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Wilde: The Remarkable Rocket

  • Peter Raby

Abstract

Wilde was arguably the first English-speaking playwright who systematically cultivated an image for himself. He was soon to be followed by George Bernard Shaw, who, while relishing the Celtic heritage he shared with Wilde, fashioned a distinctively contrasting public personality. Shaw, rival as well as colleague, also found himself in the role of critic when he began to write theatre notices for the Saturday Review in January 1895, and had to respond successively to An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, which marked Wilde’s re-entry to the public arena of West-End theatre in the first months of that year. For a brief period, Wilde and Shaw mounted a combined assault on the West-End London stage, an outpost of mediocrity defended by serried ranks of Philistines, puppets and time-serving journalists, where the actor-managers offered to a complaisant public wholly predictable and limited theatrical fare. Shaw performed his role combatively in the columns of the Saturday Review, and in his energetic attempts to market his unpleasant plays through actor-managers such as Charles Wyndham and George Alexander. Wilde, prolific in both playscripts and scenarios, and distinctly more bankable, was eventually successful in placing An Ideal Husband, and agreed to compress The Importance of Being Earnest to satisfy Alexander’s criteria.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Punch, 10 November 1894, p. 225. The cartoon is by Bernard Partridge (who as Bernard Gould played Sergius in George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man). Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    The Green Carnation (London: William Heinemann, 1894).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (London: David Nutt, 1888).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, in The Library Edition of the Works of John Ruskin, 39 vols, ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (London: George Allen, 1903–12), XXIX, p. 160.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Oscar Wilde, ‘The Grosvenor Gallery’, Dublin University Magazine, 90, July 1877.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    This self-referential aspect is explored in the introduction to The Fireworks of Oscar Wilde, ed. Owen Dudley Edwards (London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1989).Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Hesketh Pearson, The Life of Oscar Wilde (London: Methuen, 1946), p. 57.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (London: Penguin, 1988), p. 404.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Hesketh Pearson, Beerbohm Tree: His Life and Laughter (London: Methuen, 1956), p. 71; Max Beerbohm’s letter to Reggie Turner is quoted from David Cecil, Max (New York: Atheneum, 1985), p. 68. It is difficult to establish the accuracy of some of these recollections; however, Wilde’s appearance, reception and the taking or avoiding of a curtain-call were all clearly part of the occasion.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Michael Holroyd, George Bernard Shaw: The Search for Love (London: Chatto and Windus, 1988), p. 160.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    See the discussion in Wilde Writings: Contextual Conditions, ed. Joseph Bristow (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), pp. 18–20.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (London: HarperCollins, 1994), p. 301.Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    Letters and Journals of Charles Ricketts, ed. Cecil Lewis (London: P. Davies, 1939), pp. 26–7.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    For commentary on Worthing, see D. Robert Elleray, Worthing: Aspects of Change (Chichester: Phillimore, 1985).Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    ‘Mr Oscar Wilde Dilates on Worthing’s Charms’, Brighton Society, 15 September 1894, p. 5.Google Scholar
  16. 26.
    See Wilde’s letter to Douglas, ‘De Profundis’, in The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, pp. 696–9.Google Scholar
  17. 42.
    See Kerry Powell, Oscar Wilde and the Theatre of the 1890s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 108–10. The Foundling was written by William Lestocq Wooldridge and E. M. Robson.Google Scholar
  18. 43.
    Ada Leverson, ‘The Importance of Being Oscar’, in Violet Wyndham, The Sphinx and Her Circle: A Biographical Sketch of Ada Levenson 1862–1933 (London: André Deutsch, 1963), p. 114.Google Scholar
  19. 45.
    This comment forms part of ‘A Few Words with Mr Max Beerbohm’, an interview by Ada Leverson published in The Sketch, 2 January 1895. Beerbohm added: ‘And I do not think that the men themselves whom I have drawn have ever been offended.’ Leverson added, ‘Perhaps their wives have been?’Google Scholar

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© Peter Raby 2005

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  • Peter Raby

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