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Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 56–75 | Cite as

Between Elysium and Inferno: the rhetoric of ambivalence in Oscar Wilde’s and Rudyard Kipling’s writings about America

  • Anna PochmaraEmail author
Article

Abstract

The article analyses the representation of the USA in the texts of two renowned fin-de-siècle British writers, who travelled across the North American continent in the 1880s: Oscar Wilde and Rudyard Kipling. The analysis demonstrates that at the end of the nineteenth century, British attitude to American culture shifts from imperial condescension to anxiety over the rising cultural empire. Despite this similarity, the texts quite differently depict or approach the same American places and the same issues. An intertextual reading shows how these differing representations are intertwined with three powerful ideologies: Orientalism, Occidentalism and the American myth of the frontier, and hence, suggests that travel writing has not been innocent and direct but inescapably discursive already in the nineteenth century.

Keywords

Occidentalism the frontier travel writing Orientalism Eurocentrism 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Michèle Mendelssohn, Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), 48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    As William S. Peterson claims, it was immediately after Kipling ended his American journey and reached England that his literary reputation was established. ‘The publication of “The Ballad of East and West” in the Dec, 1889, issue of Macmillan’s Magazine brought Kipling instant fame in both England and America’. William S. Peterson, ‘Kipling’s First Visit to Chicago’, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 63, no. 3 (1970): 291.Google Scholar
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    The difference between the representation of America in the original letters and the ones anthologized in From Sea to Sea: Letters of Travel is not significant from the perspective of this article, although the volume was published after Kipling’s relation to the United States was changed by his marriage to the American, Caroline Balestier, and their three- year sojourn in New England. Several anecdotes and dialogues were added, whereas some references to American piracy of British texts were omitted. Ironically, by 1891, Kipling’s letters were pirated by American newspapers and even illegally reprinted as American Notes. His remarks about the country caused considerable outrage on the part of American readers, whereas their later publication in From Sea to Sea: Letters of Travel did not evoke much controversy (Peterson, 296-7).Google Scholar
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    Due to the focus on his appropriation of the Western in the narrative, my reading of Wilde’s representation of American masculinity differs from the way that Michèle Mendelssohn interprets it in her ‘Notes on Oscar Wilde’s Transatlantic Gender Politics’. She argues that Wilde launched a critique of American men, who according to him, failed to assume the position of arbiters of taste central for the British upper-class conception of masculinity (157).Google Scholar

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© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of English StudiesUniversity of WarsawWarsawPoland

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