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Political Censorship on the late-Victorian Stage: Rereading Oscar Wilde’s Vera; or, the Nihilist[s]

Kandola, S (2022) Political Censorship on the late-Victorian Stage: Rereading Oscar Wilde’s Vera; or, the Nihilist[s]. Journal of Victorian Culture. ISSN 1355-5502

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Open Access URL: https://doi.org/10.1093/jvcult/vcac050 (Published version)


The publication in 2021 of the Oxford English Texts version of Oscar Wilde’s Russian melodrama Vera; or, the Nihilist (1883), based, as it is, on new archival research by its editor Josephine Guy deepens the mystery surrounding the alleged censorship of Wilde’s first play. Wilde, himself, promoted the idea that the expression of democratic ideals in his Nihilist play had prevented its performance in England, more recently, in line with the contested recovery of the ‘Irish Wilde’, the play has been read as an allegory for Ireland’s Land Wars (1879-1891). By undertaking a genetic reading of both an early manuscript version of the play (1881) made available in the OET Vera and Guy’s reconstructed play-text of the first performance, this article offers a fresh reading of the politics and attendant nationalism of Wilde’s Russian drama. Not only does the reading that follows complicate Wilde’s avowed republicanism but it also interrogates the nature and extent of political censorship practised in the late-Victorian theatre. While the incumbent Examiner of Plays, E.F.S. Pigott, vehemently denied the necessity and even the existence of political censorship in the theatre per se, by contrast, this article reveals how both Wilde and his mentor the popular Irish playwright Dion Boucicault were subjected to forms of explicit and implicit structural censorship and were forced to adopt modes of self-censorship to evade the Examiner’s blue pen. In revisiting the complex history of the censorship of Vera; or, the Nihilist (whether structural, self-imposed or entirely fictitious), this article offers a fascinating insight into Wilde’s initially unsuccessful strategies to conquer theatreland in London and New York. And beyond the academic controversies that continue to shape the recovery of the radical and Irish Wilde, this new reading challenges the truism, as perpetuated by Pigott and others, that there was no political censorship of the theatre at the end of the Victorian period.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: theatre censorship; Oscar Wilde; Dion Boucicault; Nihilism; Irish Republicanism; Genetic criticism; 2002 Cultural Studies; 2005 Literary Studies; 2103 Historical Studies
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
Divisions: Humanities & Social Science
Publisher: Oxford University Press (OUP)
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 22 Jul 2022 10:02
Last Modified: 19 Aug 2022 10:15
DOI or ID number: 10.1093/jvcult/vcac050
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/17259
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