainted with one or more of the first six Disciples listed above may be surprised that I thought it necessary to identify these persons.  I suspect, though I can’t be sure, that those readers’ familiarity with those figures will mean they won’t find a lot new in Robertson’s discussion.   If he does advance the commentary, it’s probably due to the book’s broad scope.  His end notes indicate that in some cases there already are studies of the relation between Whitman and particular Disciples.  Robertson’s broad survey, however, puts him in position to compare and contrast the Disciples’ responses to Whitman in a manner these other studies may not.

Perhaps the best audience are readers intrigued by Robertson’s subject but not deeply knowledgeable about it: general readers or academics vacationing as general readers.   Robertson typically provides a narrative of a Disciple’s life, places his or her intellectual concerns in broader nineteenth century contexts, and glosses the person’s works, especially those influenced by or about Whitman.  This is all nicely done; Robertson writes clearly, paces his discussion well, and cites his primary materials effectively throughout.  The Disciples’ intense reactions to Whitman produced remarkable stories.  The English woman Anne Gilchrist, for instance, widowed eight years with four children, fell in love with Whitman through reading Leaves of Grass, wrote letters to Whitman proposing marriage, and though Whitman tried to deter her, put three of her children and her furniture on a steamship in 1876 and came to America.  She apparently knew immediately when she and Whitman met in Philadelphia that there wouldn’t be any marriage, but she settled near him, and Whitman was a regular visitor in her house for nearly three years until she returned to England.  As Robertson says, she ‘was able to make the about-face from infatuated would-be lover to friend, hostess, and disciple with extraordinary facility and grace’ (77).   The sense of possibility that the Disciples found in Whitman led several of them to be active in the social and political affairs of their timethis activity itself being testimony to the authenticity of their mode of response.  To put these lives in context, Robertson includes overviews of topics like nineteenth century spiritualism, the governance of insane asylums, the Arts & Crafts movement in America, and the difference between European Marxism and the American socialism of Eugene Debs, among several others.   While readers may find some of these overviews conventional, the breadth of the book is such that they should find others informative.  In fact, readers’ responses to both Robertson’s discussion of persons and topics will fall now at one point and then at another on a sliding scale from general reader to specialist: while I’m better acquainted with the British portion of Robertson’s material than with the American, I wasn’t familiar with Edward Carpenter’s invention of the category ‘intermediate sex’ (184-8).

Robertson’s treatment of the figure of most interest to readers of this journal, Wilde, is relatively brief, occupying the last third of a chapter subtitled ‘Whitman and Same-Sex Passion,’ which also treats Symonds and Carpenter.  The account of Wilde’s first visit in January 1892 to Whitman in Camden New Jersey is roughly similar to Richard Ellmann’s (Robertson lists Ellmann’s biography as one source).  That visit went very well, and Robertson makes a shrewd observation about the nature of its success.  Each man ‘was able to give the other exactly what he needed.’  Wilde ‘linked Whitman, whose verse was considered crude and unartistic by most Americans, with the European high art tradition.’  Whitman’s praise of Wilde himself linked ‘the young aesthete with Whitman’s own plainspoken, virile persona’; thus ‘Oscar gave Walt class; Walt gave him manliness’ (190-1).  (In an end note, Robertson’s acknowledges his debt to Alan Sinfield’s The Wilde Century for its caution not to impose our notion of a gay identity upon the period; thus the opposite of ‘manliness’ here is effeminacy rather than homosexuality.)

Robertson draws this chapter to a close by claiming that ‘all three English disciples versions of same-sex love differed fundamentally from Whitman’s’.  Wilde’s version, ‘effeminate, elite, and individualistic’ is taken as obviously different.   ‘Symonds, for all his talk of the union of sexual inverts across class lines, thought of sexual behavior as primarily a private matter . . . .’ Carpenter ‘agreed with Whitman that the love of men for one another could be a positive political force, an integral part of a more democratic future.’  But Carpenter still believed that persons had innate sexual proclivities; ‘Whitman, in contrast, was not trying to differentiate a special category of men . . . he was identifying a capacity for love that existed in every person. . . .’ (196). While Robertson’s habit of gathering together the threads of his discussion is a virtue of the book, the place given Wilde in this comparsion is dubious.  That place repeats Robertson’s earlier claim that ‘Wilde regarded his sexuality as a mark of distinction, one more way--along with long hair, flamboyant clothing, and witty epigrams--of setting himself above the philistines’ (195).  Apart from some remarks about The Picture of Dorian Gray as ‘intended to be fully accessible only to a textual and sexual elite,’ (195), it’s hard to tell why Robertson accepts this simple explanation of a complex matter.

Given that during Wilde’s first American visit he did make a point of seeking out Whitman, it’s understandable that Robertson would include him, but Wilde really doesn’t seem to have been a Disciple.  Reading Whitman didn’t provoke in Wilde the conversion experience that it did for some of the other Disciples.  Robertson uses Wilde’s review ‘The Gospel According to Walt Whitman’ (1888) in which Wilde calls Whitman ‘a factor in the heroic and spiritual evolution of the human being’ as a sign of Wilde’s ‘interest in a Whitmanesque spirituality’ (194).  Wilde, as Robertson notes, does connect evolution and human progress in ‘The Soul of Man,’ but Wilde’s remark in the review may only indicate that by this date he’d heard other people talking about Whitman in this manner too.  In any case, Whitman couldn’t have been that important for Wilde since what was apparently easy for Whitman was difficult for Wilde.   According to Robertson, ‘Whitman’s poetic self constantly assumes other identities...’ ‘‘Divine am I inside and out,’ Whitman writes, but since I and you are interchangeable, you are as divine as I’ (19).  Wilde did share Whitman’s personal or subjective perspective, but Wilde also says in a letter to Robert Ross ‘at the beginning, God made a world for each separate man’ (1 April 1897).  Wilde’s subjective perspective is more self contained, making contact with other persons harder; indeed, Wilde sometimes rejects the effort: ‘One should never listen.  To listen is a sign of disrespect to one’s hearers’ (A Few Maxims for the Instruction of the Over-Educated).   Robertson further observes that ‘Whitman recognized that, crucial as it was, individuality was not sufficient.  His religious vision also included empathy, compassion, and love’ (21).  Wilde was capable of compassion and love in life, and these are values endorsed in a work like ‘The Happy Prince’.  But again, there’s a tension between Wilde’s individualism, its self-preoccupation, and the capacity to attend to other persons.  This tension may underlie one of the many puzzles about The Picture of Dorian Gray.   Late in the novel, when Harry says to an anxious Dorian, ‘You are in some trouble.  Why not tell me what it is?  You know I would help you,’ Harry’s concern for Dorian seems entirely genuine (Complete Works, 3, 342).  But this is the same Harry who delights in his influence over Dorian, even though ‘to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul’ (Complete Works, 3, 20).   The puzzle is how to reconcile Harry’s concern with Dorian’s welfare with his desire to make Dorian an extension of himself. 

Robertson’s book certainly shouldn’t be judged by its treatment of Wilde, nor, I suspect, primarily by its contribution to the scholarship on any particular Disciple.  At times Robertson seems somewhat defensive about persons who read for spiritual enlightenment, but non-academic readers, to their credit, typically regard literature as, in Arnold’s famous phrase, ‘a criticism of life’.  To these general readers, or academics venturing beyond their specialties, the book can be recommended for its crisp presentation of an impressively broad range of knowledge about Whitman’s impact on the nineteenth century.

·         For a bibliography of Dr Bashford’s writings on Wilde, click here.

Review by Melissa Knox

Esther Rashkin, Unspeakable Secrets and the Psychoanalysis of Culture.  Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.

Esther Rashkin's ambitious collection of essays purports to elaborate ‘a new form of psychoanalytic cultural studies’–a brilliant goal, one that, in my opinion ought to be pursued by more critics.  She adds, ‘The theme that unites all my readings is the unspeakable secret: the shameful, conflicted, undigestible drama that so threatens a character's ability to be that it must be elided from language and either held in an unassimilated, unintrojected state of suspension, or incorporated and encased within an intrapsychic vault designed to insure its integrity and prevent its revelation’(19).  What she wants to do with the secrets discovered is not absolutely clear.  The general intent–highly desirable–is to explore the ways in cultures employ unconscious strategies in order to remain unaware of their exploitation of other civilizations.  The historical situations explored include France's colonization of Algeria and issues involving Jewish identity and the Holocaust.  In the case of Oscar Wilde's novel, The Picture of Doran Gray, psychoanalytic theory is misguidedly applied to the ‘narrative life’ of the literary character Dorian in order to throw light on England's exploitation of Ireland.  An approach that does not begin by working with Dorian as a figure springing from the creativity, the desires, and the conflicts of the man Oscar Wilde will lose its way in connecting Dorian to Wilde and Wilde's world.

The theme of the ‘unspeakable secret’ remains a weak thread.  Even though some of Rashkin's insights into character and culture are illuminating, the definition of ‘unspeakable secret’ remains inconsistent–as her own adjectives indicate–changing from one essay to the next and sometimes within the essay.  ‘Undigestible’ drama turns out to work nicely as a metaphor in her essay on Babette's Feast, in which, Rashkin insightfully suggests, Babette needs to grieve, is prevented from doing so by her conflicts, and seeks in the preparation of her feast to find a ‘recipe for mourning.’  But Rashkin has not succeeded in establishing a psychoanalytic theory that is consistent enough to use meaningfully.  ‘Unintrojected’ and ‘intrapsychic vault’ may not really mean the same thing, and the former has always been a murky concept.  ‘Introjection’ is a psychoanalytic term introduced in a 1909 paper by the Hungarian psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi, used by him so broadly that it could hardly be distinguished from projection, though they are quite different processes.   Projection involves rejecting a thought or feeling by convincing oneself that it is really part of the outside world.  Freud elaborated on Ferenczi's term in a 1915 paper, ‘Instincts and Their Vicissitudes,’ linking introjection to infantile fantasies of oral incorporation, that is, the feeling that ‘I would  like to take this person or thing inside myself, so I'll eat it.’  Babies shove any and all colorful objects into their mouths, and we all try to take into our sense of ourselves qualities outside ourselves that we admire. 

As I understand Rashkin's statement, she means that her readings explore a secret remaining silent because articulation would either establish or increase awareness of a painful truth that threatens the sense of identity– the identity of an individual person or that of a culture.  In the first case the secret is repressed in the Freudian sense of that term; in the second it is not. An important influence on Rashkin's thinking is Lacan and his views on language, in particular the idea that the Unconscious is structured like a language, as well his belief that ‘it is only once it is formulated, named in the presence of the other, that desire appears in the full sense of the term.’  Both ideas borrow from Freud's concept of repression, but I find them unclear.

In Freud's writings, the theory of repression, is, as he wrote, in The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement (1914), the ‘cornerstone on which the whole structure of psycho-analysis rests,’ and can be approximated as the operation by which thoughts and feelings connected to strong instincts, sexuality and aggression, get pushed out of awareness in order to avoid pain or conflict.  One could extend the concept to a whole culture if each member of that culture is united in a desire to forget the same thing.  In Rashkin's remarks quoted above, she appears to be suggesting that she expects to find in each of the works she explores a secret so shameful or disturbing to an individual person or a culture that it gets confined to a deeply unconscious part of the mind, or of the cultural memory, which will not be integrated into the rest of the desired conscious identity.  Rashkin prefers alterations of Freud's concept of repression that she finds in the writings of Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok as well as Sándor Ferenczi.  All three were highly creative and original thinkers, but rather idiosyncratic interpreters of Freudian concepts, who felt limited by certain issues key to Freudian theory. 

Rashkin's final chapter, on which this review will focus, addresses Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray as a ‘subtle commentary on the British colonial enterprise, on Wilde's own complex negotiations with Irish nationalism and Anglo-Irish identity, and on the psychological legacies of personal and political abuse’ (23).  Rashkin begins with a letter written by Wilde one week after his two-year prison term had ended.  In it, Wilde distinguishes between a child's ability to comprehend a punishment inflicted by a parent and its inability to understand one inflicted by society.  Rashkin uses this distinction to elaborate on themes of child abuse that she finds in Wilde's novel and interprets as Wilde's expression of punishments inflicted on Ireland by England.

Published in the Daily Chronicle of London, the letter derides the treatment of children in prison.  Calling attention to the prison authority's ignorance of the ‘peculiar psychology of a child's nature,’ Wilde asserts that ‘a child can understand a punishment inflicted by an individual, such as a parent or guardian, and bear it with a certain amount of acquiescence.’ He adds, however: ‘What it cannot understand is a punishment inflicted by society.’  I believe that what Wilde meant by these remarks is that children do not apprehend abstractions easily: they think concretely.  Anything that has not been seen, held, tasted, touched, or heard by a young child will mystify him or her.  When I told my daughter, then age three, that she was going to fly to New York with me, she asked whether we had wings.  A child knows ‘family’ as its siblings and caretakers, but it cannot know ‘society’ because it has no sense impression to correspond with that term.

Rashkin, however, asserts that Wilde's distinction between a child's attitudes toward punishment by a parent and punishment by society essentially elaborates the same theme she finds in The Picture of Dorian Gray, namely, ‘a complex saga of child abuse . . . cryptically inscribed within the narrative.’ (158)   She will later connect the idea of an abusive society to the abuse visited upon the Irish by the English.  Her assertion regarding child abuse, within the novel appears to stand or fall on the validity of regarding Dorian Gray not as a literary creation inseparable from the creativity and conflicts of Oscar Wilde but as a real person who was emotionally abused as a child and who has developed conflicts stemming from this abuse.  ‘I want to argue,’ Rashkin writes, ‘that Wilde's text narrates a tale of emotional abuse and dramatizes its ramifications for the narrative life of a the main character’ (158).   She plans also to expose the novel's ‘unseen connections between abuse and aesthetic creation, and between psychic oppression and the production of a symptom.’ (158)  When the latter aim is fully achieved, one ends up with something like Edmund Wilson's The Wound and the Bow (1941).

Rashkin also wants to reveal ‘a secret drama of sexual abuse’ that is promised as ‘the key’ to understanding ‘how the story engages with Irish nationalism, British empire, and the abusive rapport between colonizer and colonized.’ (159) She believes that Wilde's prison letter about children not understanding a punishment by society  ‘can be read in conjunction with the novel as a symptom of Wilde's own complex relationship to Irish identity, British imperialism, and his own family history.’ (159).

I would have expected at least a glance at Wilde's family history at this point –Rashkin takes another forty pages to get to his family–since his parents, especially his mother, were deeply engaged in Irish culture, and his mother considered herself a revolutionary for the Young Ireland movement.  As is well known, but not pointed out by Rashkin, Wilde's mother wrote a famous article that resulted in the arrest and trial of her editor, ‘Jacta Alea Est’ [The Die is Cast] in which she envisions ‘a hundred thousand muskets glittering brightly in the light of heaven, and the monumental barricades stretching across each of our noble streets . . .’ (quoted in Melville, 36-7)  She gave her Oscar the names of heroes from Irish legend and warlike relatives:  Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was his full name.  She was proud of pumping nationalist ideology into her sons;  ‘I made them indeed/Speak plain the word COUNTRY’  is the dedication in her book of poems.  (Knox, 7)  These specific details, as well as her Protestant family's disapproval of her involvement with the largely Catholic Young Ireland movement and her own deep conflict between supporting and deriding the Irish peasants seems to me the place to start in looking for Wilde's conflicts about Ireland and England.  Not included in Rashkin's commentary is, for example, Wilde's remark in a post-prison letter of [?18 February 1898] to Robert Ross that ‘A patriot put in prison for loving his country loves his country, and a poet put in prison for loving boys loves boys’  (Complete Letters, 1019).  A psychoanalytic interpretation can find much that is relevant in the connections that Wilde himself makes between his identity as a gay man and his conflicted wish to be an Irish hero.  Culture is a complex thing, and the critic who approaches the psychoanalysis of culture must, I believe, have a stronger sense of history, an anthropologist's awareness of approaching a remote world.

 Because Wilde wrote that he had inserted himself into his novel, it is unfortunate that Rashkin appears to be unaware of remarks that he made on the subject.  In another letter highly relevant to interpretations of Wilde's novel that she does not  include, postmarked 12 February 1894 to Ralph Payne, Wilde wrote: ‘I am so glad you like that strange coloured book of mine: it contains much of me in it.  Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry, what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be–in other ages, perhaps.’ (585, Complete Letters)  If Rashkin's assumption of abuse is correct, what are we to make of Wilde's desire to be Dorian, his wistful admiration of Dorian's good looks, his introduction of Dorian as ‘a young man of extraordinary personal beauty,’ not as someone who is being tortured by a wicked grandfather, one Lord Kelso, who is in the 1891 version of the novel the grandfather of Dorian Gray.  In the novel, Lord Kelso is described as not wanting his daughter, Margaret Devereux, to marry the ‘penniless . . . nobody,’ Dorian's father, and so Kelso, ‘a mean dog’ contrives to get the nobody killed a few months after the marriage by a ‘Belgian brute who spitted his man like a pigeon’ (31, Complete Works) Rashkin  arrives at the theory that Kelso committed incest with his daughter, Margaret, that he is both Dorian's father and grandfather, that he hates the boy for being like his mother.  In her interpretation the hidden portrait expresses the sexual abuse of the daughter and the emotional abuse of Dorian.

The main evidence offered for this is ingenious:  ‘Devereux’ and ‘Kelso’ are names associated with worms–Kelso, she believes, ‘behaves like a worm . . . looks like a worm’ and besides, his name ‘confirms his verminous identity:  Kelso rhymes with Kell + sew (something that) spins or 'sews' a 'kell' or cocoon’ (178). All this via the O.E.D.  ‘Devereux’ is meanwhile associated with the French word ‘véreux,’ which means ‘decayed, vile, rotten, corrupt, shameful . . .  or , literally, 'worm-eaten'.’  On to poisons in Dorian Gray, images of old and worm-eaten decayed flesh covered with jewels, all interpreted as the ‘poison’ of incest, and from that we get ultimately to ‘Wilde's attempt to construct a hybrid space of Anglo-Irish identity by simultaneously identifying with the empire subordinating him as Irish and with the colonized Irish resisting subjugation.’ (195). Of course Wilde identified himself both with the English empire and the Irish resisters, but do we need child abuse to discover this?.

‘Kelso’ rang a bell, so I started with Google–wondering if I'd find the name of a household cleanser–but it turns out to be the name of a Scottish border town.  Now, Wilde often used place names for characters–Windermere, Worthing, Bracknell are a few examples–and Kelso is not just any old town; it's the town, and the region, from which the noble house of Douglas–yes, as in Bosie Douglas–is said to spring.  The first listing on Google explains that the monks of Kelso granted lands to the Douglas clan sometime between 1175 and 1199.  

But of course most scholars think Wilde hadn't met Bosie Douglas by the time he wrote Dorian Gray.  The Lord Kelso character, however, only appears in the 1891 version, and here is what Oscar Wilde had to say about when he met Bosie Douglas in his letter to More Adey of 7 April 1897 (see p. 795): ‘The friendship began in May 1892 by his brother appealing to me in a very pathetic letter to help him in terrible trouble with people who were blackmailing him.  I hardly knew him at the time.  I had known him eighteen months, but had only seen him four times in that space.’  If Wilde really had known Douglas for eighteen months before 1892, then it seems possible that the Lord Kelso figure is some sort of private joke.

Meanwhile, I wrote to Debrett's Peerage–since 1789, a well known genealogical guide to the British aristocracy–and asked if the name ‘Kelso’ really was the ancestral home of the Douglas clan and what other meanings could be attached to the term.  I knew that many nineteenth-century novelists who wanted to include aristocratic names and characters used Debrett's the way we use Wikipedia; Wilde mentions it in two stories; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Orwell, and Saki were among those who dipped in for names.  Charles Kidd, the Debrett's representative, e-mailed back as follows:

I am quite surprised that Wilde used Kelso in his 1891 version of Dorian Gray.  Mind you, only a peerage-reading fanatic would have picked up that it was one of the Duke of Roxburghe's subsidiary titles; an ordinary member of the public almost certainly would not have made the connection.  But it might be equally fair to surmise that the then Duke was not of a litigious persuasion, otherwise I think he would have had good grounds to sue.

Another Oscar Wilde trial!

If  Wilde had met Bosie Douglas before writing the book version of his novel, then it would make sense for him to have done more than flip through Debrett's Peerage at random, looking for names that sounded good.  What if Wilde consciously picked a name that resonated personally?  The wicked, wicked Lord Kelso in the novel certainly is consistent with the ‘mad, bad’ Douglas family, Lord Alfred and his father the Marquess of Queensberry merely being among the more flamboyant members.  The Marquess, who was known for his rules for boxing, took a swing whenever the spirit moved him, which was often, and died shouting that he was being ‘hounded by the Oscar Wilders.’   Bosie, as everyone knows, fired a pistol shot at the ceiling of a fashionable watering hole when he desired the other patrons to stop delicately averting their eyes from himself and Wilde.  Well, I've written to the current Lord Queensberry–address kindly provided by Debrett's–to see what he thinks of all this.  If he writes back, I'll ask if I may send on his insights to THE OSCHOLARS.

I don't reject Rashkin's worm imagery, incidentally:  I think her linguistic interpretations useful in suggesting yet another reason for Wilde to have found the names of Kelso and Devereux attractive.  The ‘poison’ that Wilde alludes to with his imagery of decay in The Picture of Dorian Gray is the likely a real one:  the syphilis named by one of his favorite writers, Joris Karl Huysmans, the man whose book provided a blueprint for Wilde's novel, the man whose main characters, Des Esseintes, is obsessed with syphilis.  Wilde's belief that he had syphilis–and his probable infection with it–should enter into any discussion of his sense of oppression, since any feeling of political or sexual injustice would be complicated by a regret at having been compromised physically. 

A glance at the history of late Victorian England should alert all writers wading into psychoanalysis or cultural studies that every family had at least one member who was afflicted with syphilis, that all available treatments were highly toxic, that symptoms were entirely unpredictable and that there was no cure.  Why presume incest as a ‘poison’ when there's so much actual poison lying around?  It would be natural for a syphilitic to feel decayed, worm-eaten.  The spirochete, the organism causing syphilis, looks like a worm, but wasn't discovered until 1905.  Even so, any physician of Wilde's day who had done autopsies would likely have had occasion to discover the vermiform shapes left by the animal as it bored into the bones and the brain, so the worm imagery was probably around in Wilde's day.

Psychoanalysis of culture begins at home–with the family of the subject being examined, meaning as thorough a knowledge of Oscar Wilde's thoughts about his mother, father, sister, brother, friends, and surroundings as possible, and a thorough knowledge of the everyday aspects of that culture: the way he spoke to his friends about being Irish, not the general saga of the mistreatment of the Irish by the British through the ages.  Without extensive knowledge of the biography of Wilde and of his culture, it is not possible to achieve the fruitful union of psychoanalysis and cultural studies that could provide insightful commentary.

·         Melissa Knox is the author of Oscar Wilde: A Long and Lovely Suicide (Yale UP, 1994) and Oscar Wilde in the 1990s (Camden House, 2001).  She lectures at the University of Duisberg-Essen in Germany.

Review by Annabel Rutherford

Catherine Maxwell: Second Sight: The Victorian Visionary Imagination, Manchester: Manchester UP, 2008, pp. ix-260.

The title of Catherine Maxwell’s splendidly engaging monograph Second Sight is taken from John Ruskin’s observation that the mysterious way in which the visionary imagination transforms a tangible object into one of wonder is ‘second sight’ (1). Romanticism flourished towards the end of the nineteenth century, explains Maxwell, as a reaction against Victorian materialism and empiricism. Thus, the visionary literary tradition associated with the Romantic poets re-emerged in late Victorian literature. In this truly fascinating work, a sequel to her earlier monograph, The Female Sublime from Milton to Swinburne: Bearing Blindness (2001), Maxwell explores this visionary tradition in the works of six late Victorian writers: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Walter Pater, Vernon Lee, Eugene Lee-Hamilton, Theodore Watts-Dunton, and Thomas Hardy. Using an intertextual approach, Maxwell provides insightful and highly imaginative analyses of a variety of literary texts by her selected writers. While several recent scholars, notably Carol T. Christ and Kate Flint, have concentrated on the visual imagination in Victorian art and literature, Maxwell has gone beyond the realm of the optical visible and penetrated deep into the intangible, the creative realm of the artist and considers the visionary tactics of each writer.

Compelling as her innovative analyses are, Maxwell’s ability to take the reader into the hallowed area of her writers’ imaginations makes this a spectacular work. Aside from a fascinating insight into less frequently discussed works of canonical and non-canonical writers, Second Sight is a profoundly complex study of the workings of the interior language of the creative imagination as it explores the symbolic and imaginative dimension of writings by each of the featured authors.   

In an attempt to convey the author’s thinking process and methodology, this review focuses on Maxwell’s discussion of the visionary tactics of Rossetti.  Divided into two parts, the first half establishes Rossetti as a late Romantic, and the second considers his fusion of spirituality and art expressed through the visionary figure of the beloved woman in his sonnet sequence The House of Life. A brief historiographical survey reveals how, over the years, Rossetti’s critics and biographers have (mis)shaped our current understanding of the poet. Contemporary literary critic Watts-Dunton believed him ‘the Victorian poet who most resembled Coleridge’ (p.28) and, thus, considered him ‘the rightful inheritor of Coleridge’s visionary Romanticism’ (p.4). Yeats (who, while not a subject for analysis, haunts the pages of this volume) identifies Rossetti as the ‘outstanding late Romantic’ (p.5). Certainly, Rossetti, with help from Watts-Dunton, cultivated a mythic image of the solitary, tormented poet and, in his time, the mystical and symbolic quality inherent in much of his work was readily acknowledged. Over the decades, explains Maxwell, these elements have become so downplayed and twisted around by critics that the Romantic visionary aspect of Rossetti is all but lost to modern scholarship.

Through a fascinating comparative study of two Watts-Dunton sonnets, one memorialising Coleridge and the other memorialising Rossetti, Maxwell establishes a connection between the Romantic and Post-Romantic poets. Both poets are ‘thwarted in some aspect of their creativity, blocked by obstacles,’ and their ‘creative core…seems to be feminine’ (p.30).  Drawing on the fact that many of the women in Rossetti’s work are damsels in distress, Maxwell aligns the dramatic combination of creator and creation: the ‘stricken poet and the weeping maiden,’ and suggests how, for the reader, this can be a hypnotic combination.

Initially, Maxwell’s proposal that Rossetti may have gone so far as to project himself into his images of distressed maidens may seem a little far-fetched. However, as she points out, Robert Buchanan’s infamous attack on Rossetti in ‘The Fleshly School of Criticism,’ was nothing short of a ‘critical castration’ of the poet. Stinging though this attack was, Rossetti’s over-reaction, including a suicide attempt, is significant enough to raise questions. And, when one considers Watts-Dunton’s comment that ‘the very large part played by woman’ in Rossetti’s work ‘expressed frankly and fully the man’ (p.35), Maxwell’s proposal is perfectly plausible. To illustrate her point farther, she turns to the one sonnet whose speaker is a woman, Proserpine.

Since Proserpine was written to accompany Rossetti’s painting, it is in keeping that Maxwell draws from both the pictorial and the literary versions of the myth in her analysis. And, indeed, it is this painting she has selected to illustrate her book cover. Unlike the conventional readings of the myth, in which Prosperine is a living figure committed to dwelling amongst the dead, Maxwell argues that Rossetti places Proserpine in a liminal area between life and death, a passageway filled with amber haze. This observation is particularly compelling given that Victorian poets, such as Browning and Tennyson, frequently allude to this liminal area as the artists’ hallowed creative realm. And, as Maxwell states, ‘Art’ is Rossetti’s ‘first mistress refracted in the hypnotic women of his paintings’ (p.40). Thus, Maxwell concludes, the ‘unhappy maiden of the painting, who hypnotises us with her melancholy beauty, is conjoined with the gloomily isolated and morbidly introspective poet’ (p.40). And such an image exudes magnetism. 

The analysis of Rossetti’s sonnet sequence The House of Life explores an interesting study of the poet’s creative process. Frequently, the lovers are placed in a liminal realm, such as ‘a mutual deep sleep’ in ‘Nuptial Sleep,’ resembling ‘a kind of dream-womb’ (p.49). The ‘dream-womb’ can be compared with the liminal area in which Proserpine is suspended between life and death – a realm in which the object of Rossetti’s imagination may be transformed into the visionary. In ‘Love’s Redemption,’ Rossetti interweaves traditional Christian religious belief, likening the physical and spiritual union of the sexual act with the Christian sacrament of communion. Such analysis provokes the reader into making a connection with the belief in transubstantiation – the moment when the symbol becomes the actual, or, in Rossetti’s case, the unseen visionary image.

Creatively, the beloved woman’s role in the sonnets is that of a presence, inspiring the speaker/lover ‘to engender Art’ (p.51). She possesses her own magnetism as the speaker’s muse, which, through its being ‘absorbed by her lover, helps him become an artist whose work, centred on her, exerts his own magnetic attraction’ (p,51). It is through this fusing of the material with the spiritual that she becomes the visionary figure ‘enabling spiritual communication and knowledge through the body and physical contact’ (p.17).

Maxwell’s analyses of her other selected writers are equally intriguing, prompting the reader to re/read these authors’ works. Of particular interest is her exploration of the writers’ fascination with the aesthetic image of the human face and form, usually female. The most famous Romantic image associated with Pater is, of course, the Mona Lisa. But it is Persephone, Proserpine’s Greek counterpart, that Maxwell points to as being Pater’s ‘archetypal image of death-in-life life-in-death’ (113). Indeed, she considers Persephone a ‘classical prevision of Mona Lisa,’ for, she above all others has ‘learned the secrets of the grave’ (p.112). The discussion on Pater’s preoccupation with the ‘conceit of the refinement of death’ (101) is fascinating as it is only in death that  a corpse, or sculpted image, is cleansed of all material traits; thus death releases and refines the form ‘to offer the abstraction of essence,’ which, for Pater, is the visionary image (99).   

The compelling female image for Vernon Lee and her half-brother Eugene Lee-Hamilton is Venus. Maxwell’s discussion about how their passion developed for the ‘mutilated’ or fragmented torso of this goddess of love washed up from the sea is heightened by its references to Peter Fuller’s Kleinian reading of Venus de Milo.   Maxwell’s demonstrates through close readings how this image is incorporated into the supernatural writings of Lee and the sonnets of her brother. The polished, or finished, look of the statue of Venus is worn away by the sea. Her lines and curves are softened by the years spent in this ‘watery womb’ (131). But the focus for both writers is on the reparative effect of the sea on the mutilated female body, which, possibly, realises the visionary, ‘the latent ideal form within the stone’ (136) .

While the visionary tactics of Watts-Dunton are equally engaging, Maxwell’s discussion of his scarcely known novel Aylwin is essential reading. The novel, which Watts-Dunton allies with Coleridge’s Christabel, offers good insight into the thinking process of visionary artists and their selected images. Rossetti appears in the novel as the artist D’Arcy, who is grieving over the loss of a beloved woman (possibly remorse for Elizabeth Siddal). Maxwell argues that a strength of this novel is that through the structural devices of repetition and reduplication, this novel reproduces a visionary Romanticism at the turn of the nineteenth century. Particularly significant is that if, as Watts-Dunton claimed, Rossetti was the rightful inheritor of Coleridge’s vision, then his inclusion of both poets/artists in the novel presents ‘a powerful continuity between Romantic and a certain strand of late Victorian visionary literature’ (p.196). If one considers the continuation of the Romantic visionary tradition from Rossetti to Yeats, then the novel participates in a ‘crucial part of the transition to literary Modernism’ (p.196).

A writer more readily associated with the earthy, material world, is Hardy and, thus, at first glance, his appearance at the end of Maxwell’s study is surprising. Yet, as Maxwell demonstrates in her insightful analysis, Hardy exemplifies Ruskin’s statement: that the mysterious way in which the visionary imagination transforms a tangible object into one of wonder is ‘second sight,’ which, of course, returns the reader to the title of this work. For Hardy, the creative realm of the visionary imagination is far removed from the material world. It is the domain of ghosts and spirits. Close readings of his poems demonstrate Hardy’s extraordinary ability to transform an image into one of otherworldly qualities.  For him, the realm of death is ‘the imaginative stimulant’ which releases the visionary or the visible essence of form (p.218).

Second Sight is a beautifully written work, desirable on the bookshelf of anybody interested in Romantic, Victorian, and early twentieth-century literature. Although its focus is literature, this work is also useful for art historians. As a study of the creative imagination of an artist, Second Sight is invaluable for any scholar involved in studies in the performing arts. An extensive bibliography is provided and the book is well indexed. Above all, Maxwell’s innovative and highly imaginative analyses inspire her readers to seek out and re/read the less familiar works discussed.

·         Annabel Rutherford teaches at York University, Toronto and is an Associate Editor of

Review by Regenia Gagnier


Sheila Rowbotham: Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love (London: Verso, 2008) 565 pp.

‘Brown’s Feelings Go Unrecorded’

A distinguished social historian, Rowbotham has been writing about Carpenter and thinking on and off about the Fin de Siècle since her and Jeffrey Weeks’s Socialism and the New Life: The Personal and Sexual Politics of Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis (1977), with major histories of women in Britain and America in between. Her return to Carpenter and the progressive movements of the turn of the century is massively researched and documented.  It is as detailed in its presentations of Carpenter’s circles’ personal and sexual politics as in the multitudinous social movements they inhabited.  For newcomers to the field, this biography of late Victorian-early twentieth-century radicalism will be enormously informative.  For those who are familiar with Carpenter’s personal and political archive, it will confirm and fill in details of friendships, networks, and causes.

Carpenter was himself a prolific writer.  While his own works have a memorable transparency and even jollity in expressing his famous openness and tolerance, one thing that strikes me most in reading his life through Rowbotham’s clear gaze is the silence of so many of Carpenter’s friends and fellows.  Experimenting in human relationship, they faced emotional risk, vulnerability, and exposure.  While Carpenter is chivvying a fatally ill James Brown on the unnecessariness of jealousy, Rowbotham observes that ‘Brown’s feelings go unrecorded’ (133).  Repeatedly she notes that Merrill’s views on their ‘open relationship’ remain unknown, as do the feelings of  the lad from Sheffield’s slums as he cleaned up after the Cambridge boys who visited Millthorpe and perhaps treated him like a servant.  One can only marvel at the love, good will, and good faith that must have gone into these social experiments to counteract normal emotions of jealousy, insecurity, uncertainty. There is Merrill like a tidy housewife playing it cheerful and unpretentious, without sin or guilt.  Utterly oblivious to Christianity, on hearing that Jesus had spent his last night at Gethsemane, Merrill asked ‘Who with?’ (181). Carpenter may have loved the socialist (and married) craftsman George Hukin more, but those who love Carpenter will always be grateful to the second George, who kept him safe indoors and bravely out when out.

While she is sensitive to those who were bruised or baffled by Carpenter’s idealism, Rowbotham is also clear-sighted on Carpenter’s own limitations.  While always writing and speaking publicly for feminism and against colonialism, the Carpenter of chapter 8 ‘Challenging Civilisation’ has blindspots in India and even distaste for women.  Elsewhere he demonstrates a lack of comprehension of working-class women and a detachment from his closest middle-class women friends when, like Kate Salt, they became too needy.  Such unsentimentality on Rowbotham’s part helps us understand the complex psychologies—and it could not be otherwise—of political idealists.  This kind of analysis was germane to the Fin de Siècle itself, a self-consciousness in action that writers like Edith Lees (Havelock Ellis’s lesbian wife and a co-founder with Carpenter of the Fellowship of the New Life) excelled in (see her analysis of the charismatic leader James Hinton).

With such complexities in the actors, the movements could not help but be factioned, compromised, impure, and imperfect, and none the less inspiring for that.  Homogenic love and male comradeship, antiwar and peace movements even during the most dangerous war-time, anti-colonialism, vegetarianism, micro-socialism, back-to-Nature, birth control: Carpenter spoke out for all of them while remaining a committed  nonsectarian, co-founding a little magazine The Whim: A Periodical without a Tendency. Edward Carpenter’s middle sections on revolutionary and utopian tendencies become fragmented as Rowbotham conscientiously follows their threads, and the much coveted Anarchist Defense Fund is haggled over by sects.

It must be said that while providing the data Rowbotham does not provide the political analysis of these movements, or even analysis of the psychology of the political actors. While she seems to believe that Carpenter learned his outer composure, inner resolve, and sense of duty from his mother Sophia, she shies away from social theory of any kind, whether of social movements, class, race, gender or sexuality. At most, she notes the political conflicts and personal costs of engagement.

Yet the final chapter ‘Bearing the Memory’ shows the incalculably diffusive ways that Carpenter’s Good comes down to us in left libertarianism, esoteric and avant-garde movements, progressive education, animal welfare, environmentalism, Gay rights, Beat poetry, Fair trade, and on and on.  He was a visionary with clay feet; perhaps as Wilde said, it is the clay feet that make the idol precious.

Rowbotham’s notes and bibliography alone amount to almost 100 pages of the 565, so all micro-coils of intimacy and tendency can be traced. Our best historian of freedom’s halting footsteps, she has once again paid her debt to liberty and love.

·         Regenia Gagnier is Professor of English and Director, of the Centre for Victorian Studies at the University of Exeter.

Review by John S. Partington

Deborah Mutch: English Socialist Periodicals, 1880-1900: A Reference Source. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. Hardbound, xl + 439 pp. ISBN 0-7546-5205-X. £60

In her introduction to English Socialist Periodicals, 1880-1900, Deborah Mutch notes that ‘This book provides an introduction to the literature and journalism of thirty-nine socialist periodicals from the final twenty years of the nineteenth century’ (vii) and states her hope that ‘the literature of the late-Victorian British socialists will eventually gain the academic status achieved by Chartist literature’ (viii). She then goes on to discuss the nature of socialism, finding the ideology diverse and difficult to compartmentalise beyond an acceptance of its advocates’ self-definition as socialists. In short, if a late-nineteenth century journal declared itself socialist, then it would be included in the volume. This logic is fair enough, as far as it goes, but Mutch seems rather generous in her rationale for including anarchist journals. For while it is true that an affinity of sorts existed between socialists and anarchists, it is also true that where anarchists became dominant or caused a major stir, socialists either fled or criticised. Mutch essentially acknowledges this point herself when noting the fears of anarchy within the socialist movement expressed by H. M. Hyndman, the leader of the Social Democratic Federation, and William Morris’s desertion of the Socialist League in 1890 once anarchists formed a majority on the executive (x). In so far as the enemy of the enemy is a sort of friend, socialists and anarchists were akin in the late-Victorian period, much as leftwing democratic socialists and Trotskyists are when sharing a platform today, but that is far from admitting an ideological affinity between the groups. Mutch would have got a clearer picture on this, perhaps, had she glanced over the reportage of the congresses of the Second International, where the tedious task of checking delegates’ credentials generally lasted a full day, a primary object being to exclude anarchist groups, and the floor of several of the congresses, including the 1896 London event, was given over in part to debates as to whether or not anarchists should be welcomed within the Second International (except for a few successful entryists, they were not). Justice covered these issues in detail, and indeed Hyndman himself chaired sessions of the London congress when the anarchists were successfully excluded (and the German socialist leader, Wilhelm Liebknecht, published his praise of the handling of the situation in Justice after the congress closed).

Mutch’s study, although begun as a project to catalogue creative writing in the socialist press, includes much more, such as articles, cartoons and letters to the editor. While she has been exhaustive in listing creative writing (poetry, short stories, drama and serialised fiction), she has been selective with regards to the other material in the volume. This inevitably causes problems, as on the one hand Mutch claims to ‘have limited the articles included here to those which deal directly with socialism or the British socialist movement itself’ while, on the other, ‘[t]he omission anticipated to generate the most discussion is that of the journalism of the women’s columns’ (xv). Although Mutch includes much writing by women, her blanket exclusion of material from the women’s columns begs the question, was socialism not discussed in them? Surely it would have been preferable for Mutch to have stuck to her stated selection criteria for articles, and listed relevant pieces in the women’s columns on that basis rather than treat those columns as peculiar and therefore ignore them altogether.

Mutch has divided the book into the following chapters: ‘Serialized Fiction’, ‘Short Stories’, ‘Poetry’, ‘Drama’, ‘Children’s Column’, ‘Literary Extracts’, ‘Articles’, ‘Letters to the Editor’, ‘Cartoons’, ‘Reviews’, ‘Manifestos’ and ‘Advertisements’. As the germ of the volume was Mutch’s compilation of creative writing pieces in the socialist press, it is unsurprising that the first four chapters (‘Serialized Fiction’, ‘Short Stories’, ‘Poetry’ and ‘Drama’) are the most interesting and valuable, especially because in these chapters the compiler has aimed at comprehensiveness. They offer, in one place, a handy source of socialist literary expression and will undoubtedly provoke critical analysis of the works cited. At 216 pages, these four chapters alone constitute half of the book. Had they been collected with the ‘Literary Extracts’ and ‘Reviews’ chapters, we would have before us a comprehensive volume of literary reception in the socialist press. However, Mutch has included several other chapters which confront the prospective researcher with a dilemma that is a fundamental weakness in the book.

Taking just one – but the most crucial one – of the additional chapters, ‘Articles’, we get a 130-page selection chosen on the basis of the articles’ theoretical discussion of socialism.  The selection is useful as a starting point for a researcher looking up a specific subject, but the exclusivity seems extremely broad.  Although I have not the time or opportunity immediately to check inclusions and omissions based on this definition, I find it difficult to believe that such parameters can usefully guide selection.  The boundaries between articles that deal ‘with socialism or the British socialist movement’ and those that do not would be hopelessly blurred in a journal such as, for instance, Justice. Having researched the reception of Clara Zetkin in Justice between 1889 and 1914 (and having, in the process, necessarily perused much in the paper not directly related to my research), I found many articles dealing with such themes as imperialism, international relations, pacifism and internationalism which, through the way these subjects were discussed, gave very revealing insights into the socialist theory of the SDF journalists and editorialists. I would consider such pieces as writings dealing ‘with socialism’, but 130 pages of references from thirty-nine periodicals do not suggest that Mutch has shown similar liberality. Of course, due to space constraints, it would not be possible to list all the articles from the many periodicals, but making what amounts to quite a subjective selection is not the best solution. Anyone looking to undertake thorough research of the literary pieces listed in this volume within their context will still have to go back to the socialist periodicals and see how those pieces were embedded within them.

Even when using the ‘Articles’ chapter as a starting point of research, however, problems arise.  Testing the volume against my own subject, I find two unfortunate slips: firstly, instead of ‘Clara Zetkin’ the index refers to ‘Zetkinon, Clara’, and secondly, when looking up the ‘Zetkinon’ piece, I find the following erroneous citation:

Zetkinon, Clara, ‘The Proletarian in the Home’, Justice, 7 Nov. 1896, p.8.

I have seen this miscitation in works before, though who originated the error I do not know. The actual citation ought to be Eleanor Marx-Aveling’s report of the Social Democratic Party of Germany’s Gotha Congress, thus:

E. M. A., ‘The Gotha Congress’, Justice, 7 Nov. 1896, p.8.

In this report, Marx-Aveling refers to a speech by Zetkin, in which the latter quotes Friedrich Engels as referring to woman as ‘the proletarian in the home’. That famous misogynist, E. Belfort Bax, replied to Marx-Aveling’s article refuting what he claimed was Zetkin’s (and Marx-Aveling’s) misreading of woman’s domestic position. Other letters followed, including a devastating refutation of Bax’s position by a writer referred to only as ‘International Notes’. In addition to the miscitation above, Mutch includes Bax’s letter and a reply by Marx-Aveling, as well as the letters of ‘International Notes’ (though Mutch cites this letter as ‘The Proletarian in the Home’, whereas it was actually published as ‘Proletarian of the Home’) and Arthur Keep, but one is left wondering whether these citations come from Mutch’s use of Justice, or whether she has relied on others’ bibliographies for some of her material and so has repeated earlier errors. If that is the case, the slips I have identified above may not be the only ones.

The compilation of such a lengthy bibliography of material from the late-nineteenth century socialist press must have been a long and arduous task, and Mutch’s efforts are to be applauded.  She has successfully shone a spotlight on a much under-researched field of literature, and it would seem certain that her project of cataloguing the fiction, short stories, poetry and drama in the fin-de-siècle socialist press will lead to a critical assessment of these works by scholars of the future.

·         John S. Partington is the author of numerous books and articles on H.G. Wells, including H. G. Wells's Fin de Siècle: Twenty-First Century Reflections on the Early H. G. Wells (2007).

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