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New Left Review I/177, September-October 1989


Terry Eagleton

Saint Oscar: A Foreword

I first thought of writing about Oscar Wilde when I discovered that hardly any of the Oxford students who asked to study him with me realized that he was Irish. [*] Ed. note: This text was written as the foreword to Saint Oscar, a new play by Terry Eagleton published by Field Day Theatre Company, Foyle Arts Centre, Old Foyle College, Lawrence Hill, Derry, N. Ireland. Saint Oscar, produced by Trevor Griffiths with the Field Day Company, is touring twenty-two venues in Northern and Southern Ireland between 25 September and 25 November, including the Lyric Players Theatre, Belfast (30 October–4 November) and the Abbey Theatre, Dublin (6–11 November). Since Wilde himself realized this only fitfully, this is hardly a grievous crime, though it might be said to be evidence of one. English students of literature would know of course that Yeats and Joyce were Irish, and probably—thinking of those tasty babies of A Modest Proposal—Jonathan Swift; but it is more doubtful that they could name the nationality of Sterne, Sheridan, Goldsmith and Burke, and they might even hesitate over Bernard Shaw. British cultural imperialism has long annexed these gifted offshore islanders to its own literary canon, and of course Wilde himself was in many ways glad enough to be recruited. Yet several of the characteristics which make him appear most typically upper-class English—the scorn for bourgeois normality, the flamboyant selfdisplay, the verbal brio and iconoclasm—are also, interestingly enough, where one might claim he is most distinctively Irish; and pondering this odd paradox was one point of origin of this play.

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