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It will grow naturally, and simply,

Regenia Gagnier has argued that one ofWilde's major aims in The Soul of Man is to rescue words from the stylistic distortions of journalism, and to return them to their genuine, authentic meanings.53 This is to take at face value the rhetorical flourish with which Wilde condemns authority in all forms; the authority of government, of public taste, of the 'classics', of journalism: 'It has been pointed out that one of the results of the extraordinary tyranny of authority is that words are absolutely distorted from their proper and simple meaning, and are used to express the obverse of their right signification' (1101). Wilde deploys the notions of 'simple meaning' and

'right signification' with tactical acumen, to drive home the polemical force of his attack on journalism. However, as we have seen, the larger strategy of the essay is to complicate meaning rather than to simplify it: to work on the materiality of language by shaking words free of the significations they have become bound to by the operations of ideology. His redefinition of the meanings of 'immoral', 'unintelligible', 'exotic', 'unhealthy', 'morbid'- the jargon of journalistic art criticism - is not so much an attempt to stabilize the processes of signification, as to appropriate them: to seize the means of definition and dissemination. That the essay has an immediate and specific polemical purpose in attacking journalism is similarly claimed by Owen Dudley Edwards. For him, The Soul of Man is as clearly evidence of Wilde's Irish nationalism as it is of his socialism: it is a 'furious denunciation of the British press and its destruction of Parnell'.54 Parnell is the central absent presence in the argument, according to Dudley Edwards, and Wilde's failure to mention him by name was not a matter of deliberate concealment: 'he simply seems to have been in so white a heat that he failed to allow for a life for his essay beyond the date of its magazine.'55 (The essay was originally published in the Fortnightly Review in February 1891.) Nevertheless, it is, according to Dudley Edwards, obviously the topical example of the leader of the Irish Home Rulers being publicly destroyed by a divorce case which lies behind Wilde's condemnation of the way 'serious, earnest, thoughtful' journalists nail their ears to the keyhole and 'drag before the eyes of the public some incident in the private life of a statesman, of a man who is a leader of political thought as he is a creator of political force, and invite the public to discuss the incident, to exercise authority in the matter' (1095). (There is no need here to reinforce the degree to which Wilde anticipates criticism of contemporary tabloid journalism; suffice it to say that his wry comments on the very different French attitude to the sex lives of politicians, has a more than familiar ring.) Dudley Edwards is right to point out this specific and urgent context because it reminds us that we cannot simply dismiss the socialism of The Soul of Man as abstract and wilfully impracticable; it is intimately connected with a larger radical agenda which embraces Wilde's nationalism and his feminism. In addition to Baudelaire, Shaw and Renan, Wilde draws heavily upon William Morris, the Taoist philosophy of selfculture, and European Anarchist thinkers such as Kropotkin; but we should not let the characteristic eclecticism of the essay detract from the secure and sophisticated theoretical underpinnings of that radicalism. 56

Nevertheless, Wilde's political sympathies have always evinced a sceptical response. Frank Harris is a case in point. For him Vera, or the Nihilists - which folded after a week's run in New York in 1883 - was a piece of characteristic opportunism. He says Wilde 'seized occasion by the forelock' in order to exploit the topicality of revolutionary violence in Russia, coming

up with a drama 'impregnated with popular English liberal sentiment.' (In reality, Vera was an accidental victim of that topicality. The London production, planned for 1881, had to be cancelled because of the assassinations of Tsar Alexander II and President Garfield.) Harris insists that Wilde's republicanism was not even skin-deep, that his political beliefs and prejudices were those of the English governing class 'and were all in favour of individual freedom, or anarchy under the protection of the policeman'. 57 (It may be worth noting that this tells us as much about Harris's opportunism as Wilde's: he managed to crush his doubts about the sincerity of Wilde's politics long enough to publish The Soul of Man in his Fortnightly Review.) Recent scholarship, though, has challenged Harris's judgement. Sos Eltis, for instance, has usefully documented Wilde's personal contact with the world of the emigre radicals and anarchists in the London of the 1880s and 1890s: the world he satirized as radical chic in Lord Arthur Savile's Crime. He tried to organize a petition in support of the Chicago Anarchists in 1886, was a friend of S.M. Stepnyak, who had assassinated the chief of the Russian secret police, and stood bail for the young John Barlas, who signalled his anarchism by firing a pistol outside the Houses of Parliament in 1891.58 He was also personally acquainted with a number of well-known members of the French artistic avant-garde who were prominent in revolutionary and anarchist politics: such as Felix Feneon and Adolphe Rette. Eltis also emphasizes the seriousness of Wilde's feminism, claiming that he was a consistent champion of women's rights and supported all the primary demands of late nineteenth-century feminism - in particular the campaigns for women's suffrage and greater access to higher education.59 Central to this claim is Wilde's editorship of Woman's World. Eltis describes how he transformed the magazine when he took it over in 1887, signalling his 'womanly' rather than 'feminine' agenda by changing the name from Lady's World. As editor Wilde introduced a 'high intellectual content' and 'radical tone', dropping articles on 'Pastimes for Ladies' and giving space instead to those arguing for women's right to equality of treatment with men and to a greater role in public and politicallife.60 Eltis insists that the brevity of Wilde's tenure as editor-he quickly tired of the day-to-day routine of running the magazine - should not detract from his commitment to the cause.61