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Home Uncategorized Oscar Wilde and the Irish

Oscar Wilde and the Irish

Brian Earls
Oscar’s Shadow: Wilde, Homosexuality and Modern Ireland, by Éibhear Walshe, Cork University Press, €39.00, ISBN: 978-1859184837 One of the central claims in Oscar’s Shadow is that, “after the creation of the New Ireland”, those who had championed Wilde “were somehow liminal to that Ireland”. As a result, under the new dispensation, “Wilde is never part of mainstream Irish cultural discourse – those who do cite him do so from a point of view of distance or marginality, either sexually or culturally”. The one exception allowed to this large exclusion is Daniel Corkery who, two years after the securing of independence, drew upon a passage from De Profundis in his first major critical work, The Hidden Ireland. The passage which attracted Corkery’s admiring attention, and which he used in support of his polemic against Renaissance classicism, was that in which Wilde celebrated “Christ’s own Renaissance”, exemplified in “the Cathedral at Chartres, the Arthurian cycle of legends, the Life of St. Francis of Assisi, the art of Giotto, and Dante’s Divine Comedy”. While Éibhear Walshe believes that Wilde’s appearance in The Hidden Ireland was something of an exception, there is much to suggest that he was a figure of considerable interest to intellectuals of Corkery’s generation. Two years before the publication of The Hidden Ireland, Wilde provided the subject for a series of sympathetic reflections by Arthur Clery in the Jesuit journal Studies. Clery, a popular lecturer in University College Dublin, who also served as a judge in the Sinn Féin courts during the 1919-21 period, was, like Corkery, a major nationalist publicist and intellectual. He was a man of strong and at times unconventional intelligence; he was, for example, one of the few voices during that period to argue that the Protestant community of northeast Ulster was a separate national grouping, which could not be browbeaten or beguiled into an independent Irish state. Clery was far from endorsing Wilde – in an intriguing speculation he suggested that “an over-dose of patriotism in his Merrion Square home had something to do with the sinister frivolity” of his outlook; nonetheless he regarded him as a significant, contrarian intelligence. From his own Catholic perspective, he saw Wilde as an enemy of Victorian materialism who, by means of paradox, sought to undermine the great nineteenth century commonplaces, those misapprehensions of the nature of the world which seemed so obvious and were yet untrue. “It must,” Clery reflected, “have been a sense of this underlying falsehood…

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