I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Something To Declare

Wendy Graham
Making Oscar Wilde, by Michèle Mendelssohn, Oxford University Press, 368 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-0198802365. After decades of attention to Oscar Wilde’s 1895 trials and his incarnation of the homosexual subject, a spate of recent publications reconsiders his 1882 American lecture tour, among them David Friedman’s Wilde in America (2014), Roy Morris Jr’s Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America (2013), and Sharon Marcus’s “Salomé!! Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, and the Drama of Celebrity” (2011). Editors Matthew Hofer and Gary Scharnhorst set the stage for this reappraisal by assembling the first complete and reliable record of Wilde’s interviews in Oscar Wilde in America: The Interviews (2010). While these publications illuminate Wilde’s redefinition of Victorian masculinity, they also highlight his self-promotion, burgeoning celebrity, and vending of aestheticism before he became a gay icon. To this compendium, Michèle Mendelssohn adds an exciting new chapter, or one so old that it deserves fresh examination. She ponders coverage of the Irish aesthete Wilde, which harmonised with racist caricatures of black dandies in American minstrel shows and newspapers. Back in 1882, Lloyd Lewis and Henry Justin Smith’s Oscar Wilde Discovers America offered a whistle stop account of Wilde’s tour replete with historical magazine illustrations, reviews, and gossip, which frequently conflated aestheticism with race matters. A juxtaposition that seemed unremarkable and inoffensive in 1882 receives extensive scholarly elaboration in Mendelssohn’s fascinating book. The backstory of Wilde’s American venture requires fleshing out, as it was the turning point in the career of a celebrity fabulist. Friedman and Morris contend that Wilde became a household name on the lecture circuit. Mendelssohn waffles, implying that his star was ascendant before he embarked. At the same time, she credits the cartoonist George Du Maurier with catapulting Wilde from B-list celebrity into prominence. It is clarifying to think of Wilde as a protean figure bent on adapting to the cultural and social climate in his bid for renown, be it ivied Oxford, an American mining camp, Walt Whitman or Jefferson Davis’s parlor. It is generally accepted that Wilde first emerged from obscurity in 1877. As a twenty-two-year-old Oxford undergraduate, Wilde achieved instantaneous notoriety by appearing at the inaugural exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery in a trompe l’oeil coat designed to look like a cello from behind. Anticipating the surrealist-provocateur Salvador Dalí, who in 1934 disembarked in New York harbor waving a giant baguette at journalists, Wilde followed his antic self-promotion with some genuine work. Wilde’s undergraduate review-article for Dublin University Magazine, praising the Pre-Raphaelite…



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