Oscar Wilde and the Plaistow Matricide: Competing Critiques of Influence in the Formation of Late-Victorian Masculinities

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Abstract

This paper examines the ways in which the concept of “pernicious influence” was mobilized in late-Victorian periodical publications to reinforce a normative conception of masculinity through powerful discourses on the relationship between textual consumption and identity. Discussion of the threat posed by “penny dreadfuls” drew not only on widely held assumptions regarding the criminalizing influence of popular fiction, exemplified by the case of Robert Coombes, but also made connections with the supposedly corrupting effeminacy of the “degenerate” intellectual, with the trials of Oscar Wilde as the main focus. The paper goes on to explore Wilde’s engagement with the concept of influence across a wide range of his writings, in the course of which he developed an alternative critique of all influence as a perversion of self-realization. This relates in some respects to existing strands of critical debate relating to Wilde’s sexuality (for a summary of this scholarship which dominated critical discussions of Wilde in the 1990s, see Small, 2000; and Bashford, 2002). However, the current essay seeks to frame Wilde’s contribution in terms of late-Victorian debates on the cultural significance of reading practices and in relation to Wilde’s own critique of influence, by means of which he contested many of the assumptions underpinning bourgeois conceptions of normative masculinity.
LanguageEnglish
Pages133-147
Number of pages15
JournalCulture, Society and Masculinities
Volume4
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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popular fiction
self-realization
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sexuality
threat
discourse

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title = "Oscar Wilde and the Plaistow Matricide: Competing Critiques of Influence in the Formation of Late-Victorian Masculinities",
abstract = "This paper examines the ways in which the concept of “pernicious influence” was mobilized in late-Victorian periodical publications to reinforce a normative conception of masculinity through powerful discourses on the relationship between textual consumption and identity. Discussion of the threat posed by “penny dreadfuls” drew not only on widely held assumptions regarding the criminalizing influence of popular fiction, exemplified by the case of Robert Coombes, but also made connections with the supposedly corrupting effeminacy of the “degenerate” intellectual, with the trials of Oscar Wilde as the main focus. The paper goes on to explore Wilde’s engagement with the concept of influence across a wide range of his writings, in the course of which he developed an alternative critique of all influence as a perversion of self-realization. This relates in some respects to existing strands of critical debate relating to Wilde’s sexuality (for a summary of this scholarship which dominated critical discussions of Wilde in the 1990s, see Small, 2000; and Bashford, 2002). However, the current essay seeks to frame Wilde’s contribution in terms of late-Victorian debates on the cultural significance of reading practices and in relation to Wilde’s own critique of influence, by means of which he contested many of the assumptions underpinning bourgeois conceptions of normative masculinity.",
keywords = "Oscar Wilde, Robert Coombes, Penny Dreadful, Hugh Chisholm, Popular print media, Victorian periodicals, The Picture of Dorian Gray, moral panic, literature and crime, juvenile delinquency, crime fiction, Sensation",
author = "Merrick Burrow",
year = "2012",
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volume = "4",
pages = "133--147",
journal = "Culture, Society and Masculinities",
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