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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2009

E 379N • Oscar Wilde and His Circle

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
34575 TTh
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
PAR 105

Course Description

"Perhaps I am chosen to teach you something much more wonderful, the meaning of Sorrow, and its beauty." (Oscar Wilde, De Profundis)

There was special generation which ended the nineteenth century in Paris and London. Often merely designated as "Dandies" and Flanneurs," or as Decadents, the particular circle whose most visible figure was Oscar Wilde watched the twilight of the nineteenth century wile anticipating much of the experimentation of the twentieth. This course will be organized around the people, issues and art for whom Oscar Wilde cared. The greatest love of his life, by his own admission was himself, and we shall look closely at Ellmann's biography and Wilde's own semi-autobiographical novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. At the center of the course, therefore, will be Wilde's own literary production from his delightful comedies like An Ideal Husband to his avant-garde theatre in Salomé, from his prose writings on socialism and society to his literary and aesthetic criticism. His biography, especially the scandal surrounding his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, and his last two writings, De Profundis and "The Ballad of Reading Goal" will allow a closure to his life, which ended in 1900, after his trials, disgrace and imprisonment for sodomy. Modern films about his life and work will complement our discussions. As an Irish ex-patriot, a devoted homosexual father, a playwright and society satirist, Wilde created an unparalleled cult of personality, whose legacy stretches as far as Glam Rock and Princess Diana in modern popular culture.

We shall also position Wilde within his world. Introduced to the aesthetic philosophy of Hellenism while a student at Oxford by Pater and Ruskin, Wilde's career centered around the fine arts through The Yellow Book in London and the Le revue blanche in Paris. Along with music, he was especially concerned with illustration and painting, from the Italian Mannerists to the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood and the French Symbolists: Reni, Morris, Rossetti, Whistler, Sargeant, Moreau, Crane and Beardsley. We shall sketch a more complete portrait through the writings and lives of his colleagues and friends, particularly his connections to the French Decadent writers like Huysmans, Gide, Mallarmé and Verlaine. Wilde's brief life ended before the horrors of World War I could be fully imagined, and we shall end with imagining his life had he lived to see 1914 as some of his friends did.

Grading Policy

Attendance of the class meetings is required, and participation and questions are encouraged. Active class participation may assist in improving the student's final grade in borderline cases. The required assignments for the course include the following:

1. A short essay, 5 pages, for which a topic will be suggested. The essay may be rewritten. 20%
2. A longer essay, 10 pages, on a topic of the student's choice 35%
The assignment has three preparatory parts:
the submission of a formal prospectus (5%)
the submission of an outline (0%)
the submission of an annotated bibliography (5%)
Grades for the rewrite of the essays will be averaged with the grade for the original draft submitted.
3. A third assignment, a reaction paper, 3 pages 15%
4. A "Book of Diversions," comprising 30 entries of 100 words each on the materials assigned for the day to be collected in two installments. 5%+ 5%
5. One 20-minute oral report, prepared with another student, on a topic related to the course, including posting questions for the class on Blackboard and preparing a 2-page handout for the class. 10%

There will be no midterm or final examination.


Texts will include: selections from The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde; selections from Pater and Ruskin; Ellmann, Oscar Wilde, Huysmans, Against Nature; selected poems of Gide, Mallarmé, and Verlaine; selected Renaissance, Victorian and Symbolist paintings; the films, including Gilbert's Wilde, Parker's An Ideal Husband, and Haynes' Velvet Goldmine.


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