Abstract for Week 8
The Nationalising of Oscar Wilde: Debates and Controversies
The importance of Ireland to an understanding of Oscar Wilde has been the subject of contentious discussion in recent years. For one group of critics Wilde has been considered ‘a militant Irish republican’, an Irish ‘terrorist by another name’, whose literary practices resembled those of ‘guerrilla warfare’, an ardent Home Ruler and Parnellite, and committed Irish nationalist whose work is suffused with references to Ireland and the Irish Question, very influenced by his Irish background and political views, possibly shaped by a genuine interest in and awareness of Irish folklore and the Irish oral tradition, and deeply engaged with issues of Irish identity and culture. For an opposing set of critics Wilde should at best be considered a ‘reluctant’ Irish patriot, who referenced his Irish ‘identity’ only when it suited him commercially, was more interested in exploiting intellectual fashions and fads than making genuine political points, was a shallow thinker in most areas of life and certainly didn’t use his writing to pursue Irish nationalist issues, was probably more of a British imperialist than an Irish nationalist, knew precious little about Irish folklore or Irish oral traditions, and his works contain few if any references to Irish issues or themes. The differences between these two interpretive communities certainly seem quite large, and these differences have been emphasised in a disputatious manner which has shed more heat than light on the messy matter of Wilde’s national identity. In this talk I want to begin to clear up some of the misunderstandings I think have crept into this critical dispute and suggest fruitful ways in which opposing critics can come together in, if not harmony then perhaps a less acrimonious and more productive way.
Dr Jarlath Killeen