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  Oscar’s Shadow: Wilde, Homosexuality and Modern Ireland
Oscarâ™s Shadow: Wilde, Homosexuality and Modern Ireland


 
Our Price: €39.00
Authors: Eibhear Walshe
Affiliation: University College Cork
Publication Year: Hardback December 2011
Pages: 232
Size: 234x156mm

ISBN: 9781859184837
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Description
 

Oscar Wilde was the most famous gay Irishman and Oscar’s Shadow deals with Wilde and his homosexuality within the context of Ireland and of Irish cultural perceptions of his sexuality. The book investigates the questions: What was ‘Oscar’s shadow’, his influence on twentieth and twenty-first century Irish culture and literature? What has Oscar Wilde meant to Ireland from his disgrace in May 1895 up to the present?

Walshe presents Oscar’s shadow in Ireland from 1895 to the present, using contemporary Irish newspaper reports of the Wilde trials of 1895, previously unpublished archival material, and a significant body of Irish critical studies, biographies and dramatisations of Wilde’s life and sexuality. If perceptions of sexual identity evolve partly through public events, how then did Irish media and literary sources configure Wilde’s homosexuality during the Wilde trials and after? Wilde’s homosexuality was a contested discourse within twentieth-century Ireland, a discourse that became interconnected with Irish cultural nationalism. Thus Wilde became a weathervane for the rare but contentious discussions of homosexuality in Ireland, and his life and his writings usefully intertwine within these debates. Oscar’s Shadow sets the historical context for cultural and legal perceptions of homosexuality in Ireland.

This book is the first study of the formation of the idea of homosexuality in Ireland into the twentieth century and centres on an account of Wilde’s visible presence as sexual ‘other’, analysing the strategies of normalisation used to police his unnameable sin within Irish media and literary accounts. Walshe argues that Wilde in Irish culture was perceived not so much as Oscar Wilde the unspeakable but much more as Oscar Wilde the dissident Irishman. Wilde, famous for his writings and notorious for his sexuality, is central for perceptions of homosexuality in modern Ireland

Eibhear Walshe is a senior lecturer in the Department of Modern English at University College Cork. He is the editor of Ordinary People Dancing: Essays on Kate O’Brien (Cork University Press, 1993), Sex, Nation and Dissent, (Cork University Press, 1997), Elizabeth Bowen’s Selected Irish Writings (2011)



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By producing the only full length study of Oscar W July 30, 2012
Reviewer: Margot Backus Modernism/modernity 19.2 2012 : 39 from Republic of Ireland  
By producing the only full length study of Oscar Wilde in the Irish context  Eibhear Walshe has filled a significant gap in both Wilde scholarship and turn of the century British studies more  generally. Created by the tendency of Victorianists and modernists to focus exclusively either on Ireland or on the rest of the United Kingdom  this de facto division has placed individuals and movements that in their own time participated in networks of publication and influence extending throughout  and beyond  the British archipelago in an artificially narrow geo political context. As a result  Wilde has until recently been viewed within the narrow context of metropolitan London  just as W. B. Yeats and George Moore  for instance  have tended to be fixed in Dublin.     Lamenting this gap between Irish and British studies is not to deny the value of the reclamation of Irish authors that has been perhaps the most influential trend in Irish studies over the past several decades as it has repatriated a range of figures from Burke  Swift  and Sheridan to Stoker  Bowen  and Beckett. But because Wilde s trials and punishment have been so central to work in British cultural history  even as the Irish have generally been less eager to reclaim Wilde than  say  James Joyce  Walshe s study both participates in Wilde s Irish repatriation and promotes a broader understanding of Wilde s life  work  and after life that can only be grasped within a transnational framework.    As always  Walshe s writing itself is a pleasure  and this new work offers a wealth of original research attending to what Walshe contends is the important  unfinished business  between Wilde and Ireland. The book s chronological narrative is extremely helpful  keeping the reader continually abreast of changes in Irish society  literary and representational conventions  and critical approaches to Wilde and his literature. Both Irish studies and Wilde studies will benefit greatly from having all this material not only available in one place but assembled into a continuous narrative in which the significance of certain repeated patterns and distinctive shifts become newly visible.    The uneven and ambivalent history of Wilde s repatriation mapped by Walshe stands in fascinating contrast to that of other similarly exiled and purloined Irish cultural figures over the second half of the twentieth century  including such other icons of gay history as Roger Casement  who was literally repatriated when his remains were reinterred in Ireland. Although Wilde s figure has been subject to these larger dynamics  Walshe makes clear that Wilde stirred up even greater ambivalence than Casement  since anxiety concerning Casement s sexuality was dispersed by raging debates concerning the authenticity of his diaries. Wilde  owing to the accident of history that made his name virtually synonymous with homosexuality  proved more difficult for even the most determined patriot to separate from his sexuality  even if many Irish writers and commentators have expended considerable ingenuity attempting to do so.    One of several fascinating patterns that Walshe maps across the periods and engagements with Wilde is of shifting emphases on some of the main characters in the Wilde story most particularly Wilde s mother  Speranza; his wife  Constance Wilde; and  of course  his lover  Lord Alfred Douglas in response to particular cultural agendas. Speranza  for instance  has repeatedly been used either to downplay Wilde s sexuality by making it in some way involuntary and pathological  a deplorable sexological hypothesis revived by Terry Eagleton in the 1990s  or to accommodate Wilde to a nationalist reading by making her his nationalist mentor  commanding him to come home with his shield or on it  thereby transforming Wilde s self defense into an expression of nationalist defiance.    Constance Wilde emerges from these chapters as a tragic figure in her own right. When Thomas Kilroy set out to write a play about Wilde  for instance  Constance eventually emerged at the play s center  a development that seems closely connected to the abuse accounts that at the time were beginning to flow from the Magdalene laundries  industrial schools  and numerous autobiographies and novels. Kilroy had initially sought to find in Wilde an emblematic victim of the institutional abuse to which all perceived sexual deviants had been subjected in mid twentieth century Ireland. But whether Wilde is construed as a queer martyr or an Irish martyr  he was decidedly a martyr to the English  and thus he proved of little use as a figure through which to interrogate Irish homophobia. Registering the new social attunement to female institutional victimization  however  Kilroy found himself unexpectedly magnetized by Constance Wilde s story  and the resultant shift in the Wilde triangle s center of tragic gravity from Oscar to Constance represents an antithesis to the conventional Wilde as victim story  even as Kilroy s play also preserves some sense of Wilde as victimized by emphatically demonizing Douglas.    As Walshe points out  however  Kilroy s antithesis to earlier nationalist representations of Wilde  in particular Michael MacLiammor s transnationally influential one man evocation of Wilde as Irish hero and martyr  rapidly gave way to a new synthesis that allowed for an imagined alliance between gay men and dissenting women in A Man of No Importance. The film s Wilde identified gay bus conductor and amateur theater director  Alfie  finds new courage through his identification with the fallen and unrepentant unwed mother  Ad le  whom he casts as Salome in his riskiest amateur Wilde production. Adele  he discovers to his surprise  has bravely backed her desires with acts despite the risks and with no apparent loss of her perfectly real sweetness  a revelation that leads Alfie to reconsider his own cruelly suppressed sexual desires.    A late development Walshe examines is the differing treatment of Lord Alfred Douglas by gay Irishmen  who tend to appreciate and validate the Wilde/Douglas bond. Irish nationalists have tended to demonize Douglas because they read him  as an English aristocrat  as a political metaphor. This history makes recent engagements of Irish gay men with Lord Alfred Douglas particularly moving  as contemporary gay commentators are notably unwilling to reduce Bosie to a figure for English dominance. Instead  as in Colm Tobin s tour de force reading of De Profundis  Bosie is read as an attractive if exasperating person in his own right  whose worth as a partner is demonstrated by the trouble Wilde went to defend their relationship.    Amid a flood of excellent new Wilde scholarship  this book crucially bridges areas of study heretofore disconnected by the uneven development of queer historiography in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Walshe s tireless and rewarding mining of the archives will fundamentally inform the next generation of scholarship in Irish studies  GLBTQ studies  studies on Wilde and a range of connected figures and issues  and modernist studies  where Walshe s work represents an important development in the larger renegotiation of Ireland s position within the transnational turn currently underway.

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