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The Art of the Pose

Oscar Wilde’s Performance Theory

Heather Marcovitch

This book revisits Oscar Wilde’s major writings through the field of performance studies. Wilde wrote about performance as a cultural dialectic, as a form of serious and critical play, and as the basis of a subversive poetics. In his studies at Oxford University, his famous lecture tour of the United States and Canada, his friendships with famous actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry, the writing of his critical essays, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Salome, and his society comedies, and culminating in his post-prison writings De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Wilde develops a rich theory of performance that addresses aesthetics, ethics, identity and individualism. This book also traces Wilde’s often-troubled relationship with late-Victorian society in terms of its attempts to define his public performances by stereotyping him as both irrelevant and dangerous, from the early newspaper caricatures to its later description of him as a sexual monster.


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Acknowledgements 7


7 Acknowledgements I would like to thank Chris Snodgrass for his sound advice and mentorship during the early incarnation of this book. His words about writing and scholarship have shaped my work more than he can realize. Profuse thanks also to Pamela Gilbert, Alistair Duck- worth, and Ralf Remshardt for their wise comments about my work, Oscar Wilde, and the many other aspects of both late- Victorian England and about performance studies that have found their way into these pages. Research for this book was conducted partly at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at UCLA. Thanks to Suzanne Tatian and Jennifer Schaffner for their help in showing me some of the obscure documents that can make research so rewarding. Also, to Scott Jacobs for his help with locating and sending me the images that are reproduced in this book. Katrin Forrer of Peter Lang provided me with editorial advice and support and for that I am grateful. Daniela Christen, formerly of Peter Lang, guided me through the initial stages of the publica- tion process. My colleagues at Red Deer College have provided me with a great deal of support in the late stages of writing this book. Torben Andersen, Jane MacNeil and Pam Clarke were especially instru- mental in helping me secure resources for the final revisions. My students in my various Victorian Literature classes gave me an op- portunity to refine my thoughts. On a personal note, I need to acknowledge that I owe a lot of the...

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