Sexuality and Death: The Fate of Wilde’s Heterosexual Lovers

  • Patricia Flanagan Behrendt


In the later 1870s and early 1880s, Wilde’s literary endeavors included two dramas which are significant efforts to convert the major themes and preoccupations of the poetry into dramatic form. In addition to the poetry of 1879–80, Wilde had begun the first of these plays: Vera; Or, The Nihilists, to be followed by The Duchess of Padua in 1882–83. In both plays, Wilde seemingly turns his attention to politics and more particularly to rebellion against repressive forms of government. Anxious for public recognition, Wilde chose the timely subject of Russian nihilism as the context for his first play. He downplayed the seemingly political orientation of the plot, however, by insisting that the play is actually about real people who “live and love.”1 Wilde enhanced the romantic theme by locating events in the remote and exotic realm of imperial Russia in the late nineteenth century when, in fact, the political antagonisms between his actual homeland — Ireland — and his adopted homeland — England — offered equally timely subject matter, had he dared to treat it. Concern for his budding career surely made him reluctant to risk antagonizing the English audiences which he hoped ultimately to attract. In fact, with his second dramatic effort — The Duchess of Padua — Wilde seemingly pays homage to England’s own Percy Bysshe Shelley by hitching his literary wagon blatantly to The Cenci, Shelley’s gloomy study of patriarchal domination as a metaphor for monarchy.


Natural Impulse Early Play Divine Comedy Padua Point Incestuous Relationship 
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  1. 1.
    See The Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1962), pp.148–49.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For a treatment of Wilde’s dandies see Edouard Roditi, Oscar Wilde (New York: New Directions, 1986 [originally published in 1947]).Google Scholar
  3. For the dandy, see also Ellen Moers, The Dandy: Brummel to Beerbohm (New York: Viking, 1960);Google Scholar
  4. Robert Viscusi, Max Beerbohm, or The Dandy Dante (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    For a discussion of Vera, see Alan Bird, The plays of Oscar Wilde (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1977);Google Scholar
  6. Donald H. Ericksen, Oscar Wilde (Boston: Twayne, 1977);Google Scholar
  7. Philippe Julian, Oscar Wilde, trans. Violet Wyndham (Paladin, 1971);Google Scholar
  8. Epifanio San Juan, Oscar Wilde (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967);Google Scholar
  9. Michael Hardwick, The Osprey Guide to Oscar Wilde (Osprey, 1973);Google Scholar
  10. G. Wilson Knight, The Golden Labyrinth (London: Phoenix House, 1962);Google Scholar
  11. Christopher S. Nassar, Into the Demon Universe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974); Edouard Roditi, Oscar Wilde;Google Scholar
  12. Rodney Shewan, Oscar Wilde: Art and Egotism (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1977);Google Scholar
  13. Frances Miriam Reed, “Oscar Wilde’s Vera: Or, The Nihilist: The History of a Failed Play,” Theatre Survey, 26 November 1985).Google Scholar
  14. 5.
    For criticism on The Duchess of Padua see the critics in note 4, above. See also Philip Cohen, The Moral Vision of Oscar Wilde (Rutherford, Madison, Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  15. 7.
    The Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1962), p.136.Google Scholar
  16. 8.
    Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Preface by the Author,” The Cenci (New York: Phaeton, 1970), p.4.Google Scholar
  17. 10.
    The First Collected Edition of the Works of Oscar Wilde, ed. Robert Baldwin Ross (London: Dawson’s of Pall Mall, 1969), Reviews, p.68.Google Scholar
  18. 13.
    George Yost, Pieracci and Shelley: An Italian “Ur-Cenci” (Potomac, MD: Scripta Humanistica, 1968), p.11.Google Scholar
  19. 15.
    For an account, see Steve Ellis, Dante and English Poetry: Shelley to T. S. Eliot (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Patricia Flanagan Behrendt 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patricia Flanagan Behrendt
    • 1
  1. 1.University of NebraskaLincolnUSA

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