English 165

Special Topics: Oscar Wilde and the Nineteenth Century

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Spring 2016 Lavery, Grace
MW 4-5:30 103 Wheeler

Book List

Bartlett, Neil: Who Was That Man?: A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde; Beardsley, Aubrey: Salome: A Tragedy in One Act; Beerbohm, Max: Zuleika Dobson: or An Oxford Love Story; Ellmann, Richard: Oscar Wilde; Wilde, Oscar: Complete Works of Oscar Wilde; Wilde, Oscar: Teleny: A Novel Attributed to Oscar Wilde; Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition


Oscar Wilde's jokes, and his pathos, can seem out of place in Victorian literature: they leap off the dusty page and into a present moment where their author seems to fit more happily. Without wishing to consign him back to that potentially hostile past, the task of this course is to understand Wilde's engagement with the histories and cultures around him. A trenchant critic of Victorian sexual morality and hypocrisy, Wilde was also a voracious consumer of his contemporaries' writing and a prominent public intellectual. An historical understanding of Wilde will help shed new light on crucial questions such as: in the final decades of the British colonial occupation of Ireland, how did Wilde's Irishness enable and constrict his construction of a public indentity? To what extent do his poems and plays generate new forms for the English language, or (conversely) how are his apparent innovations mere translations from French and German Romanticism? Whatever else it may have done, how did Wilde's public homosexuality shape Victorian attitudes to gender and sex? These and related questions will help us not only shed new light on the uniqueness of Wildean writing, but connect the author himself with the broader political questions from which he is usually thought exempt.

In addition to a substantial proportion of Wilde's (all too slender) corpus, we will read relevant works by Matthew Arnold, Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Butler, the Brothers Grimm, G. W. F. Hegel, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Vernon Lee, Amy Levy, Friedrich Nietzche, Max Nordau, and Walter Pater.

This course is open to English majors only.


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