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Graham Price, Oscar Wilde and Contemporary Irish Drama: Learning to Be Oscar’s Contemporary

Thierry Dubost
p. 120-122
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Graham Price, Oscar Wilde and Contemporary Irish Drama: Learning to Be Oscar’s Contemporary, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, 249 p.

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1Oscar Wilde and Contemporary Irish Drama: Learning to Be Oscar’s Contemporary is a valuable book for anyone who wants to have a broad view of the ways in which contemporary Irish drama (defined here as post 1964 Philadelphia Here I Come!) resonates with Wildean ways. The book title could prove misleading if one only viewed Oscar Wilde as a playwright, since Graham Price’s investigation also takes into account multiple aspects of Wilde’s life as well as his work as a critic or theorist. Price notes that for decades Oscar Wilde was excluded from the Irish literary canon, but shows that moving from “what James Joyce called ‘a court jester to the English’” (p. 3), he has gradually been recognised by some major critics as an Irish writer. Price’s intent is to reinforce this outlook, and his main purpose seems to show that “Wilde’s shadow looms large over theatre” (p. 1).

2The introduction analyses the Beckett / Wilde connection, while the last chapter “Being Wild(ean) in the twenty-first century” (p. 221-236) highlights the influence of Wilde on the works of Martin McDonagh and Mark O’Halloran. The other chapters each deal with one major Irish playwright. The list is as follows: Brian Friel, Tom Murphy, Thomas Kilroy, Frank McGuinness and Marina Carr.

3To some extent, the opening statement about the Friel / Wilde connection “Any attempt to argue for the influence exerted by Oscar Wilde upon the dramatic works of Brian Friel will be a challenging (albeit rewarding) prospect” (p. 36) resonates with Price’s whole research project. The importance of doubling in Friel’s dramatic works leads Price to stress the proximity of Philadelphia, Here I Come! to The Importance of Being Earnest. This confluence may seem minimal, and Price’s focus on intertextual evidence between the two authors is not always convincing, but a study of Wilde’s legacy upon Friel remains stimulating. As is the case for Friel, the Murphy / Wilde connection is not immediately striking, but Price interestingly contrasts The Importance of Being Earnest as a fratricidal comedy, with its tragic echoes in A Whistle in the Dark. Starting from detailed analyses of Murphy’s plays, Price defines Murphy as an ethical moralist, viewed in Wildean terms. As is the case for Friel, the reader faces interesting textual analyses, and is willing to be convinced, but while there are undeniable meeting points between the two creators, it remains somewhat difficult – especially as Price extends his reflection to other playwrights or other aspects of Murphy’s plays – to regard Murphy as learning to be Wilde’s contemporary.

4Unsurprisingly, the chapter dealing with the Kilroy / Wilde connection (p. 107-142) proves more convincing than the previous ones. The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde, My Scandalous Life as well as Double Cross illustrate the links between the two authors, while the homosexual character in The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche, or the dramatist in Tea and Sex and Shakespeare highlight Wildean proximities in Kilroy’s works. In multiple ways, intertextual evidence (combined with reminders of Field Day’s agenda) shows how Wilde’s plays permeate Kilroy’s works. The chapter devoted to Frank McGuinness (p. 143-184) examines how the Wildean aesthetic resonates with the plays. As the playwright himself has repeatedly stated, Wilde’s influence on his works cannot be challenged. Price convincingly shows meeting points (through comedy, wit, gender issues or the relationship between language and reality) between The Importance of Being Earnest, “The Decay of Lying” or “De Profundis” and Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching towards the Somme, Carthaginians, Someone Who’ll Watch over Me and Dolly West’s Kitchen.

5As for Marina Carr (p. 185-220), focusing on Portia Coughlan, By the Bog of Cats, and Woman and Scarecrow, Price’s analysis is stimulating. He links Carr’s plays with Wilde’s Salomé, through the status of her tragic heroines, whom he views as Dionysian women due to their rejection of distinctions between nature and humanity, as well as an opposition between masculine and feminine usage of language. Concluding with more recent plays, Price shows how Carr has refashioned Wildean aesthetics to define her own.

6Oscar Wilde and Contemporary Irish Drama: Learning to Be Oscar’s Contemporary has a clear, balanced structure, which paradoxically might be its weak point. Indeed, although it is well documented, one could argue that it devotes too much space to Friel and Murphy, without putting forth very convincing points. On the other hand, in view of what Price has to say about Kilroy, McGuinness or Carr, one feels that longer chapters on them would have given a greater impact to the book.

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Référence papier

Thierry Dubost, « Graham Price, Oscar Wilde and Contemporary Irish Drama: Learning to Be Oscar’s Contemporary »Études irlandaises, 45-1 | 2020, 120-122.

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Thierry Dubost, « Graham Price, Oscar Wilde and Contemporary Irish Drama: Learning to Be Oscar’s Contemporary »Études irlandaises [En ligne], 45-1 | 2020, mis en ligne le 24 septembre 2020, consulté le 10 juin 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/etudesirlandaises/8966 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/etudesirlandaises.8966

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Thierry Dubost

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