Thursday, August 23, 2012

Oscar Wilde - Fashion Magazine Writer

For reals. That was his day job once.

From an article in the Los Angeles Review of Books...

FOLLOWING THE HAYMARKET affair of 1886, where seven police officers and four civilians were killed in Chicago during a labour rally, Oscar Wilde signed a petition which supported the anarchists who were claimed to have placed the fatal bombs in the area. Less than six months after signing this petition, which was prepared by George Bernard Shaw and endorsed by Friedrich Engels, among others, Wilde began working for a fashion magazine, comparable to today's Vogue.

Inconsistent? Paradoxical? Strange? For those who believe in the dissident portrayal of Wilde, the seeker of The Soul of Man under Socialism, the former act is an earnest, sincere expression of his real sympathies, while the latter one is a result of pressing material needs (two years previously he had been married to Constance Lloyd, with whom he’d had two sons), if not of outright desperation. But a closer look at the volumes of his magazine, The Woman’s World, which is available to read through Google's digitalization program complicates this simple opposition between Wilde the dissident and Wilde the sell-out. Under his editorship, the magazine had little patience for gossip and superficiality, instead focusing on the commodification of Victorian life: its potentials, its downfalls, and the role of feminism in it.

Wilde's magazine is a serious venture, a stark contrast to the glossy titles of our era. How lucky were those editors, one thinks, working in a cultural milieu where commodification could be a magazine's subject, and not its lifeblood. That The Woman’s World seemed more interested in reconfiguring the idea of femininity (Wilde pressed his publisher to revise the original title, The Lady’s World, calling it not “womanly”) attests to its intellectual status. Upmarket, highbrow and prestigious, Wilde's magazine could almost be described as dissident in its frequent advocacy of the New Woman, a politically empowered, radical re-appropriation of Victorian femininity.

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