The “Perpetual ‘Last Day’”
Four Dubliners belongs with Golden Codgers and Eminent Domain among the short but diverse books that Richard Ellmann produced while working on the big book, the prodigious book, that his life of Oscar Wilde would become. Its four chapters started as a series of lectures at the Library of Congress which were later published as elegant pamphlets, and to read them in their original form, with their heavy paper and embossed titles, is first to be reminded that, wherever the Goldsmiths’ Professor found himself, he never rested on his own eminence nor sold his local audience short. Critically these are not among his most complicated pieces but they are alive with an air of encounter, with the range of knowledge and the sympathy in response that made him such a distinguished and delightful scholar. They are also, I believe, rather more than that: they are omens of the profound realisation of the interdependence of art and life which Ellmann eventually achieved, and which he believed to have been embodied by Wilde. That understanding would finally enable him to write in the Preface to his biography that Wilde’s theme “is not as is often supposed art’s divorce from life, but its inescapable arraignment by experience”, that, “While the ultimate virtue in Wilde’s essays is make-believe, the denouement of his dramas and narratives is that masks have to go. We must acknowledge what we are”, and, startlingly, that “Wilde is one of us”.
KeywordsLiner Defend Blindness Prose
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