Oscar Wilde was the most famous gay Irishman and Oscar’s Shadow deals with Wilde and his homosexuality within the context of Ireland and of Irish cultural perceptions of his sexuality. The book investigates the questions: What was ‘Oscar’s shadow’, his influence on twentieth and twenty-first century Irish culture and literature? What has Oscar Wilde meant to Ireland from his disgrace in May 1895 up to the present?
Eibhear Walshe presents Oscar’s shadow in Ireland from 1895 to the present, using contemporary Irish newspaper reports of the Wilde trials of 1895, previously unpublished archival material, and a significant body of Irish critical studies, biographies and dramatisations of Wilde’s life and sexuality. If perceptions of sexual identity evolve partly through public events, how then did Irish media and literary sources configure Wilde’s homosexuality during the Wilde trials and after? Wilde’s homosexuality was a contested discourse within twentieth-century Ireland, a discourse that became interconnected with Irish cultural nationalism. Thus Wilde became a weathervane for the rare but contentious discussions of homosexuality in Ireland, and his life and his writings usefully intertwine within these debates. Oscar’s Shadow sets the historical context for cultural and legal perceptions of homosexuality in Ireland.
This book is the first study of the formation of the idea of homosexuality in Ireland into the twentieth century and centres on an account of Wilde’s visible presence as sexual ‘other’, analysing the strategies of normalisation used to police his unnameable sin within Irish media and literary accounts. Walshe argues that Wilde in Irish culture was perceived not so much as Oscar Wilde the unspeakable but much more as Oscar Wilde the dissident Irishman. Wilde, famous for his writings and notorious for his sexuality, is central for perceptions of homosexuality in modern Ireland.