Nietzsche, Wilde and Women

The ultimate limit to Man’s attempts to render the world transparent is of course that paragon of opacity, Woman. After Derrida, it has become impossible to ignore the figure of Woman operating in Nietzsche’s texts as a kind of presentation of truth, or perhaps more correctly, as the refusal of Truth to allow herself to be represented by a mere philosopher. With her distance, her veils and adornments, her skepticism and her dance and simulation, Women became the embodiment of the logo/phallocentric philosopher’s frustrated ambitions to locate and capture truth. For decades after his death, Nietzsche’s use and abuse of Woman has been almost as contentious as his association with Nazism. Before the seminal Spurs, the question of Nietzsche’s misogyny was dismissed as Achilles heel of a very great thinker, not worthy of the serious thinker’s attention. This was certainly the approach followed by Heidegger. The other, tedious psychological approach is to explain his apparent misogyny as a reaction against his being raised by a domineering mother in a household that comprised his mother, grandmother, sister and two maiden aunts. But after Derrida’s famous examination of the topic in Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles more interesting alternatives have arisen. The characteristics of Woman are now closely associated with Truth and her games with the naïve philosophers who seek to capture her. As Schrift[1] sees it, Derrida roughly organizes his ideas around five major features of Woman/Truth: woman and the pathos of distance, woman’s veils, her skepticism, her adornments and her dissimulation. The list, as we shall see, also goes a long way towards describing Wilde’s Salome. In both Nietzsche and Wilde, Woman appears as ultimate Other, desirable, seductive and yet forever distant and unconquerable. The relationship between man and woman is dependent on what Nietzsche famously calls the Pathos der Distanz: the tension-inducing distance between men and women that keeps allure alive. This idea is one of the oldest in the Western tradition, and yet even today remains fresh enough to keep the romantic comedy alive even in an age as cynical as our own. The late nineteenth century was no exception. Even in a genre as frivolous as Wilde’s society comedies, there is a sense of the darkness and mystery of the most complicated of human relationships. Lord Darlington has the following to say to Lady Windermere: ‘Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship. Love, but no friendship’ (OW, 439)

            Distance is precisely the most important aspect that, according to Derrida, Nietzsche attributes to Woman.

            But still! But still! my noble enthusiast, there is also in the most beautiful

Sailing ship so much noise and bustling and alas, so much petty, pitiable

bustling. The enchantment and the most powerful effect of women is, to use the language of the philosophers, an effect at a distance, an actio in distans: there belongs thereto, however, primarily and above all, distance! (GS, 60)

As the absolute Other, Woman is as distant to man as is humanly possible. Like all true seducers, she seduces at a distance. As soon as the conquering hero advances, she moves away, or dances away. This can be linked to her second characteristic: she is veiled and cannot be unveiled. With seven veils, Salome is as close to the essence of Woman as is possible on stage. But Woman cannot be unveiled because Woman has no ultimate essence. She is, as Freud was to claim later, a mystery even to herself, a mystery that has no intention of being solved. Woman is distance, mystery itself.

            Her veiled movements resembles those of Life itself: she is complex, rather simple, moves about instead of being able to be pinned down, and above all, charms: once one has tasted her, it is hard to let go. She also teases: she promises, but never fulfills all expectations. Certainly not all at once.

For ungodly activity does not furnish us with the beautiful all, or all at once!

I mean to say that the world is overfull of beautiful things, but it is nevertheless poor, very poor, in beautiful things. But perhaps this is the greatest charm of life: it puts a golden embroidered veil of lovely potentialities over itself, promising, resisting, modest, mocking, sympathetic, seductive. Yes, life is a woman! (GS, 339).

This is a very Wildean image, and this is really where their ideas come together. Both, as we have seen, describes the world as essentially veiled and life in essentially feminine terms. Dorian Gray, during his epicurean stage, would have loved the image of a golden embroidered veil. Not only are woman liars, they are the greatest liars the world has ever known. Hamlet already complained that they were incapable of being natural. For as Mrs. Chevely admits, even being natural is only a pose, and the hardest one to keep up. This is why Nietzsche’s old women are wiser than his old men: they know better than even to draw the distinction between the mask and the face. For they know that behind mask follows another mask, not a face. This brings us to yet another of woman’s characteristics, namely her skepticism.

I fear that women who have grown old are more skeptical in the secret recesses of their hearts than any of the men; they believe in the superficiality of existence as its essences, and all virtue and profundity is to them only the disguise of this ‘truth’, the very desirable disguising of a paedelum, an affair therefore of decency and modesty, and nothing more! (GS, 64).

We know by now that to be able to lie well as the ultimate virtue in the Nietzschean/Wildean framework. And the skill at adornment, to veil oneself with every imaginable form of finery, and adept simulation, the ultimate ability of the lie are artist’s skills. With the artist, nothing is ever real; there are only different kinds of illusions. Women have dedicated their entire existence to this condition. This why, as Mrs Chevely remind us, ‘women are never disarmed by compliments. Men always are’ (OW, 565).

Finally women. If we consider the whole history of women are they not obliged first of all, and above all, to be actresses? If we listen to doctors who have hypnotized women, or finally, if we love them—and let ourselves be ‘hypnotized’ by them—what is always divulged thereby? That they ‘give themselves airs’ even when they—give themselves. Woman is so artistic. (GS, 361).

In Nietzsche’s world, this is the ultimate compliment. This is why Dorian Gray is so fascinated by Sibyl Vane. She is never herself. Where Nietzsche saw all women as actresses, Wilde only admired the real life professionals:

Ordinary women never appeal to one’s imagination. They are limited to their century. No glamour ever transfigures them. One knows their minds as easily as one knows their bonnets. One can always find them. There is no mystery in any of them. They ride in the Park in the morning, and chatter at tea-parties in the afternoon. They have their stereotyped smile, and their fashionable manner. But an actress! How different an actress is!

Dorian, was of course too foolish and conceited to see that Sybil’s ‘natural’ acting was precisely that—acting. The only sin she really committed was to shift her style for him. For what we decide counts as ‘natural’ is purely arbitrary. We have seen that once the theory of representation is forced upon art, with its demands of equivalence and resemblance, art becomes paradoxical. It is a singularity that can never be judged in terms of anything else. Art is art, and therefore incapable of being either true or false. If anything, it is true, for as Nietzsche explains, ‘art works through deception—yet one which does not deceive us? What is the source of the pleasure we take in deception which we have already tried, in an illusion which is always recognized as an illusion? Thus art treats illusion as illusion: it therefore does not wish to deceive, it is true’ (OTL, 1) Art expresses never anything but itself, and neither do women. Women know that truth is only a veil or a surface. According to Jacques Derrida, reading Nietzsche,

There is no such thing as the truth of woman, but it is because of that abyssal divergence of truth, because that ‘untruth’ is truth. Woman is but one name for the untruth of truth. If woman is truth, then she at least knows that there is no truth, that truth has no place here and that no one has a place for truth. And she is woman precisely because she does not believe in truth itself, because she does not believe in what she is, in what she is believed to be, in what she thus is not.[2]

Woman is unconcerned with truth, for her, truth is superfluous. And it is precisely because of this lack of concern for truth that Woman escapes and frustrates all attempts to capture or define her. Just like ambitious man believes that he can capture Woman and bend her to his will and render her submissive, so the dogmatic philosopher believes he can capture and possess the truth. The irony of the situation is that only a figure who herself no longer believes in truth can stand as a symbol for it. But even though truth can never be defined, captured or owned, man can nevertheless not resist the quest to go and look for her. In what has now become one of Nietzsche’s most often quoted texts, he writes:

Supposing truth to be a woman—what? Is he suspicion not well-founded that all philosophers, when they have been dogmatists, have had little understanding of woman? That the gruesome earnestness, the clumsy importunity with which they have been in the habit of approaching truth have been inept and improper means for winning a wench. Certainly, she has not let herself be won—and today every kind of dogmatism stands sad and discouraged. If it continues to stand at all! (BGE, Pr).

Just as measurement is involved in the constitution of every self separate from one another, Nietzsche suggests that men create an image of woman in order to shore up something about themselves. It is the slavish man especially who conforms to an unchanging image of himself that requires a specific construction of the other in order to maintain the appearance of self-consistency and autonomy. This reactive position with respect to the other does not have to be particularly denigrating. A man can maintain himself by constructing an ideal image of woman which is simply complementary to himself—yet designed for his consumption. More than anything, this strategy serves to affirm the self as unchanging, for it silences the noise of other possibilities. As Nietzsche writes in The Gay Science:

When a man stands in the middle of his own noise, in the midst of his own surf of plans and projects, then he is apt also to see the quiet, magical beings gliding past and to long for their happiness and seclusion: women. He almost thinks that his better self dwells among women (GS, 290).

Most men spend their entire lives searching for this ‘better self’. The successful ones become artists.

            Woman also makes her well-heeled appearance throughout Wilde’s texts. And as was the case in Nietzsche’s work she is explicitly associated—albeit in an admittedly light-hearted fashion, with playfulness, dance, veils and the enigmatic. Like Nietzsche, Wilde created a gallery of different female personae to act as glimmering masks to prevent the textual brutality that ensues when the unimaginative reader tries to break through the surface of the text in order to discover what the author ‘really’ meant. But as was the case with Nietzsche, this strategy has proved controversial. Wilde too, has been tainted with, and subsequently saved from, the sexist tarbrush. But negative or positive, it cannot be denied that both Wilde and Nietzsche paid the opposite sex the ultimate compliment by being interested in them. For as Wilde pointed out, there is only one fate worse than to be talked about, and that is not being talked about. Nietzsche’s compliment is of course, in keeping with the spirit of rest of his philosophy, rather a backhanded one.

The early feminist hostility to Wilde—every bit the victim of the same truth discourse as they—remain a mystery. As Stetz[3] points out, the neglect of Oscar Wilde by the foremost feminist critic of the first half of the twentieth century, Virginia Woolf, led to a general neglect by feminist critics that was only rectified late in the century. Considering the fact that she was a sexual dissident and intellectual outsider like him, and that they opposed the same institutional forces of repression, the omission is indeed puzzling. She was definitely aware of his notoriety and status as outsider, seen both through the sexual and national paradigm, but perhaps for these reasons she saw him as a figure apart from the Great Victorian Men that she associated with her father. Despite her failure to acknowledge him as an influence, there is definite evidence that she has read enough of his work to make an impression on her own style. Her description of Hugh Walpole is delightfully Wildean: ‘Hugh is rather like the winter sun—his ruddy edges slightly blurred’.[4] Not only her style, but her novel Orlando, with its beautiful, androgynous ageless hero who refuse to be fixed in a stable identity, owes a great deal to Dorian Gray. Like Wilde himself, her hero is also a shameless, almost postmodern, borrower and consumer of texts.

            Whatever her reasons for ignoring Wilde might have been, her dismissal of him as irrelevant to the progress of modern literature and criticism had a decided influence on the reception of Wilde by the Second Wave feminists of the 1970s and 1980s. Feminist critics of that period still failed to show much interest, despite the obvious, and often acknowledged debts to him by newly discovered woman writers of the early modern period such as Zora Neale Hurston. As Stetz[5] suggests, however, the reluctance of the post 1970’s gay critics to forge links with the woman’s movement contributed to Wilde being ignored by that tradition. In addition, the idea appeared that there was no remarkable difference between homo- and heterosexual patriarchy. Adrienne Rich, for example deliberately distanced herself from the male homosexual tradition in her famous article ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’[6] she writes:

[Lesbian existence] has to be seen against the background of this difference: women’s lack of economic and cultural privilege relative to men; qualitative differences in male and female relationships, for example the prevalence of anonymous sex and the justification of pederasty among male homosexuals; the pronounce ageism in homosexual standards of sexual attractiveness [glaringly obvious in Wilde’s case] etc. I defining and describing lesbian existence I would like to move towards a dissociation of lesbian from male homosexual values and allegiances.

The influence of judgements like these proved to be long-lasting. For a long time, Wilde was simply seen as a man of no importance to the feminist movement. But for later feminists, Wilde was—ironically—a typically Victorian male. Elaine Showalter, in her influential study of gendered art in the late Victorian era, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle tends to view Wilde’s positive portrayal of women with some skepticism. She admits that in his private life, Wilde may have supported the early feminist movement by including articles on female suffrage in The Woman’s World, but holds that behind this apparent encouragement lies a profound hostility towards female bodies. For Showalter, the views of characters like Lord Henry Wotton and Lord Illingworth were without doubt the views of the author, and its promotion of misogyny an important element in the formation of the new homosexual discourse to which Wilde was contributing.

This rationalization of homosexual desire as aesthetic experience has as its subtext an escalating contempt for women, whose bodies seem to stand in the way of philosophical beauty. The aristocratic dandy Lord Henry Wotton speaks the most misogynistic lines in the novel, a series of generalizations about the practicality, materiality, grossness, and immanence of women, who represents the triumph of ‘matter over mind’.

Critics like these seem to adhere to an either-or position: homosexuality automatically implies hostility towards the other gender. But in Wilde’s case, this charge is particularly unjust, given the prominent position women play in his comedies of Society. Indeed, his particular style of homosexuality is one that is fascinated by the role or pose of femininity. During his American tour, he defended artistic potential of the everyday space of the home, giving the taken for granted a kind of intellectual recognition. ‘[F]urnishing, although largely woman’s work in the direction, is really no trivial matter… Its study is as important in some respects as the study of politics’.[7] The Victorian home was transformed into a ‘showroom, in which the most treasure works of art are placed on exhibit.’[8] That a man can adopt a feminine pose and be interested in feminine spaces is in itself the best defense against gender based essentialisms. This means that there is no essential space that should ‘naturally’ be assigned either to women or to men. The home as well as the public sphere belong to and should belong to both men and women.

Readings like Showalter’s, however, commit a certain kind of univocal violence upon a complex phenomenon. Just as many readers forget the fact that it is not Zarathustra who speaks the infamous line about the need for a whip when one visits women, but an old, female interlocutor, it must be bourn in mind that it is not Wilde’s hero that speaks these lines. Respecting the ontology of the mask means that one should be very careful when locating the ‘voice’ of an author. Lord Henry Wotton certainly sometimes resembles a lightweight Nietzsche, at least when it comes to women. Consider his response when Dorian tells him that Sibyl Vane is a genius:

My dear boy, no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Woman represents the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals (OW, 48).

However, just as Lord Illingworth in A Woman of No Importance turns out to be the villain of the piece, it is Wotton that commits the ultimate aesthetic sin: he is (at least indirectly) the destroyer of something beautiful. In typical Wildean fashion, this destruction happens in more ways than one: morally, intellectually, spiritually, and finally physically. In addition: Who says that only some characters bear gendered masks? Certainly not Wilde. Lord Henry is the ironic personification of the vices he finds embodies by the opposite sex. He could of course just as well have been talking about himself. He devotes his entire life to cultivating the persona of the idle rich who man whose conversation consists of charming, but empty wordplay. Furthermore, only a few pages earlier, it is very difficult to separate the body (matter) from mind. And as to men representing the triumph of mind over morals, it is Wilde’s ironic comment on his age that remains shackled to the very morality over which Lord Henry claims to have triumphed.

            To identify ‘Wilde’ with the words of only one character is plainly to act in bad faith. Even worse, it is to act ‘masculine’. For the tendency to identify the work of art with the intentions of the author is to fall back into the classic metaphysical fallacy and masculine vision of the all-powerful subject that is able to make not only the intentions of long-dead authors present, but to render the entire world transparent and subject to its will.

            Jane Marcus seems to have a far better grip on the subject. In her Art and Anger: Reading Like a Woman[9] she portrays Wilde as unabashedly feminist, defending the outcasts—which Wilde was soon to join—of Victorian society. Indeed it is hard to ascribe any other motive to the portrayal of the triumph of the seemingly powerless Mrs. Arbuthnot over Lord Illingworth, who has every element of Victorian society on his side. Even though Wilde may have preferred men as lovers, it does not mean that he was hostile or indifferent to women. Quite the contrary. George Eliot may have held that the ‘most fortunate women, like the most fortunate countries, have no past’. That however, is the kind of realistic dullness that Wilde would have despised. For it is only the woman with a past that can be fully woman in all her glorious complexity. Rachel Arbuthnot, the woman of no importance in the eponymous play, is both a woman with a past and an innocent victim. She begins as outsider and ends as a kind of fragile victim. Played during the first performance by an actress clad in black, the traditional colour of mourning as well as for a penitent, but combined with a tight-fitting bodice and low neckline, this figure elicits ambivalence. It is this kind of ambivalence that captivated Wilde’s audience. The Victorian audience—far from simply being ‘repressed’, as will be shown in the next chapter, was one set on edge by changing cultural codes and increasingly bewildered by the enigma of Woman, the one figure that escaped every conceptual apparatus prepared for her, as even Freud would admit a mere decade or so after Wilde.

            Both Nietzsche and Wilde employs the image of the sphinx, the archetypal symbol of silence and mystery—in association with ‘Woman’. For Nietzsche, the sphinx serves to underline our perspective existence: ‘there are many kinds of eyes. Even the sphinx has eyes—and consequently there are many kinds of “truths” and consequently there is no “truth” (WP, 450). In Wilde, the sphinx appears to illustrate the paradoxical nature of Woman. This image appears twice. First, in banter between the Duchess of Monmouth and Lord Henry, a. k. a. Prince Paradox, exchanging bon mots on the nature of Woman:

            [The Duchess] ‘Men have educated us’.

            [Lord Henry] ‘But not explained you’.

            ‘Describe us a sex’ was her challenge.

            ‘sphinxes without secrets’ (OW, 143).

Wilde also developed the idea in a short story, with that very title: ‘The Sphinx Without a Secret’, and a poem, simply entitled ‘The Sphinx’. Whereas the poem is a typical example of Victorian obsession with the grotesque and mysterious, the short story elegantly plays with the idea of Woman. In the story a woman, Lady Alroy, who deliberately cultivates an aura of mystery. Her initially fascinated beau eventually jilts her after she takes the act too far. After confronting her with the handkerchief she dropped at the rooms she so mysteriously visits, she still fails to reveal her secret. This is, because she had no secret, but simply played with the idea of secrecy, staging an elaborate mystery when in fact there was none. This is Woman as actress at her best: she invents the drama of secrecy to hide her real secrets, those unknown even to herself. But respecting the pudeurs of Woman, the narrator is still not sure: ‘I wonder?’ (OW, 208).

Turning to the scene of the Victorian actress, however, Kerry Powell seems to share Showalter’s skeptical position. In ‘A Verdict of Death: Oscar Wilde, actresses and Victorian women’[10] the author states that Wilde shared the conventional Victorian attitude towards the actress. Since actresses play women—a privilege for the largest part of stage tradition only reserved for men—they were seen as somehow operating in the murky realm of ambivalent identity. In contrast to the ‘ordinary’ Victorian woman who was practically voiceless, actresses were able to control their audiences and hold them spellbound. Their lives were complex in contrast to the single dimension of which the ‘respectable’ Victorian woman’s life consisted. But these women were constantly reminded of what they had to sacrifice for a public career, namely what Wilde had called in ‘san Arytysty’ or ‘The Artist’s Dream’ ‘the sweet confines of the garden close’. As much as they fascinated, actresses made the Victorians uneasy. Amid the whirl of identities they assumed, it was very difficult to pin down their ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ self. What might have unnerved even more, was that actresses were even more woman than the tamed, domestic variety of everyday life that offered no threat to men’s intellectual or sexual vanity. Actresses, on the other hand, embodied the eternal female: untruthful, artistic, veiled—even at her most naked—mocking and mysterious. In this she embodied man’s most basic fear of women. For many critics, the actress is transformed into something inhuman as she shifts from guise to guise. George Bernard Shaw specifically used the word ‘inhuman’ in describing Sarah Bernhardt’s performance.[11] For the prominent Victorian critic Arthur Symons, the famous actress seemed to ‘tear the words with her teeth’ and then to ‘spit them out of her mouth, like a wild beast ravening its prey’.[12] Wilde at first sight appears to follow in this tradition. On the one hand he has thrown lilies at the feet of Sarah Bernhardt. On the other, he used imagery reminiscent of vampire-lore to describe her Phèdre:

For thou wert weary of the sunless day,

The heavy fields of scentless asphodel,

The loveless lips that men kiss in Hell.

                                                            (OW, 835).

The asphodel is a flower associated with Hades, it was Persephone’s symbol. This is precisely the beauty of the Wildean world: it is all about acting. It is not Bernhardt as human being who is being described; it is Pheadra, her theatrical mask. To suggest that in her role she overpowers, is perhaps the greatest compliment one can give an actress. And in the Wildean register, the more ‘unreal’, the better.

            The most ‘unreal’ of all Wilde’s women—and therefore the most true to art—is of course Salomé. This play can—except perhaps for Salome’s death—almost be viewed as a dramatization of man’s frustrating relationship with Truth. This is probably one of the strangest works Wilde ever wrote. It is very difficult to categorize. Although Wilde clearly conceived the Jewish princess as a tragic figure, and actually refers to it as ‘a Tragedy in One Act’ or ‘a drama in the Greek manner’,[13] it leaves us with the question as to why it is a tragedy. After all, according to the classical Aristotelian definition, a tragic character is not simply consumed by bestial hunger or desire, but is basically a good person brought down by a tragic flaw or the will of the gods. Salome cannot be described in these terms. This does not mean of course that there is no tragedy involved. I would suggest however that the tragic figure in Salome is Herod, not the Jewish princess. It was customary for Shakespeare as well as the tragedians of antiquity not to have an eponymous tragic hero or heroine. It is likely that Creon is the tragic hero of Antigone rather than Antigone herself, for what the play really illustrates is the evil that comes to pass when a leader fails to live up to his duties. Wilde would have been familiar with this custom, as well as Shakespeare’s tendency to do the same with plays like Julius Caesar where Brutus is the real hero. Herod desires Salome: his incestuous lust for his step-daughter is evident the moment he appears on stage. Salome goes one better than Herod in her desire and curiosity. Even though it is Salome who is destroyed by her rapidly accelerating desire, it is Herod who has to remain behind, both disgusted and unfulfilled. One of the play’s most extraordinary elements is the dance of the seven veils—an element that has never occurred in the literature spawned by the scant biblical details before Wilde invented it. The timeline is especially curious. In the Gospels the dance inspires Herod’s reckless offer, when he is carried away by her sensual movements. Wilde however suggests a Herod that has been driven over the edge by lust long before Salome dances. He says ‘It is true; I have looked at you all evening. Your beauty troubled me. Your beauty has grievously troubled me’ (OW, 601). The offer is made before the dance commences and suggesting a long-term passion on his part. But like most men, and like Salome herself, he kills the thing he loves. Both Salome and the Tetrarch end up destroying the things they love, Salome manically, obsessively trying to possess the prophet that through death is now beyond her reach.

            If one is to classify Salome as tragedy, one would have to strengthen one’s argument by returning to the aesthetic dichotomy of law and excess that forms the background to our discussion. Throughout his work, we find Wilde insisting on the self-referentiality of art, and stating that it is by nature narcissistic. Art ‘finds her own perfection within, and not without herself’ (I, 31). Art rejects the tougher burdens of the human spirit and develops purely along her own lines. We find that Salome initial expression of her infatuation with Iokanaan is expressed along purely aesthetic lines, much as the Princess herself had been described: ‘He is like a thin ivory statue… an image of silver, chaste, as the moon is. His flesh must be very cold, cold as ivory’ (OW 589). What could signify Salome’s tragedy is her plunge from aesthetic self-sufficiency to falling under the spell of another. This means she is now the victim of uncontrollable desire, something that the Greeks would have abhorred. She experienced what Basil Hallward experienced by meeting Dorian Gray: a fascination that could ‘absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself’ (OW, 23). Salome’s first encounter with Iokanaan is terrible and rather resembles the animalistic imagery of the actress discussed above. ‘It is his eyes that are terrible. They are like black holes burned by torches into a tapestry of Tyre. They are like the black caverns of Egypt in which dragons make their lairs. They are like black lakes troubled over by fantastic moons’ (OW, …). Salome’s tragic flaw, her hammartia is her incapability to remain indifferent to desire, a Stoic quality that Wilde thought essential for the thriving of the artist. (He would of course later blame Alfred Douglas for coming between him and his art). It is necessary for art to remain indifferent to changes of the world, because real life cannot be. Salome, by becoming obsessed, loses her status as a living work of art, and once she has looked at Iokanaan she is never again associated with the moon. She loses all restraint and practically degenerates into a cesspool of uncontrolled desire. By doing so, she also ‘falls’ from the domain of art into the boundless world of Nature. She shifts practically from Apollo to Dionysos, and it is up to Herod to restore Apollo once more. When he looked back upon his own life, Oscar Wilde wistfully compared himself to Dorian Gray and Salome, stating that he, like his characters, were among those in whom ‘desire is a madness… or malady, or both’. They all fell, not because they were too committed to the principles of aesthetics, but because they ignored them. They could not sustain themselves in the world of art, and failed to acknowledge, as Nietzsche was wise enough to see, that Dionysos must, even if he is allowed free rein for a while, be conquered by Apollo.

[1] Schrift, A. D. Nietzsche and the Question of Interpretation: Between Hermeneutics and Deconstruction. London: Routledge 1990, p. 98-99.

[2] Derrida, J. Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles. Translated by Barbara Harlow. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1979, p. 55.

[3] Stetz, I in ‘Feminist Readings of Wilde’ in Palgrave Advances in Oscar Wilde Studies. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004.

[4] The Diary of Virgina Woolf, vol V: 1936-1941, ed. Anne Oliver Bell, London: Hogarth Press, 1984, 258.

[5] Stetz ibid. Macmillan, p. 230.

[6] Rich, A. Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. In: The Signs Reader: Women, Gender and Scholarship. (ed). Elizabeth Abel and Emily K. Abel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

[7] Quoted by H. P. Spufford, Art Decoration Applied to Furniture. New York: Harper, 1878, p. 232.

[8] Spufford, ibid. p. 233.

[9] Marcus, J. Reading Like A Woman. Columbus, Ohio: Columbus State University Press, 1988, p. 17.

[10] Powell, K. ‘A verdict of death: Oscar Wilde, actresses and Victorian women’ In: The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde. Edited by P. Raby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp181-194.

[11] Shaw, G. B. ‘Duse and Bernardt’ from Our Theatre in the Nineties. London: Constable 1931, p.158.

[12] Symons, A. Plays, Acting and Music. New York: Dutton, 1903., p. 27.

[13] Ellman, R. Oscar Wilde New York: Knopf 1988 p. 345.


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