Dressing for the Occasion: Wilde’s Journalism, Decadence and Ethical Aestheticism
Introduction to Wilde’s Journalism
- 1885-7 – Wilde writes more than 70 anonymous reviews for the Pall Mall Gazette
- 1887 – Wilde becomes editor of The Lady’s World: A Magazine of Fashion and Society
- Changes the name to The Woman’s World
- Aimed to differentiate it from other women’s magazines
- Moved fashion articles to the back
- Often discussed dress reform
- Moved fashion articles to the back
- Removed the “gossipy section which had originally opened The Lady’s World” (Clayworth, 93)
- Intermittently writes pieces for the magazine titled “Literary and Other Notes”
- 1888-9 – Wilde’s commitment to The Woman’s World declines
- 1889 – Wilde quits writing the magazine
- 1890 – The Picture of Dorian Gray is published in serialized form
Ambivalence in The Woman’s World: Decadence versus Proto-Feminism?
“Under Wilde’s editorship, The Woman’s World embodies the tensions between Ruskinian ethical aesthetics and Paterian decadence – those postures of escapism espoused by Wilde’s Lord Henry Wotton and occasionally by Wilde himself” (Maltz, 193)
|Decadence (Walter Pater)||Ethical Aestheticism (John Ruskin)|
|Articles about art||Articles about poverty|
|Articles about art on its own rightArt for art’s sake||Articles about how art reflects external conditions
(ex: anthologies of female poets)Responsibility of Art
(ex: dresses should not “injure” women)
Art for the sake of others
While many of the contributors manage to be both aesthetes and social reformers, Wilde appears to be more ambivalent about the role of social reform. Of Wilde’s editorship of The Woman’s World, Diana Maltz writes, “Most interesting, it seems, is Wilde’s ambivalent accommodation of such missionary-aesthetic feelings and pursuits in his magazine. On the one hand, he had brought communities of reformers and artists together in print, intent on transforming The Woman’s World into an inclusive journal of social and artistic issues. On the other hand, Wilde remained deeply suspicious of the climate of conscience of the 1880s, its potential for hypocrisy and its trivializing art” (Maltz, 206). Does the notion of ethical aestheticism appear in his later works? Or in any other decadent author’s works?
How and why does Wilde’s proto-feminism affect his aesthetics in the selected pieces from The Woman’s World, “The House Beautiful” and “Woman’s Dress”? Does proto-feminism or aestheticism seem to take precedence? What does this mean for his views on art? For his relation to decadence?
In “The House Beautiful,” Wilde argues against the corset by claiming that, when women do not wear corsets, “there is more health, and consequently more beauty” (Wilde, 945). Is this reconcilable with the decadent interest in sickness (for instance, Huysman’s syphilitic flowers)? Or does this concern for women’s health prevent him from sharing this decadent interest?
What is the “beauty of effect” Wilde refers to in “Woman’s Dress” (Wilde, 946)? Is this effect the same thing as Wilde’s claim in his discussion of Constance Naden’s poems that art is “a matter of result?” (Woman’s World, 81). How does this inform our understanding of Wilde’s ideas about art?
How do these discussions about objects inform Wilde’s definition of art? Is art here reconcilable with art as he presents it elsewhere, like in “The Decay of Lying?” And why?
Why don’t the progressive discussions of dress reform and other progressive ideas appear in Wilde’s other works?
Clayworth, Anya. “‘The Woman’s World’: Oscar Wilde as Editor: 1996 Vanarsdel Prize.” Victorian Periodicals Review. 30.2 (1997): 84-101. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.
Stokes, John. “Wilde the Journalist.” The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde. Ed. Peter Raby. Cambridge University Press, 1997. Cambridge Collections Online. Cambridge University Press. 14 November 2012.
Maltz, Diana. “Wilde’s The Woman’s World and Aesthetic Philanthropy.” Wilde Writings: Contextual Conditions. Ed. Joseph Bristow. Toronto: Published by the University of Toronto Press in Association with the UCLA Center for Seventeenth-and-Eighteenth-Century Studies and the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 2003.
Wilde, Oscar. Collins Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. 5th ed. Glasgow: Harper Collins, 2003.
Wilde, Oscar. The Woman’s World. [New York]: Source Book Press, 1970.