Oscar Wilde's Historical Criticism Notebook
Transcribed and Edited by Philip E. Smith II
This volume contains the newly transcribed and annotated text of one of Oscar Wilde's unpublished notebooks that functioned as a major ante-text for the composition of Wilde's first post-graduate essay, Historical Criticism, written in 1879 as an entry for the Chancellor's English Essay Prize at Oxford. Attempting to win a fellowship at Oxford as a serious scholar, Wilde used the notebook to record his research into modern and classical historians and to formulate language that appears, often in revised form, in the essay. The notebook shows us his practices of research and composition: he often worked on particular historians or issues in sections of adjoining pages, accumulating examples from their works and composing passages describing their exemplary practices and their awareness of issues in historiography. His entries include materials drawn from classical historians and philosophers, for example, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, Tacitus, Livy, Lucian, and Plutarch, as well as mentions and/or materials from modern historians and philosophers such as Giambattista Vico, J. G. Fichte, Victor Cousin, George Grote, G. H. Lewes, Henry T. Buckle, Robert Flint, J. A. Symonds, Alexis de Tocqueville, Hippolyte Taine, Jules Michelet, Herbert Spencer, and Ernest Renan. The notebook not only tells us much about Wilde's practices of composing and editing the language that appears in the essay, it also contains the unused materials Wilde studied and for which he drafted language. For example, Wilde scholars will find scattered throughout the notebook the unused phrases, sentences, and notations that relate to subjects or ideas that Wilde mentions or expands in other notebook entries. These entries and drafts of his commentary are interesting in themselves as Wilde's expanded summation of the contributions of these historians to his topic; they also reveal which episodes from history and characteristics of their historiography he found worthy of study. Finally, they show Wilde's wit and comparative imagination at work finding parallels in early modern history and literature for his chosen examples.
Philip E. Smith is Associate Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where he taught from 1970-2014. He chaired the department from 1987 to 1995 and won the Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching and Chancellor's Distinguished Service Awards. He received the Association of Departments of English (ADE) Francis Andrew March Award in 1999. With Michael S. Helfand, he co-authored and co-edited Oscar Wilde's Oxford Notebooks: A Portrait of Mind in the Making. He edited Approaches to Teaching the Works of Oscar Wilde. He has also written articles and chapters on Wilde, Constance Naden, Robert Heinlein, Ursula Le Guin, Brian Aldiss, August Wilson, John Galsworthy, Charles Olson, and on issues of curriculum, staffing, and teaching in the profession of English studies.
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