Strange Man in a Strange Land

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Declaring His Genius

 

Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America
by Roy Morris Jr.
Belknap Press.  264 pages, $26.95

 

THE TITLE of Declaring His Genius refers to Oscar Wilde’s notorious remark upon landing in New York in 1882 (“I have nothing to declare but my genius”). In this detailed account of Wilde’s year-long speaking tour across North America, Roy Morris Jr., an American magazine editor and historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction, posits that America forced Wilde to grow up: “America had taken the nonsense out of him,” observed a friend. When he returned to London, Wilde got a haircut and declared: “The Oscar of the First Period is dead.” He came to teach Americans to pay more attention to æsthetics, and he learned not to pay so much attention to appearances.

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