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"We must return to the voice" : oral values and traditions in the works of Oscar Wilde Kinsella, Paul

Abstract

This study examines the literary career of Oscar Wilde as the formation and expression of a sensibility exhibiting highly developed powers of both orality and literacy. In other words, Wilde's work and life reveal the mind of both a talented writer and a talker par excellence, and this inquiry explores the development and co-existence of the two modes, in particular as they manifest themselves in Wilde's writing and in his relations with the societies in which he found himself. Chapter One discusses the balance between Wilde's talk and his writing as it was experienced by W. B . Yeats, who emerges as a very persistent and perceptive biographer of this aspect of Wilde's genius. The theoretical framework and terminology developed by Walter J. Ong (1982) is also brought to bear on the discussion as a further illumination of Yeats's accounts. Chapter Two presents an outline of some aspects of the history and culture of Ireland which might explain the formation of a dual sensibility such as Wilde's. In Chapter Three this line of inquiry is extended further into the domestic circumstances in which Wilde grew up, focussing in particular on the influence of his tutor at Trinity, J. P. Mahaffy. A discussion of the links between Wilde and Mahaffy includes consideration of the parallels between their written works, culminating in an interpretation, at the end of the chapter, of the origins and dynamics o f Wilde's essay "The Decay of Lying." Chapter Four continues to explore the links between Mahaffy and Wilde, but shifts the focus to their mutual classicism, which also provides a lens through which to view the further development of Wilde's dual oral/chirographic sensibility at Oxford, symbolized in the person and the work of Walter Pater. I then offer a reading of "The Critic as Artist" as an expression of Wilde's Oxford literary idealism, expressed through his call to "return to the voice." From there this study moves to a discussion of Wilde's subsequent life and work in terms o f a combined orality and literacy. Chapter Five is devoted to an exploration o f the power of the voice and the spoken word in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Chapter Six examines the spoken stories, Salome, and The Importance of Being Earnest through a similar perspective. The Conclusion extends the analysis to Wilde's trial and prison sentence, his last works including De Profundis, and his final years as a storyteller in Paris.

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