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Following the review by Ruth Kinna of Brian Morris’s recent biography of Kropotkin in our last issue, for the first time we are systematically extending our coverage to include reviews of books that explore the anarchist and socialist background to the fin-de-siècle.  The task of selecting such books and commissioning the reviews is being undertaken by a recent recruit to our team, Dr Anna Vaninskaya, and are flagged with *. 




Aoife Leahy on An Ideal Husband in Dublin


Mathilde Mazau on Dorian Gray in Edinburgh


Gwen Orel on The Selfish Giant in New York




Ruth Kinna on David Goodway on Anarchism *


Lucia Krämer on Angela Kingston on Oscar Wilde


John S. Partington on Ruth Livesey on Socialism and Æstheticism *


Kathleen Riley on Christopher Stray on Gilbert Murray


Annabel Rutherford on Mary Fleischer on Symbolist Dance


Eva Thienpont on André Capiteyn on Maeterlinck


Jessica Wardhaugh on Sébastien Rutés on Oscar Wilde and French Anarchism






An Ideal Husband at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin: an interview with director Neil Bartlett, and a review, by Aoife Leahy, Ireland Editor of THE OSCHOLARS.


Neil Bartlett arrived in Dublin on Monday the 7th of July to begin rehearsals for his production of An Ideal Husband. He very kindly agreed to answer some questions put by Aoife Leahy for THE OSCHOLARS.

Q. As you begin rehearsals for An Ideal Husband in The Abbey this week, do you have any hints of what we should expect to see in the new production (14th August–27th September with previews 11th–13th August)? 

A. Of course, I don’t want to give too much away, but….. the ‘Society’ plays of Wilde are often thought of as epitomising a certain kind of well-upholstered, convention-driven late nineteenth century theatrical heritage product. In fact, the play is subtitled ‘A New and Original Play of Modern Life’, and it was written in a year when Wilde was restlessly experimenting with new ways to express both the increasing turbulence of his private life and his dissatisfaction with conservative London culture. It was written in the same year as La Sainte Courtisane and The Florentine Tragedy, two failed experiments in treating An Ideal Husband’s primary themes of dysfunctional marriage and prostitution, and it comes just before The Importance of Being Earnest – which is probably the most formally experimental London play of its century. We’re playing it in period, but trying to keep it as odd, as questioning, as uncomfortable as Wilde’s letters tell us he found it to write. 

Q. Is there a particular resonance to staging a Wilde play in Dublin? In recent years, Wilde productions have been very popular and well attended here.

A. Of course, as an Englishman, I am slightly apprehensive about creating the first ever staging of this play at Ireland’s National Theatre. I just have to remind myself that the play is not only about outsiders – all the principal characters feel themselves at odds with the city they live in – but written by a man who revelled in that role.

Q. Your book Who Was That Man: A Present for Mr Wilde looks at scandals – including significant gay histories before and after Wilde - that have been forgotten or sidelined. The threat of scandal drives the plot of An Ideal Husband and ultimately good things result from the crisis. Is it an inherently political play?

A. Hmmmn, not sure about those ‘good things’- of all Wilde’s ‘happy endings’, the ending of Act Four of this pay strikes me as being one of the most queasily double-sided. Of course, in a simple way, the play is political, even topical – I understand that the notion of a senior Government figure being caught out over some shady financial transactions is not entirely unheard of in Dublin. The entire plot hinges on the question of whether a corrupt politician should resign or not, so in that simple sense it is political – thrillingly so…but it is also political in another and perhaps more interesting sense of the word. It struggles to connect ideas of personal freedom (and personal guilt and shame) with larger, social ideas, particularly in the realm of sexual relations and of marriage. In his own inimitably contradictory and lurid way, Wilde is toying with ideas that were rising to the surface of his century – in the writings of Symonds, of Carpenter and of Shaw, for instance, all in the same decade – and giving them an absolutely personal shape. For obvious reasons, he was obsessed with the idea of whether personally freedom could ever be found within a conventional social structure, or whether some more radical shift of values was the only possible source of salvation….

Q. You are collaborating with set and costume designer Rae Smith on the production. Is it important to get the right look and space for a Wilde play?

A. Absolutely fundamental; this is my eleventh collaboration with Rae Smith, and artistically the show is as much hers as mine. The most important thing is to get rid of all notions of decorative décor and concentrate on telling the story, which is a dramatic and dramatically unpleasant one.  She has taken all of the conventions – the furniture, the period costumes, even the ideas of act-drop and scene-change – and made them active ingredients rather than simply givens. Wilde uses three very different spaces in this story, and Rae is very good in honing in on what is important about a space from the point of view of fundamental narrative. For instance, the point about the opening scene in Grosvenor Square is that the Chiltern’s home is not stable, secure and luxurious, but built on sand; the point about Lady Chiltern’s morning room in Act 2 is that it is a feminine and self-consciously conservative environment, in which the most vicious marital row in Wilde’s entire canon is spoken (my god, imagine how Constance must have felt watching that scene on the opening night!!!) whereas Lord Goring’s bachelor pad in Act 3 is masculine and self-consciously radical….all sounds a bit abstract, but it all comes down to being bold with colour, light and space. You’ll see!

Q. What do you think of the relatively new Oscar Wilde statue on Merrion Square (sculpted by Danny Osborne and unveiled in 1997)? Although Wilde lived in Merrion Square until 1876, Osborne interestingly portrays him at a later stage in his life.

A. I have tried to love it, I really have, but I’m sorry; I think the whole idea of a statue to someone as elusive and unstable and dangerous as Wilde is a bit of a non-starter. He is many things, but monumental is not one of them. Maggi Hambling’s memorial in London faced the same problem – and addressed it by making a sort of anti-monument. With some success; the last time I passed it, it was being sat on by three young and completely filthy construction workers, using it to have a quick fag in their tea-break while working on the restoration of St Martin’s church next door, and the sound of Wilde spinning in his grave (with pleasure, of course) was actually audible all the way from Paris…..

Q. Any other thoughts or comments?

A. I look forward to seeing you at the show!

Many thanks from The Oscholars!


Review by Aoife Leahy

The first Saturday night performance of Neil Bartlett’s An Ideal Husband on August 16th was a great hit with the Abbey audience. It was a diverse crowd that included a number of young Dubliners who were so well-groomed and elaborately dressed that they looked almost as if they should have been on the stage, something that turned out to be quite appropriate. There was a clever moment in Act 3 of the play when Lord Goring’s cheval mirror was revealed to be transparent glass, creating the optical illusion that the character saw the audience members as his reflection just as we saw him as ours. The predominantly black and gold set pieces by Rae Smith reminded me of the layouts currently seen in the glossiest home design magazines, closing the gap between Wilde’s time and our own. It lent a resonance to Sir Robert Chiltern’s declaration that ‘To succeed one must have wealth. At all costs one must have wealth.’

An Ideal Husband examines the integrity of a man who becomes rich by selling a state secret at the right time. All of his future political dealings are threatened by that false step. Can the people – or the audience – ever forgive a politician for accepting money in exchange for a dishonest deal? In a contemporary Irish context, strangely enough, the answer tends to depend on how much the people like the politician. Morality is not absolute but moderated by affection for the individual. But what if the disgraced politician is also priggish and difficult to like, so that affection for him cannot confuse the issue?

As Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern, Simon Wilson and Natalie Radmall-Quirke have the challenging task of interpreting leading roles in a manner that is not likely to invoke the audience’s sympathy. Interestingly, while many of the other actors in the production are veterans of the Abbey, Wilson and Radmall-Quirke are making their debut appearances and thus no sense of familiarity is invoked. The Chilterns of this production are emotionally crippled well before the problems created by Mrs Cheveley begin. Gertrude Chiltern behaves like a strict nanny with her husband and he responds boyishly to her every command. She recites platitudes at times of difficulty and he attempts to live by them. Unlike every other character in the play, the Chilterns show no ability to laugh at themselves and thus their humanity is lessened. In contrast, Abbey regulars like Deirdre Donnelly as Lady Markby attract the audience’s goodwill with many funny and well-delivered lines.

As Bartlett explains in the programme to accompany An Ideal Husband, the Mrs Cheveley of this production is not so much a villainess as she is the aspect of Wilde that longs to shake everything up. Commenting on Wilde’s similarity to the secretive Robert Chiltern and the witty Lord Goring, Bartlett asks: ‘But isn’t Wilde Mrs Cheveley too?’ Derbhle Crotty, fresh from The Abbey’s very recent production of The Three Sisters, seems more insightful than evil for much of the play. It is only when she decides to ruin Lady Chiltern’s reputation for the sake of vengeance alone that the stage lighting changes to make her look monstrous. In Act 2 Mrs Cheveley wears Wilde’s signature green carnation against the striking background of her purple dress. When Lord Goring traps her with the incriminating bracelet in Act 3, she screams ‘Fuck!!!’ – the only verbal addition to Wilde’s script that I noticed and one that seems highly appropriate to the interpretation of the character.

Mark O’ Halloran’s Lord Goring is a more conscientious version of Dorian Gray who has kept his soul and consequently has to cope with ageing. He has perfect clothes and an enviable apartment, but his father the Earl of Caversham (James Hayes) demands that it is time for him to marry. Years ago, as it transpires, Lord Goring almost married Mrs Cheveley and this is key to the working out of the plot. Lord Goring and Mrs Cheveley represent different aspects of the same witty, urbane personality (Wilde himself, as Bartlett suggests) and while one would forgive the Chilterns for their weaknesses the other would expose and destroy them. The two sides are too far apart to be reconciled, so Goring rejects Mrs Cheveley’s renewed advances in favour of a hasty marriage with Aoibheann O’ Hara’s Mabel. His moral stance in rejecting Mrs Cheveley for her cruelty is undermined by his readiness to exploit a friend who has fallen in love with him.

The entertaining Lord Goring is the darling of the audience until close to the end of the play, when he delivers the tricky speech: ‘A man’s life is of more value than a woman’s. It has larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. A woman’s life revolves in curves of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man’s life progresses.’ On Saturday night (and I suspect on every night of the performance) there were audible gasps of disapproval. It is an odd speech that seems hard to reconcile with Wilde’s usual attitude to women. Perhaps it reflects Lord Goring’s hypocrisy in putting his own needs ahead of what is best for Mabel. Natalie Radmall-Quirke repeats these unappealing lines to Simon Wilson in a dull and mechanical tone; Lady Chiltern does not believe in the truth of the words and neither does the audience. She has a new if meaningless rule to live by and we are supposed to find it repulsive. 

Bartlett’s interpretation of An Ideal Husband does not allow for a happy ending. Wilson and Radmall-Quirke look miserable and defeated as they make their final declarations of love for each other. They have made bruising compromises in politics and in private. Aoibheann O’ Hara transforms her articulate and intelligent Mabel into a tragic figure at the last moment, as she admits that she wants to be a ‘real wife’ to Lord Goring instead of just a friend. With great comic effect, however, Derbhle Crotty grumpily reappears on stage with her suitcases as if setting off to Vienna once again. As in Henry James’ novella The Europeans when the Baroness returns to Europe and is still in search of her fortune, only the most interesting character has a future that is still undecided. The audience responded with appreciation to this unscripted but very welcome final glimpse of Mrs Cheveley.


Review by Mathilde Mazau

Dorian Gray: It's a Woman's World


When I knew that I was going to see a theatrical version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, I was curious. But when I heard that it was an all-female cast, I was intrigued.

This new version adapted and directed by Darren Tunstall and Emily Jones (The Lincoln School of Performing Arts), and produced by Andy Jordan was part of this year's Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. And I must say that the prospect of seeing the play in the quite gothic Old Town area only added to my excitment.

Having just recently reread the novel, I made my way from Glasgow to Edinburgh, pervaded by Grayness and haunted by a gothic mood.

The play was being performed in the CSoco Building, a massive seven-floor venue at the heart of the Old Town.

What struck me first was the staging, both very simple and very visual.

The choice of a black box theatre places the focus on the story rather than on technical effects and allows the characters to move around, using frames of all shapes and sizes in nearly every scene of the play. In one of the scenes for example, Henry and Basil are having a drink and the frame, wedged between the actresses' hips, is used as a table. In another scene, Dorian and Henry use a frame as a theatre box. And when Dorian dies, he dies huddled up in a frame.

The use of frames was, after the all-female cast, my favourite element in the play. It makes the portrait pervasive without actually having a portrait as such on stage.

Along with frames, the use of puppets (designed and made by Michelle Tunstall) on several occasions adds to the surreal atmosphere of the play. They appear three times during the performance and echoe quite accurately these lines from the book "(...) fantastic shadows were silhouetted against some lamp-lit blind. He watched them curiously. They moved like monstrous marionettes and made gestures like live things. He hated them". They also reminded me of the puppets and marionettes in Wilde's poem, The Harlot's House.

As for costumes, actresses all wear black shoes and black trousers, making their outfits quite simple. The only reminders of the nineteenth century are waistcoats, floppy neck-ties and Henry's cigarette holder and case. Suggestion once again.

Suggestion and deception are the key elements in this adaptation. Even gender is suggested as all the characters of Wilde's novel are played by Alice Brockway, Jenna Cahill, Emma Beever and Laura Norton. The all-female cast was, I thought, a interesting allusion to Wilde's editorship of The Woman's World between 1887 and 1889.

The actresses succeed brilliantly in impersonating Dorian, Basil, Henry and James, Sybil's brother. So much so that as the play was being performed, I completely forgot that they were women. And it is a prowess to do so in only 50 minutes.

The duration of the play is the last thing I wanted to mention. To encapsulate twenty chapters of a novel as dense and intense as The Picture of Dorian Gray in 50 minutes left me thrilled with surprise and enthusiasm. As a Wilde lover, I am always delighted to see that his works and legacy still inspire authors (Will Self and his 2002 Dorian, An Imitation), choreographers (Matthew Bourne has created a ballet adaptation of the novel), and playwrights such as Darren Tunstall.

Even rockers are inspired. The Libertines wrote a song called Narcissist, and here is what they sing:

‘They're just narcissists
Well wouldn't it be nice to be Dorian Gray?
Just for a day
They're just narcissists
Oh, what's so great to be Dorian Gray
Every day?’

I left the theatre after fifty minutes of an outstanding adaptation and interpretation of Wilde's only novel. I was pervaded by the book when I entered the theatre, and pervaded by the play when I left it.

·         Mathilde Mazau specialised in Irish studies at the University of Caen, and wrote two ‘mémoires’, one on Wilde’s essays and the other on his correspondence. Her doctoral thesis on Wilde’s correspondence was cut short by the premature death of her supervisor and she now lives in Glasgow.


Review by Gwen Orel

‘The Selfish Giant’ by Oscar Wilde represents Wilde's sweet, sentimental, and quite religious side; it is a fairy tale for children with a strong allegorical overtone that would be poignant for any good little Victorian child (like the two sons for whom he wrote it). The musical adaptation presented by Literally Alive Children's Theatre keeps much of the magic and sweetness. However, the mysterious boy whose tears move the giant to open his garden to the little children to play no longer represents the Christ child, whose wounds, the giant learns, are the wounds of love. Instead, the giant realizes that the boy is his own inner child. It's understandable that adaptor Brenda Bell, also producing artistic director, would want to make the substitution, but it's asking a lot of the under-7 set to care about a grownup's inner child (if they even get the concept), and this Wilde fan missed his gorgeous lyricism.

Still, the production, which clocks in at less than an hour, offers a diverting chance for family activity on a weekend morning. In the pre-show workshop, children learn about the music that will be played — all percussion instruments — and have an opportunity to create paper flowers and snowflakes to decorate the selfish giant's garden.

As narrator Oscar Wilde and the giant, Todd Eric Hawkins displays charisma and Wildean aplomb. His deep velvet voice charms, particularly in the opening number "Wilde Imagination" (music by Michael Sgouros, who is also percussionist; lyrics by Bell), which is also the show's catchiest song. Sal Delmonte brings wit to the role of a cheeky servant to the giant, and Eric Fletcher amuses in various roles. Choreography and dance by Stefanie Smith are accomplished if not fully integrated into the play.

·         Presented by Literally Alive Children's Theatre as part of 1st Irish 2008 at the Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal St., NYC. Sept. 13-Oct. 26. Sat. and Sun., 10 a.m. (Additional performances Sun., Sept. 20 and 27, 2 p.m.)

·         Gwen Orel is a dramaturge, theatre administrator and critic based in New York, from where she reviews regularly for THE OSCHOLARS.  This review first appeared in Backstage 13th September 2008, and is here republished by kind permission.





Review by Annabel Rutherford

Mary Fleischer: Embodied Texts, Symbolist Playwright-Dancer Collaborations.  Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi 2007. xxi, 346 pp. Pb: 978-90-420-2285-0.  € 74 / US $111


Artistic collaborations are always fascinating to explore and perhaps none more so than those that occurred during the fin de siècle and early modernist period – a richly fertile time of artistic intermingling and profound innovation. And, largely due to such radical figures as Isadora Duncan, Loïe Fuller, and Ruth St. Denis, these years saw the emergence of a new theatrical art form – modern dance – which captured the attention of artists, writers, and composers. Nonetheless, despite the abundance of dance imagery in poems, paintings, and plays during that era, there remains a paucity of critical analysis by scholars on dance and its impact on early modernist works. In her amply illustrated book Embodied Texts: Symbolist Playwright-Dancer Collaborations, Mary Fleischer succeeds in filling some of this gaping void.

Fleischer examines the relationship between playwrights and dancers: Gabriele D’Annunzio and Ida Rubinstein; Hugo Hofmannsthal and Grete Wiesenthal; W. B. Yeats and Michio Ito and, later, with Ninette de Valois; and Paul Claudel with Jean Börlin and the Ballets Suédois. Each of these playwright-dancer collaborations was highly experimental and strongly focused on fusing the performing arts – acting, dancing, singing, music, and design – into one theatrical production. In keeping with the symbolist aesthetic, their desire was to expose the emotional and psychological realms inherent in their works. And this, they believed, could be achieved through the dancer. Embodied Texts, then, not only considers the collaborative working relationship between artists, but also dwells on the interaction of art forms in a specific work (xix).  Given the  inherent ephemerality of dance as an art form, Fleischer sets herself the daunting task of describing how symbolist playwrights, from 1890–1930, utilized dance and gesture to express the verbally inexpressible. To achieve this, they created dance-plays or, the term Fleischer prefers, dance theatre, in which the dancer embodied their texts.

The author’s criterion for her choice of works considered is that each must communicate more through “rhythmic movement, gesture, image, and music” than through the traditional spoken text (3). Thus, dance is an integral part of the structure in all the six discussed works. For her theoretical framework, Fleischer draws from Stéphane Mallarmé’s writings on dance, but is swift to identify Duncan and Emile Jacques-Dalcroze as two highly influential theorists for symbolist playwright-dancer collaborations. Indeed, Dalcrozian philosophy is apparent in much of Fleischer’s analysis of the dance-plays, and it is, after all, through a rhythmic or musical base that the playwright and dancer/choreographer intertwine their art forms. 

Of all the playwrights discussed, Yeats is the most successful in achieving this quested unity of the arts. Much has been written about his collaboration with Michio Ito and his fascination and experimentation with Noh theatre, particularly in his play At the Hawk’s Well. Until now, however, comparatively little has been written about Yeats’ collaboration with de Valois on the production Fighting the Waves. While Fleischer lingers too long on early biographical information about de Valois, she provides an engaging analysis of the work, explaining how Yeats all but replaced verbal narrative in favour of a dance ensemble, a highly complex musical score, and the visual elements. Particularly compelling is her detailed exploration of de Valois’ working methods with Yeats, which focuses on an area all too frequently neglected in studies of this grand matriarch of British ballet. The result of their collaboration is, arguably, one of the closest examples of artistic integration during these years.

Each of the works Fleischer discusses attempted to explore new areas of performance and, as with any experiment, not all of them were successful. D’Annunzio’s collaboration with Rubinstein to create Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien is a case in point. Indeed, given that playwright, dancer, composer (Claude Debussy) and designer (Leon Bakst) worked in isolation, it is hardly surprising that the result was more one of dissonance than the desired harmonious blending of the arts. Bakst’s characteristically rich decor was too flamboyant to blend. Debussy, bewildered by the entire experience, called upon the aid of a colleague to orchestrate his composition. But, ironically, the major complication (as it was for several playwrights) was the integration of the dancer. Rubinstein had a strong personality (as did Wiesenthal and de Valois) and, as Fleischer points out, no matter how abstracted the dancer’s body, through physical and visual components, there was always an underlying tension created by the very presence on stage of a specific dancer (304). The quested unity between dancer and dance necessary for total artistic collaboration was rarely, if ever, truly attainable.

With the exception of Rubinstein, all the dancers had received formal training from childhood. De Valois, a classically trained dancer, was familiar with performing in an ensemble. Wiesenthal was wholly dedicated to experimenting with Hofmannsthal and exploring the artistic possibilities of true embodiment of a text. Rubinstein, despite her appearances with the Ballets Russes, was not a classically trained dancer. She had trained independently with Russian choreographer Michel Fokine as a young adult but had not experienced the traditional dance school training. Never one to miss an opportunity for sensationalism (or box office), Serge Diaghilev had engaged her more for her exotic stage presence and ability to convey such characters as Cléopatra than for her dancing skills. Although D’Annunzio wrote Saint Sébastien specifically for Rubinstein, he may not have anticipated the strength of her stage presence, which was virtually impossible to integrate or merge with the other components. Predictably, as Fleischer shows, the result was theatrical chaos. That Saint Sébastien was revived and performed in major opera houses (Paris, London, Milan) was more, Fleischer explains, through radical reworking of the production.

Fleischer’s application of Claudel’s theories to his work with Börlin and the Ballets Suédois is particularly fascinating and, arguably, the most integrated analysis in this study. Although her frequent references to the Ballets Russes are extremely generalized and, in places, irritatingly superficial, her analysis of Claudel’s L’Homme et son désir (1921) is highly original and the many illustrations enable the reader to visualize the production. Through her analysis of the set in relation to the spatial groupings of the performers, the musical score, and the expressive movements and gestures, Fleischer brings to life an extraordinary, hitherto, little known production. 

One flaw in this otherwise valuable study is the author’s failure to devote more than a fleeting reference to Oscar Wilde’s Salomé in the introduction. True, the play was not written in collaboration with other artists, but even a cursory glance at Fleischer’s index suggests its impact on symbolist-inspired theatre at this time. Sprinkled throughout the work are references to Salomé and its various offshoots:  The biographical section on Rubinstein provides several paragraphs devoted to the play’s Russian production history; allusions are made to Max Reinhardt’s 1907-08 production for which St Denis rejected the role on the grounds of Wilde’s play being too decadent; interesting reference is made to Hofmannsthal’s little known scenario for Salomé, originally written for St Denis; and the reader is also reminded of the strong influence that Wilde’s play had on the Yeats/de Valois collaboration for The King of the Great Clock Tower. Whether Fleischer realizes or not, Salomé’s influence permeates her book and a brief introductory discussion specifically about Wilde’s text would enrich the work considerably. 

Embodied Texts is an excellent source for students and scholars of modernist theatre, dance, art, and stage design. Fleischer provides an original and fascinating study on the emergence of the dance-play, or dance theatre, as a theatrical genre. While several contemporary critics recognized these dance-plays for their theatrical innovation, several expressed bafflement when attempting to identify genre or form. Consequently, the productions were short-lived and, until now, some of them forgotten or, sadly, unknown. Fleischer’s vast collection of illustrations is extremely valuable in enabling the reader to visualize the choreographic image described. Indeed, the illustrations are a major strength of the book. The lengthy bibliography is impressive and provides an excellent source for future scholarship. This work is long overdue and points the way to further exploration and a deeper understanding of the impact dance had on both the performing and literary arts of the fin de siècle and modernist era.

·         Annabel Rutherford is Dance Editor of THE OSCHOLARS





Review by Lucia Krämer

Angela Kingston, Oscar Wilde as a Character in Victorian Fiction. New York and Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 304 pp.


Angela Kingston’s book is an important addition to the recent spate of studies on fictional representations of Oscar Wilde, such as Tanitch’s inventory Oscar Wilde on Stage and Screen (1999), Haase’s analysis of Wilde portraits in biofictional literature, Oscar Wilde für alle – Die Darstellung Oscar Wildes in biofiktionaler Literatur (2004) or my own media-comparative study of fictional biographies of Oscar Wilde in Roman, Drama und Film (2003). While these writers are principally interested in fictional representations of Wilde from the twentieth century, Kingston has chosen to restrict her analysis to fictional portraits of Wilde in English published during his lifetime and has even further limited her text corpus to narrative prose texts. Within this scope, however, she aims at completeness, and her table of contents lists an impressive 36 works with fictional Wilde portraits from the period between 1877 and 1900 as well as two immediately related later texts from the early years of the twentieth century. As an appendix, Kingston moreover provides an extensive annotated bibliography of novels and short stories featuring Wilde as a character from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. By identifying 28 novels and short stories with Wilde portraits published between 1895 and 1930, she not only convincingly contradicts the established belief that the Wilde fiction industry basically dried up after the Wilde trials before reviving in the 1930s, but also goes well beyond the scope of the text corpora treated in the studies mentioned above. The book ends with a useful index of names and topics.

Even though Kingston writes most exhaustively about better-known fictions such as Dracula, Robert Hichen’s The Green Carnation or Henry James’ The Tragic Muse, her book goes far beyond other critical studies on early Wilde portraits, such as John Stokes’ Oscar Wilde: Myths, Miracles, and Imitations (1996). Kingston’s book introduces the reader to texts by canonised authors (e.g. Shaw, Conan Doyle, Beardsley and Stoker) or by household names of late nineteenth-century literature (e.g. Marie Corelli, Mrs Humphrey Ward, Marc-André Raffalovich, Richard Le Gallienne and Ada Leverson) as well as writers that even specialists in late nineteenth-century literature will not have heard of before. Kingston presents and analyses the texts from her corpus individually and in chronological order. She has subdivided her review according to the works’ dates of publication into three parts ‘that correspond with distinct phases in Wilde’s public life’ (3). The first part of her book thus deals with works published during Wilde’s so-called ‘first phase’ as an Aesthete (1877-1890); the second part contains works published during his phase as Decadent (1891-1895); and the last part presents texts published after the trials, when Wilde was forced to lead the life of a Pariah (1896-1900). At first glance, this subdivision might appear problematic, since some of the later portraits clearly reflect earlier ways of representing Wilde, such as the aesthete Guy Waye in the novel Miss Malevolent (1899) by C. A. E. Ranger Gull. Moreover, Kingston goes somewhat against her own premise by including Max Beerbohm’s ‘A Peep into the Past’ in her corpus, which, though written in 1893 or 1894, was only published in 1923. (Similarly, she concentrates on the uncensored 1907 version of Aubrey Beardsley’s The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser rather than the expurgated excerpts published in 1896 as ‘Under the Hill’.) Yet the subdivision of the book is ultimately convincing because even though Kingston never systematically categorises the various Wilde portraits from her text corpus, it allows her to sketch out changing tendencies and shifts in emphasis in the Wilde portraits of and between the three periods. Her presentation of these shifts and changes is supported by biographical information about Wilde that Kingston provides as a backdrop for the Wilde portraits in her corpus and as a linking device between the various phases of Wilde’s life. It also serves as a unifying element in view of the very disparate nature of the works of Kingston’s corpus, which reflect Wilde’s often contradictory self-presentation, and as a way to provide an outlook at fictional portraits of Wilde in other genres than narrative prose fiction.

Somewhat problematically, Kingston’s methodological approach to her corpus consists in ‘critiquing’ the fictions on the basis of ‘the strength of the resemblance of the fictional character to Wilde’ (3), which seems to contradict the claim in her introduction that she regards fiction as a supplement of historical knowledge, which must not, however, be mistaken for biography. Deliberately pursuing a biographical approach, she also aims to ‘ascertain if and how the author was acquainted with [Wilde]’ and ‘how this relation is reflected’ in the individual works (3). Kingston has moreover tried to find out whether and how the portrait was ever acknowledged by the author or Wilde himself and, where applicable, provides and discusses relevant critiques by others in addition to her own analysis (3/4).

The result of this approach to a highly impressive corpus of texts is an extremely informative study of the manifold perceptions of Wilde that existed during his lifetime, and of Wilde as an agent and object of scrutiny within his professional and social environment. One might argue that especially towards the end of the book Kingston’s text contains altogether too many speculations masked as intriguing prospects (e.g. 100) or ‘interesting possibilities’ (216); for example, she hints at an affair between Ada Leverson and Frederic Carrel without proper corroboration. However, Kingston’s speculations are always marked as such, and her detailed research on authors’ lives and interconnections, which has uncovered a wealth of biographical detail beyond the standard biographies, as well as on the social, historical and political influences shaping the production of her text corpus, has led to an extraordinarily intricate and vivid depiction of the web of social and literary relations that Wilde was a part of. Especially by unearthing a lot of information about lesser-known writers and positing them in relation to Wilde, Kingston has gone beyond a study of the reception of Wilde to create also a sort of communal biography of writers, which allows the reader an informative glimpse at the literary scene in late nineteenth-century London (and beyond). In fact, her analysis of the Wildean character in the fictional text sometimes decidedly pales in relation to the information she provides about its author and his/her relation to Wilde (e.g. in the case of the survey of A Willing Exile by Marc-André Raffalovich). Moreover, in several cases, Kingston’s claim of Wildean influences in a specific literary character seems far more tenuous and speculative than her factual narrative of the genesis or background of the text in question (see e.g. her analysis of Joseph Conrad’s ‘The Return’). The mentioning of white fleshy hands, drooping eyelids and a distinctive voice in characters otherwise unlike Wilde, seems hardly enough to warrant the claim that these characters represent fictional portraits of Wilde. This, however, is implied by Kingston’s use of the resemblance of the fictional to the ‘real’ Wilde as a normative criterion in her textual analyses (e.g. in her evaluations of George Fleming’s Mirage and Gull’s The Hypocrite). Indeed, Kingston’s own wording repeatedly suggests that many of the texts she surveys do not contain ‘Oscar Wilde as a character’, which the title of her study implies, but rather characters ‘who display […] aspects of Wilde’ (28). In some cases, such as Grant Allen’s Linnet: A Romance or Mrs Campbell Praed’s The Scourge-Stick, one might even go further and ask whether it would not make more sense to regard the allegedly Wildean figures in these texts as generic representations of aesthetes or dandies – which admittedly derive from Wilde and the prevalent notions about him in a similar way that the later generic figure of the male homosexual does, but whose relationship to Wilde is more tenuous than Kingston suggests. Due to these methodological questions, Kingston’s  analysis of fictional representations of Wilde during his lifetime remains somewhat less satisfying than her detailed and vivid depiction of the network that Wilde was part of as author, critic, socialite and object of creative interest. In this second respect, however, the book is thoroughly convincing and a real biographical treat.

·         Lucia Krämer is Germany Editor of THE OSCHOLARS.


Review by Kathleen Riley

Christopher Stray, ed.: Gilbert Murray Reassessed: Hellenism, Theatre, and International Politics.  Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.  ISBN-13: 978-0-19-920879-1.  400pp.  £65. 00 (Hardback).


In the Einleitung of his seminal edition of Euripides’ Herakles, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, rejecting the Nietzschean ideal of the philologist as prophet, urged: ‘We philologists … must have something of the actor in us – not the virtuoso who interprets his role in his own way but rather the true artist who through his heart’s blood gives life to the dead word.’ Perhaps the nearest embodiment of this principle of exegetic enquiry was Wilamowitz’s friend and disciple Gilbert Murray (1866-1957), whose important rehabilitative work on Euripides owed much to the great German philologist’s ‘historical insight and singular gift of imaginative sympathy with ancient Greece’ (Murray, A History of Ancient Greek Literature, 1897).  Although he lacked Wilamowitz’s hermeneutic exactitude, Murray was first and foremost a consummate performer (albeit one with a touch of the virtuoso about him), an academic equipped with theatrical acumen and actorly intuition and instilled with a mission to breathe life into the classics.  It is fitting that his ashes lie interred in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner near the grave of David Garrick.  The present volume, edited by Christopher Stray, is testament to Murray’s proficiency and, above all, his versatility as a performer.

Most of the sixteen papers collected here derive from a conference on Gilbert Murray held at the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London, between 6th and 8th July 2005.  The middle day of the conference coincided with the ‘7/7 bombings’, the coordinated terrorist attacks on London’s public transport system, which included the explosion of a bomb on a double-decker bus in nearby Tavistock Square.  It is to the memory of the victims of those attacks that this volume is dedicated.  In his introduction, Stray recalls that the bomb blasts brought home to the delegates ‘the human reality of the issues to which Murray devoted so much of his life. ’

The book’s publication comes fifty years after Murray’s death and almost a century after his appointment as Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford.  Murray’s career and legacy are certainly ripe for reassessment.  Although in his lifetime he wielded an influence and attained a celebrity status few classicists have matched, most Greek scholars nowadays have a low opinion of his work.  He is commonly disparaged as an amateur and popularizer, a critical lightweight despite his enormous erudition.  Gilbert Murray Reassessed is a valiant and, for the most part, successful attempt to redress such facile censure, to form a reappraisal of Murray’s deeds well beyond the undeniable shortcomings of his literary criticism and historical perspective, and to capture something of the human essence of an extraordinary individual.  It is thus the first collection of its kind.

The eighteen contributors to the volume are drawn from several disciplines – classics and classical reception studies, education, politics, economics, theatre studies, history (ancient and modern), and international relations – reflecting the remarkable range of Murray’s own interests and activities.  The aggregate image is of a colossus who bestrode the worlds of Victorianism and Modernism and of classicism and historicism, a scholar and statesman with a sizeable dash of the popular entertainer (even vaudevillian) thrown into the mix.  Evaluating the difficulties inherent in the commemoration and analysis of such protean endeavour, Stray observes: ‘The author of The Study of History [Arnold Toynbee] had the gift of seeing the grand pattern in the scattered particulars, but also a tendency to impose Procrustean patterns on them.  A similar problem confronts anyone who writes about Murray’s achievement and his position in history. ’ While it manages to avoid Toynbee’s Procrustean tendencies, the volume as a whole could have profited from some of his grand-pattern perception.  It could likewise have profited from Murray’s gift for synthesis and engaging presentation.  Inevitably, and maybe of necessity, it is somewhat discursive.  Nonetheless, this is a valuable and penetrative study, bold in scope and objective.

The first chapter comprises two sets of recollected vignettes by Murray’s grandchildren Ann Paludan and Alexander Murray, both accomplished scholars in their own right.  These vivid shards of memory afford intimate, unsentimental glimpses of Murray at Yatscombe, his home on Boars Hill, ‘the green paradise that looks down on Oxford’s towers. ’ They fashion a portrait of a man of warmth, humour and incisive intellect, of mild eccentricity and benign authority.  Alongside this portrait is evoked, with equal vividness and affection, the memory of Murray’s wife, Lady Mary (daughter of the 9th Earl of Carlisle) and of the symbiotic union they enjoyed.  Chapter 2 by Francis West is a well-researched but slightly tedious reassessment of Murray’s genealogy and misremembered Australian childhood.

Chapters 3 to 6 constitute a cogent exposition of Murray’s work as classicist: his writings on Greek literature, philosophy, and religion, his textual editing, and his translations of Greek tragedy.  The last showed him to be, in James Morwood’s words, an ‘instinctive man of the theatre’.  In discussing Murray’s aim to procure a wider audience for classics, Mark Griffith presents Murray as the developer, ahead of his time, of a type of Outreach programme.  Christopher Collard provides a fresh and adroit review of the area of Murray’s classical scholarship that has received the most condemnation, his textual criticism.

Fiona Macintosh’s excellent chapter on the theatrical legacy of Murray’s translation of Euripides’ Bacchae, in particular its influence on Bernard Shaw and Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka, is one of the volume’s most effective demonstrations and reassessments of Murray’s enduring significance.  The next three chapters consider Murray in the role of friend and mentor, and specifically his relationships with three men very different from himself: A.  E.  Housman, J.  A.  K.  Thomson, and Bertrand Russell.  Chapters 11 to 13 deal with Murray’s famed liberalism and his involvement in politics and international relations.  Martin Caedel charts Murray’s progression from Gladstonian to Asquithean, from apologist to internationalist, and from liberal to conservative.  Peter Wilson evaluates Murray the international political theorist, indicating the limitations of what he perceived as Murray’s idealist strategy ‘to inject into international affairs the values, manners, and code of conduct of the nineteenth-century English gentleman.’ Julia Stapleton explores Murray’s conception of Hellenism in relation to the vicissitudes of twentieth-century liberalism, focusing on his association with Alfred Eckhard Zimmern and with the Home University Library.

The final three chapters examine hitherto largely neglected aspects of Murray the public man of letters and popular entertainer.  Mick Morris documents Murray’s long involvement in radio, his BBC broadcasts as translator of ancient drama, lecturer on a wide variety of topics, and regular member of the Brains Trust.  Murray was, Morris states, ‘quite literally, to millions of radio listeners, the voice of classical learning.’ But as proof that he was a classicist with no ordinary or circumscribed remit, we learn that his first radio appearance took place at the conclusion of the General Strike of 1926 when he was asked by John Reith, the first Director General of the BBC, to speak to the nation in a bid to heal raw wounds.  Murray as prolific letter writer to The Times, second only probably to George Bernard Shaw in this regard, is the subject of an essay by William Bruneau and Russell Wodell, who have compiled a representative selection of Murray’s correspondence between 1908 and 1956 ‘as evidence of his powers as a practical logician and a prose stylist. ’ Finally, Nick Lowe gives an interesting account of Murray’s lifelong engagement in psychic research, describing him as ‘the most significant telepath of his age’.  Equally interesting is the revelation of Murray’s own ambivalence towards his psychic abilities.

In consequence, and occasionally in spite, of its contributors’ efforts at reassessment, the picture of Murray that emerges from this collection of essays is of a passionate Hellenist, a civilized and charismatic figure of admirable vision and impressively wide sympathies and intellect, a figure too of complexity and capable of self-contradiction.  The conclusion, which the various contributions collectively encourage, is that it is as a great man, rather than a great classicist, that Murray should be remembered.  His greatness was in many respects fostered by and peculiar to the time in which he lived.  It is hard to imagine a comparably dashing all-rounder, a flawed but commanding combination of professional and amateur, finding a place in today’s worlds of classical scholarship, theatre, or international politics.  Alexander Murray prefaces his recollections by saying that the thought of his grandfather ‘conjures up a world.  It is full of people, vanishing beyond the horizon.’ In my view the entire volume carries a strain of (unconscious) elegy; it is effectively a remembrance of a world, and a Hellenism, that is all but lost.  This elegiac quality is appropriate to its subject.  For there was in Gilbert Murray himself something of the elegist in the way his intellectual and political labours signified a kind of nostos, a vigorous desire to recover a fundamental decency.


·         Kathleen Riley is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in Classics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and the author of Nigel Hawthorne on Stage (University of Hertfordshire Press, 2004) and The Reception and Performance of Euripides’ Herakles: Reasoning Madness (Oxford University Press, May 2008).





Review by John S. Partington

Ruth Livesey: Socialism, Sex, and the Culture of Aestheticism in Britain, 1880-1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Hardbound, x + 236 pp, illustrated. ISBN 978 0 19 726398 3. £30 / $60

In Socialism, Sex, and the Culture of Aestheticism in Britain, 1880-1914, Ruth Livesey analyses the appropriation of aestheticism for the ideological armoury of socialism in the late-nineteenth century, and its ultimate cultural secession in the Edwardian period. While the late-Victorian aesthetes could consider their art as socially transformative, and thus contributory to the coming socialist dawn, by the eve of the Great War, socialist politics had turned to more hard-nosed (and in many ways aggressive) issues such as addressing poverty, empowering workers’ organisations and succeeding through parliamentary and extra-parliamentary means, while the aesthetic movement took a radically individualist turn, ultimately feeding into Modernism and rather detached (and one might say socially irrelevant) preoccupations.

Reacting against the notion of the artist as necessarily individualist, socialist artists emerged in the late-Victorian period in reaction to the strictures placed upon their work by capitalist society. The emerging phenomena of industrial production, mass publicity and the marketing of taste both priced the artist out of the market and restricted the propagation of aesthetic taste due to capitalist monopolisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. In short, artists’ and craftspersons’ commodities were too expensive for mass enjoyment, while the emerging mass media balked at publicising productions that did not ‘sell’ in favour of more successful commodities (i.e., cheaper and more plentiful) that did. With William Morris in the vanguard, artists and craftspersons emerged (often associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement, and such periodicals as the New Age) who challenged, on the one hand, the dominance of machine production of commodities and, on the other, the elitist, ghettoised status of the aesthete as individualist, existing outside of history and producing art for its own sake, detached from the cultural needs of the society in which they existed. Livesey describes the aesthetic polarisation at the fin-de-siècle thus: ‘Whilst aestheticism tended towards individualism, the sensuous pleasures of taste and consumption, and insisted on the absolute autonomy of the aesthetic, socialist writers tried to frame an alternative in which art was by its very nature a communal product of labour and will, with only relative freedom from the material determination of capitalism’ (1-2).

Throughout her study, Livesey privileges Fabianism and the New Age as forums within which socialist aesthetics flourished, writing that ‘Not only were a large number of artists and writers members of the Fabian Society during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but also the New Age, a journal central to the dissemination of early modernist literature, was established by members of the Fabian Arts Group in 1907’ (7-8) (though Livesey’s later assertion that the New Age was ‘an adjunct of the Fabian Society’ [18] overstates the relationship between the two). Given the nature of her study, it is surprising that Livesey does not discuss the emergence of the Samurai Society in this context, and as a breeding ground for the emerging Modernist ‘movement’. The Society was inspired by the ascetic ruling class of H. G. Wells’s A Modern Utopia (1905), and while its founding meeting in April 1907 (under the auspices of the Fabian Arts Group at the New Reform Club) declared an intention to establish Samurai Clubs and train up political leaders of the future, the reality (with Wells’s support) proved to be a Norwich-based printing press which published 34 titles of (mostly) poetry between 1907 and 1909. Although a short-lived enterprise, the leading lights of the Samurai Society were Maurice Browne and Harold Munro. In later life Browne established the Chicago Little Theatre (1912), and was the founder of the Dartington Hall drama programme and Maurice Browne Ltd, a West End theatre company which controlled the theatrical rights to R. C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End (1928). Munro later became the manager of the ‘Poetry Bookshop’ and edited Poetry Review (1912) and The Chapbook (1919-21). As bridges between Victorian socialist aesthetics and Modernism, a discussion of Browne and Munro would have been useful and revealing.

In the first chapter, Livesey discusses ‘William Morris and the Aesthetics of Manly Labour’, seeing Morris as the emergent artist radicalised to socialism by a frustrated aesthetic. A pupil of John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle, Morris took those sages’ anti-industrialism and channelled it into a collectivist aesthetic which promoted a socialist future of free labour engaged in physical (pleasurable) arts and crafts. According to Livesey, ‘The aesthetic ideal must be available to all, Morris argues, in order to stimulate material change. Only the aesthetic has the capacity to stand outside the shadow of history: it is the only place left for idealism in Morris’s socialist theory; the only means by which will and desire can have relative autonomy from the material determinations of capitalism’ (43). For Morris, socialism would emancipate the artist and craftsperson from the limits placed upon them by free market ethics, and such an emancipation would result in a transformation of the built environment and thus transform the quality of life and the relationship of workers to their work. For, in such a society, all work would be art, and therefore free and pleasurable.

Especially in chapter two, Livesey addresses the issues female socialists such as Clementina Black faced regarding class solidarity versus gender solidarity. Black became an activist in London’s East End, mobilising self-help among the poor, and encouraging trade union membership during the mid- to late-1880s. As part of this campaign Black rejected or ignored initiatives by women to unite for causes peculiar to their gender, seeing working class unity as paramount and believing that socialist victory would automatically transform gender relations. However, by the beginning of the 1890s, it became clear to Black and her like that women faced particular abuses, both under capitalism and within the labour movement itself, and she began supporting women’s organisations and initiatives to safeguard women from abuses at work, such as the appointment of female factory inspectors and women’s sections of labour and socialist organisations. This identification by Livesey of such factional choices forced upon women socialists predates the theoretical and practical debates held within the Second International later in the century, when Clara Zetkin was arguing for class solidarity among world socialists, and rejecting the alliance of the working class women’s movement with the bourgeois feminist movement of the 1890s. Zetkin, the paramount Marxist theoretician of women’s role within the labour movement, came to realise that socialism would not of itself deliver gender equality, and from the early twentieth century argued for a socialist women’s movement within the greater socialist movement in her native Germany and within the Second International generally, a realisation she might have observed earlier had she been aware of the more advanced women’s movement in Britain. There, questions of gender within and between classes already had a history of debate and consideration due to the experiences of activist female socialists such as Black.

Chapter four contains a discussion of ‘faddism’ in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century socialism – vegetarianism, sandal-wearing and ‘Jaegerism’ – and its uneasy positioning between (and ultimate disregard by) labourism and Marxist socialism as the twentieth century progressed. Livesey portrays faddism as a development of earlier ethical socialism, and presents it as a practical, achievable objective for bourgeois socialists such as George Bernard Shaw and Edward Carpenter, as ‘For many socialists […] vegetarianism and dress reform were a tangible means of acting upon this ethical reformist agenda of the “religion of socialism”’ (105). As the vegetarian, H. S. Salt asserted in 1899, vegetarianism ‘was nothing less than “Progressiveness in diet”, freeing man from the cravings for meat consequent upon advanced capitalism and returning him to the humane farinaceous diet of the peasants of the past’ (105). For Carpenter, vegetarianism and dress reform were conduits by which practitioners could achieve a sort of spiritual advancement. Carpenter credited Lamarckian evolution, and saw will or ‘desire’ as motive forces in improving the individual and through the individual the culture at large.

By translating Lamarck’s besoin, or need – the driving force behind species modification – as desire, Carpenter was able to sketch out a thoroughly intentionalist and idealist model of development. Change of any sort, Carpenter argued, was ‘not accretive, but exfoliatory’, beginning in the ‘mental region’, and moving from ‘desire, gradually taking form in thought’ passing into the ‘bodily region’, expressing itself in action, and only then ‘solidifying itself in organisation and structure’. Wanting to have a certain form, thinking of the self a certain way brought that body into being. (113)

Having covered these and other expressions of aestheticism within the socialist movement, Livesey concludes her study with a very interesting chapter on the break between the aesthetes and socialism. Although the misnomer ‘aesthetic movement’ is often used, aestheticism was not united by any single institution (though a variety of cultural organisations existed for various members of the aesthetic establishment); all the more interesting is it, therefore, that aesthetes en bloc shifted from a socially engaged practice to an insular, individualist and irresponsible mode of artistic production around 1907 (or, with Virginia Woolf, should that be c. 1910?). While figures like Shaw continued to espouse such notions of the Victorian aesthetes as vegetarianism, Lamarckism and unconventional medical approaches, such ideas were marginalised and ridiculed from the Edwardian period onwards. Livesey demonstrates this cultural shift through a discussion of Alfred Orage. Orage began public life as an Independent Labour Party activist in Leeds in the 1880s, and increased his significance in the socialist movement through editing the reborn New Age from 1907. However, by fronting the aesthetic debates within the socialist movement in the pages of his journal, Orage quickly repositioned himself, remaining true to the evolving aesthetic culture, but thereby finding it difficult to remain relevant to the socialist cause. True, the New Age continued to publish political debates throughout Orage’s editorship (1907-22), but from around 1911 his editorials became cynical, and his criticisms were aimed at socialist thinkers and practices, though from the perspective of a socialist thought that could no longer be grounded in theory or in the practice of political activists. Thus the aesthetic socialism espoused by Orage from 1911 was a hollow shell, socialism in name, but in fact not socialism at all. With the emergence of such new contributors to the New Age as Ezra Pound, and the disappearance from its pages (except to make an occasional attack upon it) of H. G. Wells and Arnold Bennett, the remaining socialist readership could find few contributors sharing their political convictions. The aesthetic the New Age came to promote may have retained an interest for socialist readers, but not for any socialist content it contained.

Livesey’s study carries an interest, though perhaps less for scholars of political thought and action than for those interested in the shifting manifestations of aesthetic culture at the fin-de-siècle.

·         Dr. John S. Partington was the longest serving editor of The Wellsian (1999-2008).  He is the author of Building Cosmopolis: The Political Thought of H. G. Wells (2003), and has edited H. G. Wells in Nature, 1893-1946: A Reception Reader (2008), The Reception of H. G. Wells in Europe (with Patrick Parrinder, 2005), The Wellsian: Selected Essays on H. G. Wells (2003) and H. G. Wells's Fin-de-siècle: Twenty-first Century Reflections on the Early H. G. Wells. Selections from The Wellsian (2007). In addition to Wells, Partington has published on Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, George Orwell, Arthur Conan Doyle, Phoebe Cusden, Lorenzo Quelch and Woody Guthrie.


Review by Jessica Wardhaugh

Sébastien Rutés, Le Linceul du vieux monde (Marseille, Éditions l’Atinoir, 2008) Paperback ISBN: 978-2-35299-023-9.  Price: 12€


A Pleasing Melancholy

The preface warns us that the structure of this novel will be complex—and so it is. At the centre is Oscar Wilde in Parisian exile, drawn into a circle of anarchists who ply him with absinthe and then ignore his witticisms. As Wilde toys with the dream of dynamiting the Eiffel Tower, he becomes involved in an anarchist scheme to unmask the perpetrators of series of recent attacks on beautiful Parisians, an unsolved mystery that is currently attracting unwanted police attention to the anarchist milieu. Also on the case is an anaemic racing-driver of a police inspector, concurrently pursuing a gang of Chinese opium-dealers who appear to be dealing in more than opium. Meanwhile, in an exotic opium club near the Parc Monceau, a sinister English gentleman is organising masked balls with ulterior motives. And in the background is Paris, a capital excited by the Dreyfus Affair and the preparations for the forthcoming International Exhibition, its restless crowds surging through the streets in the hope of violent confrontation between the Ligue antisémitique and the police, and pressing their faces against the windows of the Morgue to view its latest victims.

The scene is set for mystery, adventure, and a nostalgic peregrination through a Paris of bohemian cafés-concerts and secret assignations, and in this deftly constructed and engaging novel, Sébastien Rutés does not disappoint. Certainly, the warning of complexity should be well heeded. The tangled skeins of the various subplots are initially perplexing, and the rich variety of anarchist slang—bandits lapse readily into javanais, in which every vowel is followed by –av or –va, while butchers prefer the more complex louchebem—can be similarly challenging. (Fortunately Rutés provides a glossary, and Wilde’s demands for clarification are often timely.) Yet the reader’s indulgence is ultimately and generously rewarded. Based on the premise that Wilde frequented anarchist circles during his Parisian exile—and he did indeed encounter anarchist poets at the Kalisaya café, including a friend of the terrorist Émile Henry—Rutés constructs a fictional detective story that is often fantastical, and invariably entertaining.

When the rich tapestry of the narrative is complete, a well-conceived pattern emerges, and there is a strong underlying harmony of style, theme, and tone. Deliberately recalling the sources and preoccupations of the period, Rutés makes consistent use of fictional newspaper extracts to present the lurid faits divers of his narrative, and each press cutting then features in the following chapter. It is an effective technique, maintaining a brisk pace and establishing useful links between subplots, while also giving the novel the flavour of an archival investigation. Equally successful (and strongly reminiscent of police dossiers in the Archives Nationales) is the construction of a complete chapter around a collection of brief reports labelled individually with time and place: a series of snapshots of the subplots as they gradually and inexorably converge.

The deft interweaving of this fictional detective drama with the historical chronology of the Dreyfus Affair creates a tension between appearance and reality that also characterises the novel as a whole. When Wilde first joins his anarchist friend Nino in their search for the mysterious attackers, neither is quite certain where reality ends and fiction begins, not least when discussing their self-identification with Watson and Sherlock Holmes. Wilde delights in the multiple opportunities for disguise and reinvention within the anarchist milieu: not content with his assumed name of Sebastian Melmoth, he later claims to be related to Buffalo Bill, basking in the admiration thus elicited from his new acquaintances. Two separate instances of fancy dress reinforce this tension between appearance and reality, disguise and revelation, while also offering rich possibilities for comic misunderstanding.

The novel’s structural and thematic unity is further strengthened by its dominant tone. This is not merely a detective story, but also—and more fundamentally—a poetic homage to the decadence and melancholy of the fin-de-siècle which is strongly autumnal in quality (most of the action takes place in September–October 1899). The title of the novel is apt, but ironic. Taken from a song by Aristide Bruant, the celebrated cabaret singer immortalised in the posters of Toulouse-Lautrec, Le Linceul du vieux monde is the shroud woven by anarchists in preparation for society’s imminent demise. Anarchists of the fin-de-siècle frequently identified themselves as the ‘new barbarians’ whose assault on the civilised world would accomplish its final destruction, and they deliberately evoked the historical precedent of the fall of the Roman Empire. Their violence and vitality would, so they claimed, renew the world, and they often underlined their own youthfulness as evidence of their regenerative potential. Yet the central characters of Rutés novel are, for the most part, no longer young. Wilde is deeply conscious of his physical decline; Nino increasingly infirm; even the Argentinean terrorist Le Sahuayo reminisces about heroic exploits almost three decades ago on the barricades of the Commune. Their glory has faded; they are incurably nostalgic for their lost youth; and the fast-paced murder mystery that jerks them out of their habitual reverie provides a strangely brief staccato against the sustained melancholy of the underlying melody. Ironically, Rutés’ characters are fighting not against the old world but against the new, angrily opposed to the brash ironwork of the Eiffel Tower that offends Wilde’s aesthetic sensibilities, and to the modernisation and technical progress that strip the world of mystery and romance. ‘Ennui is the enemy,’ as Wilde observed in a letter from Switzerland in 1899, and the observation could be pertinently applied to almost every one of Rutés’ characters. Even the villain echoes this sentiment precisely, nostalgic for the gothic tales of his youth and for the perceived virility of medieval heroism.

Rutés intends his novel to be a hybrid version of the roman noir, somewhere between the thriller, the historical novel, and the nineteenth-century serial. It is not an easy position to adopt: the necessary explanations of historical context can seem heavy-handed or artificial, the many-layered narrative can appear confusing, and a book of this length does not offer the leisure of the nineteenth-century novel for the elaboration of complex subplots. Yet Rutés navigates his path with confidence, and the final impression is of a pleasing melancholy, carefully sustained. If the novel stands as a homage to the literary fin-de-siècle, it is also reminiscent of early cinema: there is something here of the macabre comedy of Louis Feuillade’s Fantômas, and of the quirky innovation of Georges Méliès (like Méliès, Rutés also adorns his creation with beautiful, decorative women.)  Le Linceul du vieux monde is Sébastien Rutés’ first novel. I hope that it will be the first of many.

·         Jessica Wardhaugh is a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford. She has edited a book on Paris and the Right in the Twentieth Century, and has a forthcoming monograph on street politics in France during the 1930s with Palgrave Macmillan. She has also published on anarchist culture in the Belle Époque, and is currently writing a history of popular theatre during the Third Republic.


Review by Eva Thienpont

André Capiteyn: Maeterlinck. Een Nobelprijs voor Gent (ISBN 978-90-5349-658-9) and Maeterlinck. Un prix Nobel (ISBN 978-90-5349-687-9), Uitgeverij Snoeck 2008. [Maeterlinck: a Nobel Prize for Ghent – a new introduction by André Capiteyn]


To this day, Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949) remains the only Belgian author ever to have received the Nobel Prize for Literature (1911). You would think that this would make him a figure of note in his native city of Ghent, but that is hardly the case. Even at the time of his greatest successes, Maeterlinck was not cherished in his hometown. If people talked about him, it was mostly to gossip about his love-life – for the longest time, his mistress was the actress Georgette Leblanc, and he later married another actress, the much younger Renée Dahon. The Ghent bourgeoisie did not like his plays, because they were too avant-garde, nor his attitude, which was not sufficiently modest. But even today, very little in the city reminds the visitor (or, for that matter, the locals) of its famous inhabitant. Though there is a Maeterlinck Cabinet in the Arnold Vander Haeghen house, and the city archive holds a Maeterlinck archive and photo collection, the author has no museum exclusively devoted to or named after him, and so the material goes largely unnoticed by the general public.

In 1999, the year of the fiftieth anniversary of Maeterlinck’s death, the city of Ghent asked André Capiteyn, researcher for the city archive, to write an introduction to the author’s life and work. The little book having sold out, it was time for an update, and Capiteyn has now reworked and expanded his text, which has been published as Maeterlinck. Een Nobelprijs voor Gent.

With its 112 extensively illustrated pages, Maeterlinck. Een Nobelprijs voor Gent offers a concise overview of the Nobel Prize winner’s life, writing career and work. The book is not aimed at a scholarly audience, and those readers who were hoping for an in-depth treatment of important Symbolist works like Serres chaudes and La princesse Maleine, let alone their influence on other authors (we cannot fail in the present context to think of Oscar Wilde and his Salomé), will be disappointed. Maeterlinck’s role as a Symbolist and his time in Paris are mentioned, but not expounded upon. Then again, the book never pretends to be a study. Een Nobelprijs voor Gent presents itself as nothing more, but also nothing less, than an accessible introduction to the figure of Maeterlinck for the general interested public. It certainly does what it has to do: it is a pleasant read that leaves the reader wanting to know more about its fascinating subject. The biography that forms the main part of the book is padded with poems, anecdotes, and interesting details about performances and musical settings (most famously by Debussy) of Maeterlinck’s writings. The one hundred and twenty illustrations  – old Ghent cityscapes, snapshots, and book illustrations by famous contemporaries of the author like Frans Masereel, Georges Minne, and Fernand Khnopff – are well-chosen and form an excellent visual counterpart to Maeterlinck’s texts, as well as a backdrop for the events of his life.

The French translation of Capiteyn’s book, Maeterlinck. Un prix Nobel, chooses to ignore the fact, but the Dutch version has Ghent in its title. Indeed, Een Nobelprijs voor Gent deals to a significant extent with Maeterlinck’s sometimes troubled relationship with the city where he was born. Maeterlinck, though born and raised in Flanders, like most affluent members of the bourgeoisie at the time wrote in French and did not speak Dutch; he did, however, speak Ghent dialect – very Belgian of him. As an extra, the second part of the book reprints those fragments from Maeterlinck’s memoir, Bulles Bleues, that relate to his childhood in Flanders. These extracts are printed here for the first time in Dutch, and paint, with a delightful irony so different from Maeterlinck’s usual, rather humourless, literary style, interesting pictures of bourgeois life in nineteenth-century Ghent. Capiteyn also proposes a literary walk through the city, listing all places of importance, complete with a small map.

·         Eva Thienpont gained her doctorate (on Oscar Wilde) from the University of Gent [Ghent/Gand]. She is a member of THE OSCHOLARS group of editors.


Review by Ruth Kinna

David Goodway: Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow: Left Libertarian Thought and British Writers from William Morris to Colin Ward (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2006), i-xi, 401 pp. 1-84631-026-1.

In his 1989 collection For Anarchism David Goodway argued that historical scholarship in anarchism had degenerated into the dry and too often uncritical hero-worship of a set of well known theorists at the cost of the study of the popular anarchist movement.[1]  Not only was little known about this movement, but what was known had been written by those who were hostile to it and/or who adopted theoretical approaches which were likely to shed only critical light on its activities.  A similar concern runs through Seeds Beneath the Snow.  Anarchism, he argues, ‘continues to be shunned in polite circles, whether social or academic’ (1).  Indeed, he too confesses to a reluctance ‘to express … longstanding anarchist sympathies’ because they ‘attracted such scorn’ (2).  Yet the premise of the book is Goodway’s increasing conviction ‘of the urgent relevance of the anarchist position.  Challenging popular conceptions, he continues: ‘it is not anarchism which is utopian but rather the belief that voting for a  political party – any party – can bring about significant social change that is utopian in the sense of being completely unrealistic’ (2).  His hope is that by outlining the political history of the British anarchist and left-libertarian movement he will encourage new, practical anarchist seeds of action to germinate. 

Goodway’s book is not a study of an anonymous movement.  Rather, it examines the life and work of a number of writers Goodway believes have been key to the development of British left-libertarianism: William Morris, Edward Carpenter, Oscar Wilde, John Cowper Powys, George Orwell, Herbert Read, Aldous Huxley, Alex Comfort, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Pallis (aka Maurice Brinton) and Colin Ward.  It’s an impressive list and Goodway’s coverage is equally impressive.  Each one is brought to life through the discussion of their writings, their particular concerns explained by the close attention Goodway pays to the historical conditions in which they operated and their general relevance developed through a complex interweaving of his subjects’ mutual relations and/or influences.  In organising the chapters, Goodway is led by each individual and his strong, confident responses to them, rather than by a uniform structure.  The advantage of this approach is that his obvious and infectious enthusiasm for each is communicated very well.  The disadvantage is that readers unfamiliar with the territory have to concentrate on the details, unable to anticipate the twists and turns of the discussion. 

Not all those on Goodway’s list thought of themselves as anarchists (he uses ‘left-libertarianism’ as a ‘less emotive’ (1) synonym for anarchism).  Indeed, as Goodway notes, Pallis aggressively rejected the label.  For perhaps different reasons, Morris and Thompson were also hostile.  Others, Huxley, for example, did not express a preference either way, and are included because their work is judged to have been anarchistic.  Goodway begins to explore the parameters of anarchism in his introduction, but the theme runs right through the book.  Its distinctive features include a concern with individual expression and autonomy overcoming repression, sexual liberation, decentralised organisation, self-management and/or the rejection of exploitation, hierarchy and bureaucracy.  There are no minimum criteria to satisfy to qualify as an anarchist.  Indeed, Goodway’s sketches suggest that the significant commitment is attitudinal as much as it is programmatic.  Nor is there any necessity that these features manifest themselves in any particular way.  The concern with autonomy and expression might be more or less mystical and it might be drug-induced; it might translate into inward-looking reflection and a concern with self-discovery or into a social interest in combating systems of domination.  The most that Goodway will insist upon is his own preference for non-violence, a position which draws him towards Comfort and Ward. 

Goodway’s approach to anarchism is itself anarchistic and this is to be applauded.  At the same time, I was left wondering how the boundaries between anarchism and the anarchistic might be conceptualised.  For all his professed scepticism about ‘theory’, his probing of this relationship is the book’s theoretical core.  Perhaps Goodway is right to suggest that these boundaries shouldn’t be formalised in theory, for risk of ossification.  On the other hand, the open hostility to anarchism that he identifies in some of his subjects and its casual dismissal in academic circles perhaps points to a need for greater clarity.  Indeed if, as Goodway wishes, a new generation of anarchists are to be encouraged by his study, there is a practical issue of co-operation at stake here.  As a history of anarchist thought, then, Goodway’s survey is fantastically and richly contestable.  As a lesson in how to think about anarchism, it is nevertheless inspiring. 

·         Ruth Kinna is Senior Lecturer in Politics, Loughborough University

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[1] D. Goodway, For Anarchism: History, Theory and Practice, (London: Routledge, 1989), 6.