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Author Study: Oscar Wilde Curated by Emily Liu '23

Bizarre facts about the Victorian Era

In the Victorian Era, some thieves would steal fresh corpses from their graves and sell those corpses to places such as medical school. At that time, such thing were considered as lucrative. 

Early Victorian fashion focused on corsets and crinolines. Women wore cage crinolines and extremely large dress - some could be 18 feet wide.

Victorians loved mummies. Many British upper class would visit Egypt and took mummies back with them as a souvenir. Victorians are so obsessed with mummies they even held "Mummies unwrapping parties".

The pollution problem during the Victorian Era was caused by factories pump black smoke in the air from burning coals. Victorian men dressed in black to hide the stains from those black smoke pollution. 

Historical Context

  • From 1876 all the way to 1914, there’s a massive economical, population, industry and territory growth in the USA. That time period is known as the Glided Age. (Spenser, 1999) During that time, the United States expend its influenced as a strong coming up force in the North America, the country soon rose to a first-world country and remain its influence sense. (Nortan, 1989) Oscar Wilde went to the USA and Canada for a lecture tour focusing on aesthetics during November 1881 to 1882, the lecture brought Wilde popularity across the world.
  • The Irish potato famine began at year 1845 and ended in 1852. The potato famine contributed to the Irish diaspora. By which means, many Irish who lived in the 1840s Ireland choose to leave their country and move abroad. The influence of Irish diaspora continues in late 19th and even early 20th century. (Donnelly, 2011) Oscar Wilde, sadly, never returned to his country once he left it for Oxford.
  • In 1848, an insurrection was attempted by young Irish people. Unfortunately, the Young Ireland rebellion failed quickly. But they influenced many later generations with their desire of revolt. In the late 1880s, Oscar Wilde provided a space in The Woman’s World magazine for all those who still hold sympathy for Ireland to write and express. (Fallon, 2016).
  • Jane Wilde - mother of Oscar Wilde, being a female activist poet, wrote poems about the history. She wrote, “Fainting forms, hunger–stricken, what see you in the offing?” (Wilde, 1847) Raised by his mother, Oscar Wilde received educations on patriotism, feminism and literature in an early age. Jane Wilde was not only a patriot activist, she was also an advocator of feminism, she put out great effort to support women’s right for the broadest sense. She wrote books contains essays of her exploring her clear position took on feminism. (Leeson, 2019) Later, Oscar Wilde appeared to put feminist content in his works, and he was also the editor of The Woman’s World magazine.

 

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Art about potato famine

 

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Art about Irish Rebellion 

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Political Context

  • In 1870s, the Irish Home rule movement started. The movement aimed to create a self-government in order to get out of Britain’s control. (Thornley, 1960) That’s when the time Oscar Wilde started his writing career. As a result, many of his early works shown his nationalist ideas about Ireland which historians predicted he hides intentionally in his later works. (Skwait, 2013)
  • Ireland was under the control of Britain when Oscar Wilde was alive, and in his early years, Wilde showed clear discontent to British colonization. (Doyle-Corn, 2010) During his lecture tour, he once said, “with the coming of English, art in Ireland came to an end… for art could not live and flourish under a tyrant.” 
  • Oscar Wilde was charged of Gross Indecency, which in the Victorian period, the main legal point of contention is homosexuality activity. Through out history, the discrimination of homosexuality always existed and used to receive death penalty as a punishment. The death penalty existed until 1861, from then, it was changed to imprisonment. (Swim, 2013)
  • Part of the harsh punishment Oscar Wilde received was due to the fact his young lover Bosie came from a rich family with royal connections. Therefore, Bosie’s father used his influences to make Wilde’s punishment worse than earlier scandals of other artists. (John, 1994)

Comic about Oscar Wilde's trail 

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Social Context

  • Victorian period was briefly divided by three different social classes, the upper, the middle, and the lower class. The higher class was farther divided into Royals, Middle-upper class (including important officers and lords) and lower upper (including business man and many successful artists.) Oscar Wilde’s famous works usually focused on the life of upper classes. Women in his works live in similar lifestyle with the reality, they organize dinner parties (salons), paying visits, joining social events (such as theatre), and usually have several servants as their companies. (Paul, 1994)
  • Around the 1860s-1880s, fashionable, middle-class males around Europe tend to appear in places such as department stores or salons. Males in the late nineteen-century would constantly visit places such as cafes, libraries, and tea rooms, they even view department stores as a place to rendezvous with ladies. (Steele, 2004) This social content can explain why the male characters in some of Oscar Wilde’s writing constantly entry and exit places such as salons with their friends.
  • However, middle-class males later on began to be scared of paying too much attention on their appearance and clothing. As antagonism toward effeminate behavior rose, men who pay attention on clothing risk the possibility of being accuse for weak or womanish. (Shannon, 2004) This particular assumption grew even more after Wilde’s trial - which shifted the public opinion on men’s appearance more towards the masculine side.

Victorian Upper Class gathering in a salon

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Cultural Context

  • Oscar Wilde’s fashion sense was heavily influenced by the Victorian Fashion. Men at his time wears hats, socks, gloves, robes, collars, neckties, coats and so on. Coats itself can divide into dress suits, lounge suits, frock coats, etc. Men also decorate themselves in expensive accessories. (Shannon, 2004) This is why, in the photographs of Oscar Wilde, he always dressed trim and fancy.
  • During the 1870s, the Aesthetic movement was all out in Europe. Aesthetic movement was meant to help art jumping out of the circle of being “useful”, all activists in the Aesthetic movement believe that one should create because of “Art for Art’s sake”. Many sensuously beautiful artworks were created during that time, and till nowadays, many of the works still holds a huge influence. (Anderson, 2011) Oscar Wilde later become one of the main Aesthetic movement activist.
  • Under the influence of Aesthetic movement, Oscar Wilde embraced the essence of Aesthetic proposition. Artists who devoted in the movement lives in beautifully decorated houses and lives an extravagant lifestyle which made the public fascinates constantly. (O’Brien, 1974) Oscar Wilde lived extravagantly in Paris for a long time, and in his works, many characters also appear to establish this style of living surrounded by luxury.
  • Matthew Arnold was one of the leaders in the Aesthetic movement, he considered that Hellenism and Hebraism are the “two points of influence moves our world”. Arnold also influenced Oscar Wilde for influencing him into the Hellenic and Hebraic lifestyle that were very popular among English Artists. (Skwait, 2013) Aesthetic artists assume Hellenism as the desire to have an objective grasp of reality, Hebraism is the concern of inward rectitude. (Donald, 1998)

Victorian Men's Clothes

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