Child and Man: the Development of a Catholic Mind

  • Jarlath Killeen
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)

Abstract

This chapter attempts to establish why it was that Wilde was attracted to Catholicism rather than Protestantism from an early age, and also sets out to demonstrate that it was a folk-Catholic, rather than either a Continental or English Catholic, imagination which pervaded Wilde’s creative experiments. To do this, I will look closely at one of the crucial moments of Wilde’s childhood, the death of his sister Isola in 1867. This event was of such a traumatic nature that Wilde was forced to find a coherent means of interpreting it. Through a reading of ‘Requiescat’, the poem in which Wilde commemorates Isola’s death, I will show why it was that Wilde saw folk-Catholicism as the best means of interrogating reality. The rest of the chapter traces the reverberations of this interpretation in two different pieces, The Sphinx (1894) and ‘The Sphinx without a Secret’ (1891), as the themes examined in ‘Requiescat’ resonate loudly in these two works.

Keywords

Clay Dust Europe Sponge Pyramid 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Vyvyan Holland, Son of Oscar Wilde, foreword by Merlin Holland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 12.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Robert Harborough Sherard, The Life of Oscar Wilde (New York: Werner Laurie, 1906), 90.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Quoted in Stuart Mason, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde, intro. Timothy D’Arch Smith (London: Bertram Rota, 1967), 295.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Melissa Knox, Oscar Wilde: a Long and Lovely Suicide (New Have and London: Yale University Press, 1994), 13. Knox’s book has attracted a great deal of critical comment, much of it related to her argument that Wilde’s work should be read as the expression of a man who believed he had syphilis. Merlin Holland, Wilde’s grandson, reviewed the book in the Times Literary Supplement, 13 January 1995. This review was attacked by Susan Balée’s review of Knox’s biography in Victorian Studies 38: 2 (1995), 319–21. Merlin Holland posted a response in Victorian Studies 39: 4 (1996), 539–41, to which Susan Balée responded in the same issue, 542–3. The issue of Wilde’s possible ‘incestuous’ relationship with Isola became marginalised in the debate over whether Wilde had syphilis.Google Scholar
  5. See also Ellis Hanson, ‘Wilde’s Exquisite Pain’, Wilde Writings: Contextual Conditions, ed. Joseph Bristow (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 101–23, who argues that Knox’s application of an unsophisticated Freudian paradigm to Wilde’s life leads to a serious misreading.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Clifford Geertz, ‘Religion as a Cultural System’, The Religious Situation: 1968, ed. Donald Cutler (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), 639–88 (653).Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Nina Auerbach, Woman and the Demon: the Life of a Victorian Myth (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1982), 48.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Lady Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland; with Sketches of the Irish Past, to which is appended a chapter on ‘the ancient races of Ireland,’ by the late Sir William Wilde (London: Ward and Downey, 1887), 82.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Sir William Wilde, Irish Popular Superstitions (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1979), 121.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    Quoted in Heather White, Forgotten Schooldays: Oscar Wilde at Portora (Fermanagh: Principia Press, 2002), 67.Google Scholar
  11. 20.
    E. Estyn Evans, Irish Folk Ways (London: Routledge, 1957), 290.Google Scholar
  12. 27.
    See Alison Shell, Catholicism, Controversy, and the English Literary Imagination, 1558–1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 34.
    Aubrey De Vere, Poetical Works (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, 1884–90), vol. vi, 364.Google Scholar
  14. 36.
    Lady Wilde, Ancient Cures, Charms and Usages of Ireland: Contributions to Irish Lore (London: Ward and Downey, 1890), 4.Google Scholar
  15. 39.
    Sir William Wilde, Ireland Past and Present (Dublin: McGlashan and Gill, 1864), 25.Google Scholar
  16. 40.
    Sir William Wilde, The Beauties of the Boyne and its Tributary the Blackwater (Dublin: McGlashan and Gill, 1849), 161.Google Scholar
  17. 41.
    Quoted by W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan, 1926), 90.Google Scholar
  18. 42.
    Donald Lawler, ‘The Gothic Wilde’, Rediscovering Oscar Wilde, ed. C. George Sandulescu (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1994), 249–68 (258).Google Scholar
  19. 43.
    Edouard Roditi, Oscar Wilde (New York: New Directions, 1986), 8–9.Google Scholar
  20. 44.
    Wilde said this to W. B. Yeats. Quoted in a letter from Yeats to Sturge Moore, 6 May 1906, W. B. Yeats and T. Sturge Moore: Their Correspondence, ed. Ursula Bridge (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1953), 9.Google Scholar
  21. 45.
    Quoted in Walter L. Arnstein, Protestant versus Catholic in Mid-Victorian England: Mr Newdegate and the Nuns (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982), 185.Google Scholar
  22. 46.
    Friedrich Heer, The Intellectual History of Europe, trans. Jonathan Steinberg (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1966), 57.Google Scholar
  23. 49.
    Wilde had first published this story as ‘Lady Alroy’, in The World: a Journal for Men and Women 26 (25 May 1887), and reprinted it with its new name in Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories (1891). Oscar Wilde, The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde, ed. Robert Ross (originally published as The First Collected Edition of the Works of Oscar Wilde, 15 vols (London: Methuen, 1908–22), London: Routledge, 1993), vol. 2. All quotations, except where a more reliable text can be located, will be taken from this edition, and placed in parentheses in the main text.Google Scholar
  24. 50.
    For this scandal, see David Hilliard, ‘Unenglish and Unmanly: Anglo-Catholicism and Homosexuality’, Victorian Studies 25: 2 (1982), 181–210 (192–3).Google Scholar
  25. 51.
    Ian Ker, John Henry Newman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 255, 363.Google Scholar
  26. 52.
    Walter Walsh, The Secret History of the Oxford Movement (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1899).Google Scholar
  27. 55.
    Ruth Vanita, Sappho and the Virgin Mary: Same-Sex Love and the English Literary Imagination (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 15.Google Scholar
  28. 56.
    G. K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion (London: Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1926), 57–64.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jarlath Killeen 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jarlath Killeen
    • 1
  1. 1.University of KeeleUK

Personalised recommendations