In my first post on this blog, I discussed the idea of hidden representations of homosexuality in strict Victorian society. I neglected to mention, however, one of the key authors of the 19th Century – Oscar Wilde. An Irish, queer, outspoken playwright and embodiment of all things Aesthetic, Wilde is truly an icon. He is the most famous queer writer that I’ve ever heard about, and shockingly, he was Victorian.
Wilde (pictured above) was a follower of the Aesthetic Movement, which can essentially be summarised with the idea of “art for art’s sake”. One of the ways he may have represented this was in his Dandy character. As a fashionable socialite, a Dandy was a man who cared about his appearance. This reputation was built on “beauty for beauty’s sake”, and in the Victorian period it took London by storm. Wilde himself helped popularise the fashion by writing witty, fantastical Dandies such as Algernon in The Importance of Being Ernest. While more rigid Victorian’s may have associated Dandy-ism with the undesirable trait of decadence, trendy socialites of the time used the aesthetic to defy convention.
The Dandy may be based on shallow notions of appearance, but it also has a rich history. Edwardian Promenade has an article detailing the rise and fall of the Dandy character, noting that Oscar Wilde was “the most notorious Dandy”; http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/fashion/the-dandy/. While Oscar Wilde may be known for his outspoken lifestyle and eccentric style, he was also much more than that. I would encourage you to watch Sabrina Cruz’s video on his life; https://www.youtube.com/user/NerdyAndQuirky/about. In it, she goes into detail on Wilde as a Dandy, but also as a gay man living in a time when homosexuality was illegal.
Oscar Wilde is definitely one of my all-time inspirations. Do you have any period icons that I should know more about? Let me know in the comments down below!
You can’t study women in 20th century Irish literature without examining the sexist values perpetuated by DeValera’s 1937 Irish Constitution. Amid detailing what would be DeValera’s ideal Independent Ireland, it is made clear what role women were seen to occupy in society at the time. Specifying the desire to protect the family-unit as the basis of society, the constitution recognises women’s contribution to the State through her position in the household. While I do believe it’s important to value the work many women have undertaken in running a household throughout history, an issue lies here in the relegation of women purely to the home.
The 1937 Constitution creates no space for women outside of the home. This need to ‘protect’ women as mothers and wives could be seen in Irish society throughout the nineteen-hundreds. Not only did it perpetuate the societal norm of a nuclear family with a patriarchal head, but laws which banned women from working in the civil service after marriage stood until the 1970s.
These issues did not come unchallenged. Before the creation of the Irish Free-State, many women fought in the battle for Independence. These women, who were integral to the republican movement, were suddenly being limited to housewives. Many people outwardly opposed DeValera’s constitution, including author Dorothy Macardle. The change Macardle and others requested was simple: include a place for women both within and outside of the home in the Irish Constitution.
The State would not comply. The women of Ireland had their role and that was it. Much of the literature of the time reflects the ideal of a ‘woman’s place’, with female characters existing only in the kitchen. Feminist authors, however, continued their fight – producing works which challenged the perceived place of women in Irish society at the time. Do you, reader, think these discussions still have merit today? I invite you to comment on whether or not you believe the values upheld in the 1937 Constitution still hold influence on Irish society.
If you’d like to learn more about the 1937 constitution, History Ireland has a comprehensive article on the subject: https://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/the-catholic-church-and-the-writing-of-the-1937-constitution/. It details the creation of the new Free State document, paying particular regard to the influence of the Catholic Church on Irish values at the time.
H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds has arguably been one of the most influential works in the science-fiction genre to date. Considered to be the first popular alien-invasion novel, The War of The Worlds was a piece ahead of its time. Not only inspiring many adaptions of the original piece, Wells’ work served to be a core text from which many sci-fi authors have since drawn.
Personally, I was surprised by how contemporary the writing felt when I first read War of the Worlds, especially considering it was published in 1898 – over 120 years ago. Bar the Victorian setting, it almost felt like the novel could have been written today. The image on the above cover looks like it could be set in any time period. Not only does the writing feel fresh, but the lessons one can take from the piece remain valuable. We need to be aware that our place in the universe is no more stable or important than any other creature’s. In today’s world, the value of one life over another is still something which needs to be called into question. What can this message tell you, for example, about the climate crisis we’re currently experiencing? As humans, we may see ourselves as the dominant race on earth, but that doesn’t mean we are right in assuming any power over nature. Our current position in the world is not something to be taken for granted; we are as likely to be taken over by extra-terrestrials as we are to be taken down by the natural world we assume to be ruling over.
I invite you, reader, to comment on these thoughts. Do you think period texts still have value today? Do Victorian novels still have things to teach us about the world in which we live, or should we merely examine them as relics of a time passed?