Oscar Wilde Prefigured: Queer Fashioning
and British Caricature, 1750-1900
by Dominic Janes
Chicago. 279 pages, $40.
IN E. M. FORSTER’S novel Maurice, the title character confesses to his homosexuality by declaring that he is “an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort.” In the late-Victorian and Edwardian imagination, which Forster’s novel evokes, Wilde’s imprisonment on charges of sodomy established him as the queer par excellence. Even before the trials of 1895, Wilde’s sexual deviancy was suspected. Indeed, his dandified persona had raised eyebrows as far back as 1881, when Gilbert and Sullivan satirized him as the limp-wristed æsthete Bunthorne in their operetta Patience. However, as Dominic Janes beautifully demonstrates, long before the Wilde brouhaha, homoerotic expression in the form of dandyism and æstheticism—“camping,” we might call it today—was conspicuous, and often accurately understood, in British society.