This summer’s exhibition: “Oscar Wilde in Translation”

Published: June 19, 2012

“Oscar Wilde in Translation”

June 18-September 28, 2012

Curated by Gerald W. Cloud

The summer exhibition opened at the Clark today, just in time for next week’s NEH Seminar (“Oscar Wilde and his Circle”).

Russian translation of Ballad of Reading Gaol, 1904.

Measuring the reception of any author is a complicated matter.  What criteria should be used?  At the Clark, an early decision was made to collect not only the original, rare, and limited editions of Wilde’s works, but also foreign language translations of his poetry, prose, and drama in an effort to document Wilde’s reach and the breadth of his popularity and readership.  In the critical study, The Reception of Oscar Wilde in Europe, Stephano Evangelista focuses his anthology on the translated texts as one means of measuring an author’s influence and authority—he points out that only “Shakespeare, Conan Doyle, Stevenson, and Dickens, among British or Irish literary figures have appeared more widely in translations over the past thirty years.”

Pulp paperback translation of Dorian [n.d.]
At the time that Wilde’s works started to be translated his most significant works were yet to be written, yet his reputation stretched well beyond England.  Wilde toured America as a celebrated lecturer in 1882-83, and French writers such as Edmond de Goncourt and Andre Gide recorded impressions of Wilde in their journals as early as 1884.  The German scholar Max Nordau when writing about the decadent writers of the late nineteenth century paid notable attention to Wilde in his study Entartung (1892; translated as Degeneration, London, 1895).  Wilde’s popularity approached its apogee in 1895, that is, just before the scandal of his trial against the Marquis of Queensbury—which he lost—and his subsequent trial for “gross indecencies”—which he also lost, leading to a prison term.

Fantasiën, the first Dutch translation of Wilde’s Fairy Tales, 1889.

The exhibition features holdings from the Clark Library related to the works, influences, and education of Oscar Wilde as well as translations of Wilde’s works with an aim to contextualize Wilde’s movement from one language to another, one culture to another, and offer some insight into Wilde’s influence as a literary figure over a period of time that included his rapid ascension and precipitous fall.

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