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!