‘Wild Thoughts and Desire! Things I Can’t Tell You – Words I Can’t Speak!’: The Drama of Identity in <i>The Importance of Being Earnest</i> and <i>Guy Domville</i>

Michèle Mendelssohn

in Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print June 2007 | ISBN: 9780748623853
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748651634 | DOI:
‘Wild Thoughts and Desire! Things I Can’t Tell You – Words I Can’t Speak!’: The Drama of Identity in The Importance of Being Earnest and Guy Domville

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Oscar Wilde's vigorous rejection and absorption of James McNeill Whistler and Henry James demonstrates that he reinvented himself and Aestheticism by successfully challenging assumptions about artistic legitimacy. The close of the nineteenth century saw the articulation of a discourse of male homosexuality because of what the public dramatisation of Wilde's trial entailed, and this new idiom of transgressive selfhood is latent in James's Guy Domville and Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. The century's sexual turning point is thus closely intertwined with another crisis in aesthetic culture, as Wilde's trial forever changed the way the movement would be perceived. These plays expose the personal cost of transgression against normative masculinity and their historical context also inscribes this concern into a larger project, namely, Wilde's and James's attempts to represent the effect of transgressive desires and behaviours on identity.

Keywords: Henry James; Oscar Wilde; Aestheticism; homosexuality; transgressive selfhood; Guy Domville; The Importance of Being Earnest; plays; transgression; identity

Chapter.  14371 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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