Revising WildeSociety and Subversion in the Plays of Oscar Wilde

Revising WildeSociety and Subversion in the Plays of Oscar Wilde

Sos Eltis

Print publication date: 2011

ISBN: 9780198121831

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Abstract

This book challenges long-established views of Oscar Wilde as a dilettante and dandy, revealing him instead as a serious philosopher and social critic who used his plays to subvert the traditional values of Victorian literature and society. By tracing Wilde's painstaking revisions and redrafting of his plays, the book uncovers themes subsequently concealed in successive versions which demonstrate that Wilde was in fact an anarchist, a socialist, and a feminist. Wilde borrowed plots and incidents from numerous contemporary French and English plays, but he then subtly rewrote his plagiarized material in order to mock the conventions he imitated. By analysing previously unconsidered manuscript drafts, and comparing the finished plays with their sources, the book displays a surprising depth and complexity in Wilde's work. The little-known early play, Vera; or, The Nihilists is revealed as a politically radical drama, the society plays are shown to challenge Victorian sexual and social mores, and The Importance of Being Earnest is interpreted as an anarchic farce, which reflects the Utopian vision of Wilde's political essay, ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’.