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‘Too Meeny’: Jude, Dorian and the Life of the Secondary

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Abstract

Thomas Hardy and Oscar Wilde would initially appear an unlikely combination in the last chapter of a book dealing with the role of gossip in nineteenth-century British fiction, especially given the divergence of esteem accorded each upon his death and the relative lengths of their productive lives. Hardy began his career writing a poem about Darwin and lived to write one which assuredly alludes to the work of Albert Einstein. Oscar Wilde’s oeuvre appears, from one perspective, as one endlessly self-allusive epic, incapable of transcending the demands of a manufactured celebrity. And yet, for a cultural ‘moment’ (within perhaps another cultural moment, the fin de siècle) their achievement would suggest some similarity of interests. The unrelieved declines in vocational and social ambition of Jude and Dorian share certain characteristic ‘stages’: an ideological seduction disguised as education at the hands of radical tutors; an increasing cynicism regarding civilized social values; deaths imagined as partially self-destructive; and the representation of guilt as a transmissible inscription, a body made into a quasi-text which can be read. Jude’s image, Father Time, and Dorian’s, Basil’s infamous portrait, both age before their time.

Keywords

Literary History Social Reproduction Daily Telegraph Unauthorized Reproduction Aesthetic Production 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 5.
    Edward W. Said, Representations of the Intellectual (London: Vintage, 1994), p. 41, argues that in its prototype, the nihilistic intellectual, by virtue of living a life according to different norms, never has his own ‘story’ (being cut off from parents or a ‘native’ narrative), but only a destabilizing ‘effect’ which is never formed into a coherent narrative. The late-nineteenth-century refugee intellectual from Tolstoy’s Bazarov to Conrad’s Decoud brings information which cannot be explained away by anything in his own background. This narrative often resembles gossip.Google Scholar
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    Melissa Knox, Oscar Wilde: A Long and Lovely Suicide (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 41–50.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Linda Dowling, Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian England (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994) impressively charts this rewriting of the eighteenth-century masculine ideal of the Greek soldier/scholar whose Spartan ideals had emotionally subsidized British imperial ambitions, to a more ‘sensitive’, sexually-ambivalent champion of Hellenism in late Victorian Oxford.Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), Chapter 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 14.
    Jean-Noel Kapferer, Rumeurs: La plus vieux media du monde (Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1993) argues that the values carried by gossip are often factored into the share price of say, stocks before any economic realization, so that the intending purchaser can never determine in advance whether the ‘information’ is inside or outside. Such would suggest that gossip, economically, is able to disguise its ‘share’ in the determination of the value of shares, making legal prosecution very difficult.Google Scholar
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    Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1974).Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    Bernard Edelman, Ownership of the Image: Elements for a Marxist Theory of Law, trans. Elizabeth Kingdom (London, Boston, Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), pp. 103–12, discusses the way in which, by allowing circulation to appear as a natural ‘given’, the law enables a model of production which creates the illusion of ‘shared’ ownership, even when a sole founder/proprietor is identifiable.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    André Gide, Oscar Wilde (Paris: 1938), pp. 34–46. In his Les Nourritures terrestres, Gide was to repeat that ‘know thyself’ is a pernicious maxim. For an account of Gide’s ‘spiritual seduction’ by Wilde in November-December 1891, see Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987), pp. 333–41.Google Scholar
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    Henry Newbolt, My World as My Time (London: 1932), pp. 96–7.Google Scholar
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    Wendell V. Harris, ‘Canonicity’, PMLA 106 (1991), 110–21, argues that a literary work may enter selective canons whenever enough literary critics find it convenient for an agenda which has been determined in advance. He thereby attempts to refute the idea that canon-formation is invariably elitist.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 25.
    Maurice Rheims, La Vie étrange des objets (Paris: 1956), p. 50. The abundant deployment of metaphors denoting the assembly of random objects in The Picture of Dorian Gray is also matched by intimations of their vulnerability to easy liquidation: ‘the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man… is like a bric-à-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value’ (PDG I, 34). Although the ‘auction mart’, a familiar trope in Wilde’s prose and poetry, would seem to be a gesture opposite to that of ‘collecting’, in fact ‘posing’ and ‘dis-posing’ are not in radical opposition, but part of the same continuum by which an individual becomes an artist merely by assembling what had previously been read as disparate.Google Scholar
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    Mary Ann Caws, Reading Frames in Modern Fiction (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), has noted that with framed narratives, we could transcribe only a small number of embeddings before quotation marks would become altogether meaningless. By the fourth embedding, it would no longer be clear who was speaking, and voice, like the infamous portrait, would appear ‘shared’ or collective. Sir Henry Wotton’s penchant for forgetting what he has just said in Wilde’s novel, may in fact correspond to the ‘absent-mindedness’ of so many gossips, concentrating as they do only on the ‘latest’ information. This disappearance of the usual designators of the ‘possession’ of voice is also a feature of certain types of psychoanalytic discourse where ‘transference’ (contested ownership) has occurred.Google Scholar
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    Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1988), addresses the way in which historical necessity itself came to be constituted, after Hegel, as a series of misrecognitions. 2iek’s work is often dedicated to the attempt to discover a ‘founding’ surplus, and hence represents a subtle critique of Derrida’s groundless ‘ground’ of Western metaphysics.Google Scholar
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    Walter Benjamin, ‘The Storyteller’, in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken, 1977), p. 98.Google Scholar
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    Martin Heidegger, Being and Time trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1980), p. 212. Heidegger’s analysis contrasts the idleness of gossip with the work — ‘hard struggle’ — necessary to attain authentic knowledge, thus implicity differentiating Gerede from a ‘work economy’, wherein one wrestles with the object of understanding in order to make it in some sense one’s own. Although those engaged in it are clearly ‘occupied’ as ‘busy-bodies’, their engagement is, for Heidegger, not a real confrontation: a clear sign that a moral agenda which determines worthless from worthwhile study is present.Google Scholar
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    W. Fielding, ‘What Shall I Do With My Son’, 19C, XIII (1883), 579.Google Scholar
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    See also the remarkable essay by S. H. Jeys, ‘Our Gentlemanly Failures’, Fortnightly Review, LXI (1897), 389–98.Google Scholar
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    G. F. A. Best, Temporal Pillars: The Story of Queen Anne’s Bounty (1964), pp. 471–2. In addition to the collapse in the values of Church lands and ‘fashionable’ dissent among the middle-classes, there would appear to have been an increased bureaucratization and centralization of power away from old families and their locales and toward Bishops and the newly established Church Assembly. Bureaucratization, an a-filiative family again, would be metaphorically usurping the prerogatives of the biological family. One senses this process as already having begun in say, Trollope’s Parliamentary Novels, where gossip, the dilution of the family fortune, and bureaucratization occur more or less in tandem. See M. J. D. Roberts, ‘The Role of the Laity in the Church of England c. 1850–1885; (D. Phil. dissertation, Oxford University, 1974), pp. 78–82.Google Scholar
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    D. Macleane, ‘The Church as a Profession’, National Review XXXIII (1899), 945.Google Scholar
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    E. M. Spiers, The Army and Society 1815–1914 (London: Macmillan, 1980), p. 220.Google Scholar
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    Lady Wester Wemyss, The Life and Letters of Lord Wester Wemyss (1935), p. 306.Google Scholar
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    G. M. Trevelyan, ‘The White Peril’, 19C, I (1901), 1043–55.Google Scholar
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    Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Labour, 1920–1924 (1971), p. 243.Google Scholar
  25. G. R. Searle, Corruption in British Politics, 1895–1930 (1987), suggests that the inability of a succession of weak governments to maintain secrecy in fact owed much to a new dependence upon specialized ‘commercial’ knowledge and the struggle to gain a consensus among a more divided political will, both of which endanger confidentiality.Google Scholar
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    M. Beard, English Landed Society in the Twentieth Century (1989), p. 56.Google Scholar
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    E. J. Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire (1969), p. 202.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jan B. Gordon 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tokyo University of Foreign StudiesJapan

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