Revising Wilde: Society and Subversion in the Plays of Oscar Wilde


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A radical re-examination of Oscar Wilde's plays, Revising Wilde challenges long-established views of the writer as a dilettante and dandy, revealing him instead as a serious philosopher and social critic who used his plays to subvert the traditional values of Victorian literature and society. By tracing Wilde's painstaking revisions and redrafting of his plays, Sos Eltis uncovers themes subsequently concealed in successive versions which demonstrate that Wilde was in fact an anarchist, a socialist and a feminist. Wilde borrowed plots and incidents from numerous contemporary French and English plays, but he then subtly rewrote his plagiarized material in order to mock the conventions he imitated. By analysing previously unconsidered manuscript drafts, and comparing the finished plays with their sources, Eltis displays a surprising depth and complexity to Wilde's work. The little-known early play, Vera; or, The Nihilists is revealed as a politically radical drama, the society plays are shown to challenge Victorian sexual and social mores, and The Importance of Being Earnest is interpreted as an anarchic farce, which reflects the Utopian vision of Wilde's political essay, `The Soul of Man Under Socialism'. Taking into account the more recent scholarship and criticism, this accessible study will be of interest to Wilde specialists and enthusiasts alike.

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Oxford University Press
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