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The Other Addict: Reflections on Colonialism and Oscar Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

Author(s): Curtis Marez

Source: ELH, Vol. 64, No. 1 (Spring, 1997), pp. 257-287
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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Between two of the windows stood a large Florentine cabinet,

made out of ebony, and inlaid with ivory and blue lapis. He
watched it as though it were a thing that could fascinate and make
afraid, as though it held something that he longed for and yet
almost loathed. His breath quickened. A mad craving came
over him. .... At last he got up from the sofa on which he had
been lying, went over to it, and, having unlocked it, touched some
hidden spring. A triangulardrawer passed slowly out. His fingers
moved instinctively towards it, dipped in, and closed on some-
thing. It was a small Chinese box of black and gold-dust lacquer,
elaborately wrought, the sides patterned with curved waves, and
the silken cords hung with round crystals and tassalled in plaited
metal threads. He opened it. Inside was a green paste, waxy in
lustre, the odor curiously heavy and persistent.'
In this scene from The Picture of Dorian Gray, the novel's hero
anxiously unlocks an ornate cabinet which holds a secret stash of
Chinese-boxed opium. The cabinet-or closet, if you will-of Dorian
Gray seems to support Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's claim in "Wilde,
Nietzsche, and the Sentimental Relations of the Male Body," that
Dorian Gray represents a "gay-affirming and gay-occluding
orientalism."2 Both here and in her essay on Dickens's The Mystery
of Edwin Drood, Sedgwick argues that literary depictions of drug
addiction often function as displacements for the "secret vice" of
homosexuality.3 Although I find this reading partially persuasive, the
sequel to the above scene significantly complicates it. While Dorian's
"closet" is already well stocked with the drug, he nonetheless locks it
up again and departs for the opium dens on the quays of East London.
The craving for opium impels a movement from the fastness of
Dorian's home to the edge of the city-and by extension, the island
nation-where England opens out onto scenes of threatening racial
othernesss. Like Dorian, then, the meanings of drug use are migra-
tory. Sedgwick's account prematurely stabilizes such migrations, more
or less subordinating the multiple significations of opium to an

ELH 64 (1997) 257-287 c 1997 by The JohnsHopkinsUniversityPress 257

"epistemologyof the closet."While I assume as a given that in Dorian
Gray addiction signifies homosexuality,in what follows I claim that
for many late-Victorians opium was simultaneously racialized and
racializing. Put another way, by focusing on opium I will argue that
while racial and sexual categories can overlap, race was an indepen-
dent, relatively autonomous structuring principal in Wilde's work
and the culture(s) he inhabited.4
We will want to keep in mind, for example, that Wilde'sposition as
an Anglo-Irish colonial subject was, in various ways, a racialized
one.5 As I will show, Wilde identified with the British Empire and
against his stigmatized "Irish" status. In order to transcend this
position, Wilde constructed an "Aesthetic Empire"which he hoped
could mediate between England and Ireland. Wilde aestheticized
the Union by theorizing a distinctly European artistic tradition to
which he was a privileged heir. He thus attempted to transform the
in-between status of the Anglo-Irish colonial middle class into a
position of strength. For these reasons, Joyce's Wildean "cracked
looking-glass of a servant"becomes an apt symbol for an art which
reflects both the fissures in colonial subjectivityand the sutures that
join the colonized to the colonial power.6
At its most expansive, Wilde's model of the Union extended
beyond Britain to include much of Western Europe: Wilde sub-
sumed both England and Ireland within a European culture which
he defined
against the cultures of non-European peoples, especially
those of the southern hemisphere. Wilde in effect sustained his
identification with the British Union and European culture by
racializing ornamental otherness as a subsidiaryadjunct to an Aes-
thetic Empire. Beginning in the 1880s, Wilde attempted to cultivate
in his audiences an abstract, decontextualizing taste for forms of
non-Western art. If Wilde hoped that his own taste for such objects
could serve to consolidate a cultured, British and European sense of
self, however, his American and English detractors ultimately col-
lapsed the hierarchicaldistinction between cultured subject and non-
Western object, suggesting that as an IrishmanWilde was as primi-
tive as the exotic objects he celebrated. Wilde's audiences, in other
words, aggressively re-racializedhim. This response to Wilde's mim-
ing racializing imperial ideology thus indexes the distancing and
denaturalizing effects of a colonial repetition with a difference.'
Wilde's mimicry of empire creates a legitimacy crisis in colonial
representation, calling into question who may or may not reproduce
imperial racializations.Turningfinally to The Picture of Dorian Gray,

258 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

I argue that the novel's juxtapositionof non-Western art and opium
allows Wilde to restage just such questions of racial representation.
Dorian Gray narrates,in my account, one of the constitutive contra-
dictions of fin-de-sikcle British colonization. On the one hand, the
Empire disseminates imperial ideologies in Ireland, thus making
possible the appropriation of such ideologies by Wilde and other
colonial subjects. On the other hand, insofar as the Empire rests on
the absolute racial difference of colonizer and colonized, it simulta-
neously bans the ideological traffic between the two.

Wilde's commitment to a British Empire of Art would appear, at

first glance, to be at odds with his Irishness. How did the son of
Anglo-Irish nationalists come to speak for and through British
authority?To answer this question, I will consider Wilde'scontradic-
tory sense of his racial and national identity as a response to debates
concerning Irish home rule. The participantsin this debate included
Anglo-IrishNationalists(like Wilde'sparents), Irish ProtestantUnion-
ists, and English Liberals.
In 1880, Charles Stewart Parnell, an Anglo-Irishman,assumed the
leadership of the Irish ParliamentaryParty and began working for
home rule. Such a prospect outraged many Irish Protestants, par-
ticularly in Ulster, where "Kingand Union" served as a rallyingcry.
Meanwhile, in England, Gladstone was leading an abortive effort to
grant Ireland home rule while simultaneously maintainingthe union
of the British Empire, albeit in a modified form. In response to
Unionist objections, "Gladstone and his followers offered a new
model of Britishness:one that conceived of the United Kingdomas a
multinationalstate" containing within its borders distinct yet related
historic nations with their own traditions and identities.8 This new
model nonetheless presumed that England would remain the prime
shaper of the unified nation's future. Gladstone's understanding of
home rule served to reconcile "imperial unity with diversity of
legislation." Such a reconciliation guaranteed, in Gladstone'swords,
that the "supreme statutory authority of the imperial parliament
remained unimpaired."9Similarly, although Matthew Arnold was
quick to condemn English injustice,he maintainedthat the Irish must
blend into an Empire which was ultimately ruled from England.'o
Despite the clear difference between Liberal and Unionist-one
for, the other against, home rule-the two shared a common com-
mitment to the abstract spiritualunity of Empire. Both were critical,

Curtis Marez 259

although in different ways, of the present English parliament and its
rule of Ireland; yet both pledged their allegiance to an ideal British
Empire which transcended the limits of its current parliamentary
instantiation. Unlike English Liberals, however, many Irish Protes-
tant Unionists actually lived in Ireland. As obvious as this conclusion
sounds, it nonetheless has profound implications. Gladstone's con-
version to the home rule camp intensified the strain many Irish
Protestants felt between, on the one hand, their loyalty to and sense
of inclusion within an abstract English majority,and, on the other
hand, the sense that Liberals were deserting Anglo-Irish subjects
and cementing their status as minorities within Ireland. The events
of the 1880s thus intensified the split in an already divided Anglo-
Irish identity. This colonial class felt itself to be both English and
Irish-loyal to the British Empire yet simultaneously proud of its
Irish heritage."
The minority/majoritycontradictions faced by many Irish Protes-
tant Unionists also informed the thinking of Anglo-Irish Nationalists,
like Wilde's parents. Taken as a whole, the Anglo-Irish professional
middle class to which the Wildes belonged was, as David Lloyd
writes, "deracinatedwith regard to ruraland Gaelic Ireland and only
awkwardlyrecentered with regard to the Empire, on whose political
power they are socially, economically, and often culturally parasitic
but from whose center they are nonetheless excluded."12 While the
Anglo-Irishpartiallyidentified themselves with the colonizing major-
ity, they remained a distinct yet powerful minoritywithin the colony.
The strains caused by the Anglo-Irish middle class's awkward
position between colonizer and colonized helps explain what Lloyd
calls the "curiousformal coherence between nationalist and unionist
thinking.... Quite as much as the unionists, the middle-class Young
Irelanders lacked, in consequence of the historical conditions for
their existence, any 'organic' connections (to borrow Gramsci's
formulation) with the people in whose name they claimed to speak.
In consequence, both parties invoke an alternative concept of
organicism that rewrites actual discontinuity as merely a moment in
the continuously evolving narrative of the Empire or the nation."'3
Since the Anglo-Irish middle class-both Unionists and National-
ists-occupied structurallysimilar positions within Ireland, it is not
surprisingthat they should also develop notions of nation and empire
that were formally analogous. While the unique position of the fin-
de-siecle Anglo-Irish middle classes may have led a young Yeats, for
example, to pursue an aesthetic vision of the Irish national spirit,

260 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

these same conditions prompted Wilde to urgently claim England's
Aesthetic Empire for his birthright.'4
As an Anglo-Irishman,Wilde began life with a split identity and he
attempted to resolve this contradiction by making English letters his
conquest and hence the source of his status. According to Richard
Pine, Wilde "came from a milieu which, while it did not formally
encourage eccentricity, certainly condoned it and had drawn more
flexible boundaries than those prevailing in England."'5 As one
classmate remembered, this formative familiarity with the Anglo-
Irish professional middle class had as its corollary a corresponding
alienation from the English public school system.'16 Wilde's experi-
ences at Portora Royal School near Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh,
could not possibly have prepared him for his encounter with the so-
called old boy network at Oxford. Portora may have aspired to
English public school status but its slogan-"The Irish Eton"-
graphically marked its difference from English institutions. Wilde's
origin in the professional middle class and his subsequent movement
from the "Celtic fringe"to the core of English culture at Oxfordthus
describe the arc of a trajectoryfrom the ideological preconditions of
Nationalism to those of Empire-from opposition to assimilation.
Because Irish Wilde stood out like a sore green thumb at Oxford,he
took great pains to replace his colonial accent with a crisp "English"
one.'7 Moreover,the migration to Oxford and the London art scene
constituted a flight from Irish national politics: "I live in London for
its artistic life and opportunities. There is no lack of culture in
Ireland but it is nearly all absorbed in politics. Had I remained there
my career would have been a political one."'8 But given the formal
coherence between Anglo-Irish Nationalism and Liberal Unionism,
Wilde's movement from Irish politics to English art required a
relatively short step, enabling him to identify with a British Empire
represented primarily by an English aesthetic tradition. Like
Gladstone's reconceptualization of Britishness, Wilde's notion of
Aesthetic Empire theoretically absorbed Ireland as an equal partner
yet practicallysubordinated it to English authority.'
Though Wilde was initially confident that he could perfect a
cultural-racial tradition embracing both nations, various events in
the 1880s and 1890s raised serious questions concerning the British
Empire's ability to absorb Ireland. The members of Parnell's Irish
Parliamentary Party and, more spectacularly, the Fenians, loudly
denounced the moral and political adequacy of the Union. One of
the first casualtiesof Fenian agitationwas Lord Frederick Cavendish,

Curtis Marez 261

a onetime dinner guest of the Wildes in Merrion Square, who was
kidnapped and murdered in Dublin's Phoenix Parkon 6 May 1882 by
a group known as "The Invincibles."Shortlythereafter, an American
reporter solicited Wilde's view of the matter. Strikinga characteristi-
cally equivocal pose, Wilde first answered:"Whenliberty comes with
hands dabbled in blood it is hard to shake hands with her," but then
added: "Weforget how much England is to blame. She is reaping the
fruit of seven centuries of injustice."2"Wilde here criticizes English
injustice but only after he has denounced the violent efforts by
oppressed mobs to redress the wrongs of Empire.
From one vantage point, Wilde's criticism of Fenian methods
represents a principled stance against violence. Wilde did not,
however, distinguish between terrorism and other forms of popular
political action. Throughout his career, Wilde described almost all
acts of popular resistance as forms of terrorism. For example, in the
poem "Libertatis Sacra Fames"(1880), a sonnet which he claimed
represented his political creed, Wilde wrote:
Better the rule of One, whom all obey,
Thanto let clamorous
Ourfreedomwiththe kissof anarchy.
WhereforeI love them not whose handsprofane
Plantthe redflaguponthe piled-upstreet
For no rightcause, beneath whose ignorantreign
Arts,Culture,Reverence,Honor,all things fade
Save Treasonand the daggerof her trade,
And Murder,with his silent bloodyfeet. (CW, 715)21

While Wilde was in some sense an Irish Nationalist, he was also

deeply invested in a tradition of liberty and gloriously bloodless
revolution which he associated with the constitutional tradition of
the British Empire; this double position allowed him to criticize the
current state of English rule in Ireland while maintaining his
devotion to a uniquely British heritage encapsulated in a canon of
beauty. To return to the sonnet, "the rule of One, whom all obey"
remains preferable to popular "anarchy": Wilde's autonomous man of
culture-the "One"who must rule--dictates social order.The masses,
Wilde contends, should not allow traitorous"demagogues"to repre-
sent them, but must instead look to the artist. As he argues in "The
Soul of Man Under Socialism,""all Humanity gains a partial realiza-
tion" in the artist (CW, 1095). Only when a society is anchored by
men of culture can a stable heritage-"Arts, Culture, Reverence,
Honor"-remain safe from "Treason"and "Murder."AlthoughWilde

262 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

at times disapprovedof the current instantiationsof the Empire, his
alternative-an Aesthetic Empire, or British "inheritance"which the
artist must reclaim and perpetuate-remained "imperial."As Wilde
explains in the poem "Theoretikos"(1881),the artist can only revital-
ize this inheritance when "standing apart" from "the rude people
(who) rage with ignorant cries / Against an heritage of centuries."
Wilde implicitly argues that the artist's autonomy-his separation
from the "rude" masses-can provide new support for a "mighty
empire" which had of late developed "feet of clay" (CW, 716).
This model of Empire allowed him to resolve, on an aesthetic plane,
the political differences between England and Ireland. "National
hatreds are always strongest," Wilde told an American audience,
"whereculture is lowest." How, we might ask, can culture reduce the
hatred between English and Irish? Wilde's paradoxicalanswer was
that the dominance of English art was the only lasting alternativeto
imperial conflict: "We in our Renaissance are seeking to create a
sovereignty that shall still be England'swhen her yellow leopards are
weary of wars, and the rose on her shield is crimsoned no more with
the blood of battle.""22 As already noted, Wilde concluded that an
Empire of "Arts, Culture, Reverence, Honor" was England's best
protection against the "kiss of anarchy." In response to Fenian
bombings and murders, Wilde imagined art as a form of counter-
revolution. Here Wilde followed Arnold who, in his essay "On the
Study of Celtic Literature,"concluded that the institutionalizedstudy
of Celtic art would serve to protect England from Fenian terrorism.
Wilde also developed his notion of Aesthetic Empire in the
context of contemporary English literature on the nature of
"Britishness."Peter Brookerand Peter Widdowsonisolate two strands
of aesthetic thoughtin turn-of-the-centuryEngland-"art for Empire's
sake" and "art for art's sake." The former strand, exemplified by
writers like Kipling, relied upon the rhetoric of a "declamatory,
cajoling and uplifting patriotism."In contrast, proponents of "artfor
art'ssake,"Wilde included, often criticized jingoistic celebrations of
imperial wars. Despite these differences, however, the two sides
shared an analogous form of patriotism. According to Brooker and
Widdowson, although the "artsfor art'ssake"movement was, on the
whole, "non-aggressive(and) sometimes non-militaristic,"its advo-
cates were nonetheless "invested in ideas of the national character,
its traditions and a unifying love of country." "Those abashed at
aggressive imperialism,"they continue, "may have felt more com-
fortable with a contemplative Englishness and the 'true empire'

Curtis Marez 263

within; but as forms of nationalistic patriotism, these positions and
tones were not incompatible, as popular anthologies, poets and
poems show.""23 Brooker and Widdowson conclude that the existence
of aestheticized patriotism does not prove "that aestheticism was
responsible for imperialist verse, but that its self-conscious removal
of art from a common public, its abortive antagonism to 'externali-
ties' and its language of mood, dream and sensation were open to
appropriationand completion in the service of received attitudes."24
For his part, Wilde was certainly "abashedat aggressive imperial-
ism," particularlyin Ireland. He was instead more attracted to the
contemporary,"contemplative"model of "Englishness"represented
for him by an Aesthetic Empire. In this way, Wilde rearticulated
imperial ideology as a potentially oppositional aesthetic discourse.
Yet while theoreticallyin opposition to English imperialismin Ireland,
Wilde's British patriotism was, at times, formally indistinguishable
from more overtlyjingoistic positions. For example, the emphasis on
an organic British heritage was common to both aesthetes and the
poets of Empire. Even though he sometimes criticized the British
Empire and identified with Irish nationalism and the Celtic "race,"
Wilde more usuallyidealized English culture.25In his early poetry he
often eulogized the dimmed literary greatness of England whose
heritage included Spencer and Milton ("Gardenof Eros"[1881], "To
Milton"[1881], "Quantum Mutata"[1880]). Wilde routinely identi-
fied with England, as in phrases like "our English chivalry" ("Ave
Imperatrix,"[CW, 712]) or "our English Land" (in "The Grave of
Keats"[1881], [CW, 776]). "The Burden of Itys"(1881) even opens
with a ritual sacralization of the English landscape: "This English
Thames is holier far than Rome ... / God likelier there / Than hidden
in that crystal-heartedstar that pale / monks bear."
Wilde's appropriationof imperial ideology ultimately rendered it
"uncanny."Despite or perhaps because of this Irishman'sattempts to
represent Britain, English and American audiences attempted to re-
familiarizeEmpire by othering Wilde. In the next section, I will argue
that Wilde anticipated such efforts by displacing his own differences
onto non-Western ornaments and the people who produced them.

Throughout his life, Wilde exhibited an intense interest in various

forms of non-Western ornamentation.Wilde and others in the Aes-
thetic Movement did much to change English tastes in this regard.
According to a 1895 commentator,"aesthetes"like Wilde stimulated

264 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

consumer interest in "curios"and "knickknacks"from "India,China,
Japan and elsewhere."26To the audiences he addressed during his
1882 American lecture tour, Wilde often recommended forms of
non-European ornamentation (including supposed Eastern water
jugs and embroidery,Japanese vases and mattings, Turkishhat racks,
and rugs from China and Persia) as design models."2Under Wilde's
editorship, Woman'sWorld published over thirty essays dealing with
aspects of so-called exotic cultures and their ornaments. These
articles, too numerous to name, include references to Eastern mac-
rame and wallpaperdesigns; Persian, Egyptian and Indian appliques;
South African ostrich feathers for fans; South American perfume
bottles; Egyptian and Indian shoes; Egyptian, Chinese and Japanese
combs; Chinese screens; and Chinese, Egyptian,Turkishand Persian
bridal costumes. All of these Woman'sWorld essays either explicitly
or implicitly suggest that non-European ornaments should inspire
the fashion choices of wealthy English women.
Wilde further suggested that European designers had been influ-
enced in importantways by the example of non-Western ornament.
In his Woman'sWorld review of Alan Cole's translationof Lefebure's
History of Embroideryand Lace, for instance, Wilde discussed the
beneficent influence of Eastern designs on European lace-making.28
In "The Decay of Lying" (1889), Wilde described the relationship
between European design traditions and "Oriental"models in the
following way:
The whole history of (decorative) arts in Europe is the record of
the struggle between Orientalism, with its frank rejection of
imitation, its love of artistic convention, its dislike of the actual
representation of any object in Nature, and our own imitative
spirit. Wherever the former has been paramount ... we have had
beautiful and imaginative work. ... But wherever we have
returned to Life and Nature, our work has alwaysbecome vulgar,
common and uninteresting. (CW, 979)
Wilde's rejection of mimetic realism makes him sympathetic to
"Orientalism." However, "Oriental" ornament does not represent,
for Wilde, a truly autonomous aesthetic tradition. As Wilde told an
American audience, Asian anti-mimeticism lacks the purity of Classi-
cal restraint and becomes monstrous in its too absolute distance from
nature. True art, Wilde argues, must reconcile Asian abstraction with
a Greek-like attention to the physical world.29 Wilde's celebrated
Hellenic revival may thus more accurately be called the Hellenic
perfecting of "Oriental"aesthetics, in which European artistsproduce

Curtis Marez 265

the perfect harmonybetween Greek particularityand Asian abstrac-
tion. Thus even though Wilde cultivates a taste for Asian art forms,
his appreciation of non-Western ornaments is paternalistic, subordi-
nating such objects to the greater good of his Aesthetic Empire.
Wilde's interest in so-called exotic ornament implies a hierarchical
distinction between, on the one hand, the autonomous, classically
derived European Fine Arts, which, he argued, existed above or
beyond the marketplace, and, on the other hand, the supposedly
merely ornamental or decorative crafts of the non-European world.
For Wilde, non-Westernornament could serve as raw materialinspir-
ing the artist-critic,but it could not itself be classifiedas art. Ironically,
the autonomy of great European art-its position beyond the mar-
ketplace-depended upon the Western artist's use of materials
imported from foreign countries.Wilde'strue men of culture thus rose
above the market and the merely ornamental by appropriatingand
"improving"non-Westernornamentation. By actively furnishing his
Empire with a catalogue of tasteful foreign objects-by helping to
promote and institutionalizethe taste for what he viewed as exotica-
Wilde reformulated but substantially reconfirmed an imperial divi-
sion of labor between British subjects and non-European objects."3
In the imperial geographyWilde maps, then, the Irish can become
citizens of the BritishEmpire, and by extension, the legitimateheirs of
European culture, only if others are treated as objects and hence
excluded from imperialcitizenship:Wilde can only appear Britishand
European in contrast to people he regards as even less British and
European than himself. Even as Wilde distinguished between him-
self and non-Westernpeoples, however,English and Americanobserv-
ers dismantledthis distinction,seeing him as just anotherIrish savage.

Wilde's efforts to distinguish his own presumably savage Irish

identity from images of other colonial peoples met with only limited
success since many of his critics continued to link him with the very
types of "wildness"he was trying to transcend. During his American
tour of 1882, for instance, Wilde was constantly represented with
simian features. The Harper's Weekly for 28 January, 1882 even
printed an engraving of "The Aesthetic Monkey"-an elegantly
dressed chimp whose paw rests near a lily as he grazes raptly at a
sunflower. Like numerous other caricatures, the engraving parodies
Wilde's (in)famous taste for sunflowers and lilies. Even more striking
was a cartoon printed in the Washington Post and later reproduced

266 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that juxtaposed a drawing of Wilde
and a sketch of the "Wild Man of Borneo." The attached text asks
"How far is it from this to this?" The caption continues: "judging
from the resemblance in feature, pose and occupation," the two
"Wild"men are "undoubtedlyakin. ... If Mr. Darwin is right in his
theory, has not the climax of evolution been reached and are we not
ending down the hill toward the aboriginal starting point again?""'
Recalling this caricature, Daniel O'Connell noted that in San Fran-
cisco, Wilde was "regardedin about the same light as the Wild man
of Borneo."32As if attesting to the kinship between Wilde and the
simian wild man, one observer remembered that a London zoo
housed a monkey which the keepers called "HoscarWilde."33
Such representations were informed by fin-de-siecle images of
"simian"Irishmen.34One 1882 lithograph depicted a stereotypical,
simian-jawed "Paddy"who proclaimed "Begorraand I believe I am
Oscar Himself."The caricature was entitled "NationalAesthetics"in
an apparent jab at Irish nationalism.35The image of the Wild(e)
apeman also represented a response to a particularaspect of Wilde's
aestheticism: his advocacy of anti-mimetic, anti-naturalistornamen-
tation seemed like "monkey-shines"to a more or less middle-class
audience committed to aesthetic realism.To this audience, Wilde was
not a true man of culture but instead merely "aped"culture-monkey
see, monkeydo. Contemporaryassessmentsof non-Westernornament
reinforced such a judgement. As the BritishethnographerSir Haddon
argued, "savage"ornament remained abstractbecause non-European
artistsdid not copy directly from nature but instead merely mimicked
earlier naturalisticdesigns and thus produced a degenerate series of
copies increasinglyremoved from nature.36For people who denigrated
so-called primitive art, Wilde's interest in non-Western ornament,
despite his own claims for it, made him seem less, not more, civilized.
Various caricatures also linked Wilde with black Americans. The
assumption that former American slaves "aped" Wilde's aesthetic
tastes demonstrated, to some, that the two were akin. In an attempt
to discreditWilde'saesthetic theories, for example,an Atlantareporter
told the author that black women had worn sunflowers-the very
flower that Wilde had famously recommended for use in art and
fashion-during their Independence Day parade.37A satiric biogra-
phy of Wilde sold on American trains similarlysuggested that Wilde
was an aesthetic model for black women. This pamphlet included a
cartoon, captioned "A Symphony in Colour,"that represents Wilde
surrounded by admiring black female house servants. One of the

Curtis Marez 267

in Colour,"
Figure1. "ASymphony William Figure2. "TheAestheticCraze,"Will-
Andrews ClarkMemorial University iam AndrewsClarkMemorialLibrary,
of California, University LosAngeles
of California,

servantsholdsa lily,anothera sunflower(figure1).An 1882lithograph

entitled "The Aesthetic Craze"caricaturedWilde in this way as well.
The cartoon depicts a minstrel-likecharacter,dressed as Wilde, hold-
ing a giant sunflower.In response to this spectacle, a "mammy"figure
who is doing laundryresponds "What'sde matterwid de Nigga? Why
Oscar you's gone wild!" (figure 2). Another lithograph pictured a
black man holding a white lily and announcing "Ise qwine for to
worship dat lily kase it sembles me" (figure 3). Racializedcaricatures
of Wilde also took the form of public performances, as when Yale
students disruptedWilde's New Haven address by arrangingfor a tall
black servant, wearing a red necktie and a sunflower in his button
hole, to lead their processioninto the lecture hall.38 Not to be outdone
by their peers, Rochesterstudents copied this prank,payingan elderly
black man in Wildean attire to dance down the lecture hall aisle
carrying a huge bouquet of flowers.39 Finally, the St. Louis Post-
Dispatch went so far as to invent the story that the autographsWilde
gave to admirerswere in fact copied out by John, his black valet.4"All
of these incidents suggest that, at least for some contemporary
observers, it was difficult to distinguishbetween the Irish originaland
black copies.The caricaturesreduced Wilde and the former slaves to

268 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

Figure 3. Color lithography by E. B.
Duval, Wilde as African American, Figure 4. Wilde Dressed as a Native American,
William Andrews Clark Memorial William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Uni-
Library, University of California, Los versity of California, Los Angeles

the same level: just as Wilde supposedly merely mimicked true

culture, black people in turn supposedly "aped"Wilde.
Such associationswere not confinedto Americanaudiences.Beneath
a Punch cartoonof Wilde as a giant sunflowerwas amended the phrase
"O, I ell just as happy as a bright Sunflower"--a sentiment which the
caricature attributesto the "Laysof Christy Minstrelsy."41 In another
English periodical, the figure of the black servantbecomes a metonym
for the aesthete he serves. This parody-a dialogue between two dan-
dies-is illustratedby a cartoonof a black servantin "Oriental"dress.42
Puck even printed a cartoon of Wilde with a "pickaninny"hairdo.43
Wilde was also lampooned in caricatures which compared him to
American Indians and the Chinese. The satiric biography sold on
American trains ended with a drawing of Wilde dressed as a Native
American (figure4). In a move which combined racismand homopho-
bia, Wilde was even erotically linked to a "Sioux chief' who toured
with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show; news reporters translated the
chief's speech in the show as "meaninga desire to be left alone in a
forest for a few moments with Oscar Wilde."44To many of his
contemporaries,Wilde's hair,which was quite long during his Ameri-

Curtis Marez 269

Figure 5. Wilde as Chinese, color lithograph by E. B. Duval, William Andrews
Clark Memorial Library,University of California, Los Angeles

270 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

Figure 6. "A Voluptuary,"William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University
of California, Los Angeles

Curtis Marez 271

can tour, reinforced this association with Native Americans. A Nova
Scotia pressman reported that Wilde's hair was as "straight as an
Indian's."45And in England, Puck printed a cartoon representing
Wilde with a Mohawkhaircut "a la Cherokee"(sic).46
To other observers, Wilde's long hair made him resemble the
Chinese. One 1882 AmericanlithographpicturesWilde as a grotesque
cartoon "Chinaman"with a pigtail and "Fu Manchu" moustache,
flanked by purportedly oriental vases containing a sunflower and a
lily. The sunflower,which has rats for petals, suggests stereotypes of
the Chinese as parasiticvermin threatening to overrun America. The
cartoon's caption reads: "No likee to callee me Johnnee, callee me
Oscar"(figure 5). Following Americanpublications, English periodi-
cals similarly linked Wilde with the Chinese. In a satiric review of a
London Chinese restaurantpublished in the Illustrated Sporting and
Dramatic News for 9 August 1894, for instance, a reviewer expressed
his disappointment that the restaurantdid not serve roasted dog and
concluded that "even the spectacle of Oscar the Irreproachable
seated on the terrace . . . fails to lure us further."The accompanying
sketch, captioned "Oscar in China," depicts Wilde smoking, teacup
in hand, as a pigtailed Chinese waiter looks on.47
English satirists apparently represented Wilde as "Oriental"be-
cause of his taste for Chinese opium. In a caricatureof Wilde printed
in the 18 May 1893 Oxford Magazine and captioned "The New
Culture," Max Beerbohm represented him holding a hukha for an
Oriental genie.48Similarly,a drawing entitled "A Voluptuary"in the
14 July 1894, issue of the English magazine Pick-Me-Up pictures
Wilde as a presumed Oriental.The sketch depicts him resting indo-
lently in his chair, smoking one of his opium-laced cigarettes, and
proclaiming "To rise, to take a little opium, to sleep till lunch, and
after again to take a little opium and sleep till dinner, that is a life of
pleasure." A close examination of Wilde's face reveals cartoonish
"Chinese" features-thin, slit-like eyes and prominent buck teeth
(figure 6). Although I have not encountered a photo of Wilde which
exhibits buck teeth, caricatures often do.49And at least one observer
remembered Wilde with the heavy lidded "almond shaped" eyes
"seen sometimes in Orientals."50
What are we to make of caricaturesthat represent Wilde as Black,
Native American, and Chinese? First, these cartoons demonstrate
the simultaneous autonomy and interdependence of sex, gender, and
race. In the late nineteenth century, doctors and ethnographers
associated non-Western peoples with degenerate, feminine traits.51

272 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

These specialistsimaginedthe so-called savages as frivolousand
effeminate,with a penchantfor extravagant ornamentation,such as
glass beads, feathers,and other feminine finery.The caricaturists
producedpopularversionsof these supposedlyscientificdiscourses
when they comparedWilde, with his sometimeslong hair and his
flowers and silk stockings, to non-Europeans,particularlynon-
Westernwomen.His editorshipof Woman'sWorld,with its focuson
non-Westernornament,must have reinforcedthese assumptions.
Wilde'scontemporariesoften describedhim as both "feminine"and
"savage."52 Responsesto Wilde'strial, for example, mobilizedvis-
ceral, anti-Irishsentimentsin which Wilde'shomosexualityrepre-
sented a foreigncontagionthat threatenedEngland.Afterthe first
trial, The NationalObservercongratulatedLord Queensberryand
the court "fordestroyingthe High Priest of the Decadents. The
obscureimposter,whose prominencehas been a socialoutrageever
since he transferredfrom TrinityDublin to Oxfordhis vices, his
follies and his vanities, has been exposed."53 While homophobia
remainsthe dominanttheme of such bile, racismreinforcedhostile
assessmentsof Wilde'ssexuality.The editorialistin The National
Observer,for example,contendedthat Wilde'sconvictionhad "re-
vealed"a vain "imposter," an Irishmanwho merely"aped"English
civilization.BecauseWilde inhabitedvolatile,criss-crossingborder
zones of both sexualityand race, his critics reacted by reasserting
fixedboundariesbetweenIrelandandEngland,and betweenTrinity
Dublin and Oxford.
Second,the caricaturesdemonstratethe threateningimplications
of Wilde'saesthetictheories for dominantmiddle-classvalues. His
championingof anti-mimeticism,artificiality,laziness, lying, and
decayexplicitlychallengeddominantEnglishand Americannotions
of realism,naturalism,the workethic, sincerity,and progress.Many
AmericansandWesternEuropeansbelievedthatnon-Western peoples
represented,likeWilde,the antithesisof these values.Stereotypesof
the lazyblackandthe indolentChineserecallWilde'spuncturingof
middle-classpieties concerningthe value of disciplinedlabor;his
famouspolemicagainstthe workethic helps explainwhy caricatur-
ists depictedhim as a bad examplefor non-Westernservants,as in
the sketch of Wilde distractingblack female servantsfrom their
work.In the backgroundof this drawing,a busyblackbutlerliterally
looks down upon Wilde and his admirers.A second cartoonjuxta-
poses an indolentblack"Oscar" witha blackwomanwashingclothes.
These caricaturessuggestthatWilde'scritiqueof the workethicwas

Curtis Marez 273

read as an attack on the values underwritinga division of labor that
constructed non-Western peoples as supposedly natural reserves of
labor power.
The final point to be made concerning the caricatures is a
corollary of the first two. These parodies attest to an economy of
racial representation which both enabled and countered Wilde's
attempts to reproduce an inclusive, British and European cultural
tradition. Armed with his aesthetic theories, Wilde endeavored to
transcend the limits of his colonial origins and acquire the privileges
of membership in an Aesthetic Empire which could represent the
Irish as well as the English. Wilde's efforts to overcome his inferior
Irish origins by constructing a European cultural identity could not,
however, guarantee that English and American audiences would
accept him as an equal. On the contrary,no matter how perfect his
English accent became, to many observers Wilde remained an
Irishman trying to ape his betters. The caricatures, in other words,
attempt to deconstruct Wilde's displacement of his Irish savageness
onto non-Western peoples by reconstructing the Irish as racialized
colonial subjects. What this dynamic therefore makes visible is the
process whereby the "unstable equilibrium" of racial categories is
constantly contested and reformulated.54
In the final section, my understandingof Wilde's Irish trajectory,
his formulation of a British and European identity, and the
caricaturist'sdeformation of that identity will guide my reading of
Dorian Gray. I will argue that Dorian'sopium addictionbecomes a foil
for Wilde'sredemptiveappropriationof non-Westerncultures:Dorian's
dependency orientalizes him, threatening to dissolve his British
identity. The fact that this racializationnarrativemimics Wilde's own
story illustrates the singular persistence-however reformulated or
reformulateable-of racial economies in late-Victorianculture.

Psychoactivedrugs,it has been suggested,are the glue of em-

pires-particularlyif one extendsthe list of psychoactivedrugs
beyond opiates, alcohol,tobacco,tea, coffee and chocolateto
include sugar and some spices. As commodities,psychoactive
drugsare readilyused up, they createtheirown demand,people
will pay far morethantheirproductioncosts for them, and they
are relatively transportable or at least their supply can often be
controlled. On the other hand . . . psychoactive drugs can also
play their part as empires come unstuck.
Robin Room55

274 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

When Wilde wrote Dorian Gray, the medical and moralpanic over
opium use had reached unprecedented levels.56Opium critics repre-
sented addiction to the drug as a form of racial contagion akin to
miscegenation; English reformersdeemed the drug especially perni-
cious because it suggested the possibility of a quasi-racial transfor-
mation or degeneration. The use of words like "taint"and "adultera-
tion" to describe opium's effects in the bloodstream indicates the
phantasmatic connection between fears of miscegenation and con-
cern over the use of a dangerous foreign substance. Since scientists
performed little new drug research in the period, critics relied
heavily upon literary representations of addiction.57These literary
depictions of opium use generally conflate two fears-the fear of
blood-mixing in the individualEnglish body and the fear of a foreign
invasion of the national body.58While Thomas De Quincey's Confes-
sions of an English Opium Eater may have initiated this tradition,
beginning around 1860 and continuing into the twentieth century,
English readers consumed various representations of so-called ori-
ental drug use. A partial list of such representations would include
accounts of the Prince of Wales'svisit to a den in the 1860s, Dickens's
unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), various
journalistic "exposees,"the Sherlock Holmes story "The Man with
the Twisted Lip,"and, of course, Dorian Gray. Wilde himself visited
an opium den while touring the San Francisco Chinatown in 1882.59
Reformers constructed the stereotype of opium as a "yellowperil"
in response to a new fin-de-siecle colonial geography. During the
1880s and 1890s, England was increasingly intermixed with and
dependent upon non-Western cultures. As Eric Hobsbawm argues,
European colonization increased sharply in this period: roughly be-
tween 1880 and 1914, active policies of "formalconquest, annexation
and administration"replaced earlier policies which simply assumed
the "economic and military supremacy"of capitalist, Western Euro-
pean countries. During these years, one-fourth of the world's land
mass was divided or redivided among half a dozen states. For Britain
in this period, India was the crown colonial jewel. Perceived inter-
ests in India required a global expansion of British military and
economic power. To maintainaccess to the region, British strategists
sought control not only over "the short sea routes to the subcontinent
(Egypt, the Middle East, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and South
Arabia), and the long sea-routes (the Cape of Good Hope and
Singapore), but also over the entire Indian Ocean, including crucial
sectors of the AfricanCoast and its hinterland."As a result, improve-

Curtis Marez 275

ments in transportationand communication exposed British consum-
ers to goods from around the world. Manufacturersand consumers
became increasingly dependent on materials from the non-Western
world, like rubber (the Congo, the Amazon), copper (Chile, Peru,
Zaire, Zambia), and diamonds (South Africa). More and more,
British grain and meat came from European settlements in Australia
and the Americas. Near the turn of the century, some of the first
tropical and sub-tropical fruits appeared on European tables, as did
increasing amounts of more traditional colonial goods such as tea,
coffee, and cocoa.60 Perhaps even more to the point in the present
context, in the last third of the nineteenth century, London was the
center of the internationaldrug trade, with most of the world'ssupply
of raw drugs passing through the auction houses of Mincing Lane.61
Along with new goods, colonial expansion also brought new
problems, including fears of political overextension, supposed for-
eign invasion, domestic unrest, and racial dissipationor contagion-
forms of decay from both without and within.62Of particularconcern
to Londoners was the increasinglyvisible presence of the Chinese in
the East End. During the 1880s and 90s, Chinese emigration to
England, particularlyLondon, greatly increased. By 1881 there were
over 665 Chinese in England, up from 147 twenty years earlier.
Close to four hundred Chinese were living in London in 1891, and
most of these lived along two narrow East End streets, Pennyfields
and Limehouse Causeway.63Though by American standards the
London Chinese population was comparatively small, to many En-
glish people the Chinese nonetheless appeared to constitute a threat
to public safety. Fear of the Chinese helps explain the fin-de-siecle
outcry over opium, for even though opiates were widely available
throughout the nineteenth century, they were only perceived as a
problem when coupled with increasing Chinese emigration to Lon-
don.64As Marek Kohn writes, the Chinese opium dens in the East
End "threw fears of racial degeneracy into relief," suggesting that
the drug had the power "to turn English folk Chinese-to act as a
fluid medium for the transmission of foreignness."65Reformers,
government officials, and members of the press feared that opium-
induced racial contagion would inevitably trickle upwards, moving
from the Chinese to the white working class before finally infecting
the middle class.66Opium, I would argue, thus encapsulated the
conditions of a relatively new imperial geography in which the
masters of European culture found themselves increasingly depen-
dent upon the non-Western world for goods and labor.67

276 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde reflects upon such changes
in the colonial landscape by foregrounding ostensibly exotic goods,
particularly intoxicants. His characters consume Turkish cigarettes,
coffee, tea, cocoa, and, of course, opium. Wilde begins his novel by
plunging the reader into an environment heavy with opium smoke
and the weight of non-Western art objects:
Fromthe cornerof the divanof Persiansaddle-bagson whichhe
was lying, smoking,as was his custom,innumerablecigarettes,
Lord Henry Wottoncould just catch the gleam of the honey-
sweet and honey-coloredblossomsof a laburnum,whosetremu-
lous branchesseemedhardlyable to bearthe burdenof a beauty
so flame-likeas theirs;andnow andthen the fantasticshadowsof
birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that
were stretchedin frontof the huge window,producinga kindof
momentaryJapanese effect, and making him think of those pallid
jade-faced painters of Tokio who, through the medium of an art
that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness
and motion. (CW, 18)
Here Lord Henry imagines the scene as a sort of painted Japanese
screen; the "Japaneseeffect" distracts his attention, however briefly,
from the particularities of his West London setting, and transports
him to anotherworld. While his "oriental"fantasy literally rests upon
a Persian divan, it also floats upon a cloud of cigarette smoke heavily
"tainted" with opium (CW, 19). In this way, Wilde associates the
consumption of non-Western artifacts with the consumption of
opium and suggests that both allow Lord Henry to escape from his
immediate surroundings.68
Eventually, both opium and non-Western art will serve the same
purpose for Dorian, intermittently allowing him to escape his past.
Indeed, tragic events seem to stimulate Dorian'staste for both exotic
ornamentation and opium. After Sybil Vane's suicide, for instance,
Dorian consoles himself by studying unusual textiles, such as Delhi
muslins, Dacca gauzes, and cloth from Java and China. Dorian also
finds relief in the "monstrous" musical instruments he loves to
"touch and try"(CW, 106-7). After murderingBasil Halward,Dorian
has recourse to the numbing effects of opium, which he stores in an
appropriately exotic container, an elaborate gold-dust lacquered
Chinese box (CW, 139). And in chapter sixteen, Dorian travels to an
East End opium den hoping to purchase forgetfulness, if not
forgiveness: "Therewere opium-dens, where one could buy oblivion,
dens of horrorwhere the memory of old sins could be destroyed by
the madness of sins that were new"(CW,140). While on his way to

Curtis Marez 277

the East End, he compulsively repeats to himself Lord Henry's
formula "Tocure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by
means of the soul," hoping that, with the help of opium, he may
realize at least the first half of this chant.
While there are good reasons for comparing Dorian's art objects
and his opium-both are exotic, foreign substances-such a com-
parisonpartiallyobscures their different historicalmeanings.69Around
the turn of the century, non-Western ornament and opium were
beginning to represent opposing social values: while the possession
of the first could potentially attest to one's cultured love of beauty,
the possession of the second might indicate a dangerous, or at the
very least suspect, taste for supposedly foreign sensations. Even
though Wilde suggests that both opium and non-European ornament
produce similar states of transcendent forgetfulness, he ultimately
distinguishes between the negative, debilitating effects of the first
and the positive, liberating potential of the second. Whereas the
taste for non-Westernmusicalinstrumentsennobles Dorian in Wilde's
eyes, a taste for opium ultimately degrades him.
Wilde's own borrowing of aesthetic models from "dead or dying"
non-Westerncultures determined the sharp distinction he made be-
tween the appropriationof non-European artifacts,on the one hand,
and the assimilation of opium, on the other. Because Wilde pre-
sumed that non-Western cultures were no longer living, he believed
that artists could unproblematicallyappropriateexotic objects so as
to inject European culture with new aesthetic life. Wilde's work in
this area helped popularize the premise that non-European peoples
had died so that Europeans might live-that they had sacrificed their
lives so that their ornamental remains might redeem Western cul-
ture. Wilde constructed a unified European identity, I have argued,
through literary and journalistic writings which fostered a taste for
deracinated non-Western goods. While composing Dorian Gray,
Wilde borrowed heavily from a South Kensingtonpublication on the
historical and geographical evolution of music.7"In the passages on
South Americawhich Wilde incorporatedinto Dorian Gray, the South
Kensington catalogue repeatedly indicated that collectors discovered
the objects under discussion in ancient tombs.71 Like Wilde, museum
collectors apparently found the works of ancient Aztecs and Mayans
more interesting then those of living South Americans.
In chapter 11 of Dorian Gray, Wilde writes approvingly of
Dorian's taste for the "luxuryof the dead" (CW, 109): Dorian finds
his instruments "either in the tombs of dead nations or among the

278 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

few savage tribes that have survived contact with western civiliza-
tions" (CW, 107). Note that Wilde characteristicallyreverses conven-
tional assumptions concerning the source of cultural contagion-it
was in fact the so-called savage tribes who suffered through cross-
cultural contact, not the Europeans. Nonetheless, he implies that the
extinction of these peoples-as well as the presumed future extinc-
tion of the few remaining tribes-confers a distinctive rarity upon
their artifacts:the savage'sloss is European civilization'sgain. Once
these artifacts from "dead and dying" cultures have been liberated
from their particular cultural and historical contexts, Dorian, like
Wilde, can employ them to help obliterate memories of the past.72
A similar deracination of opium, however, proved almost impos-
sible since the drug was intimately associated with the perception of
an immediately menacing Chinese presence in London. The close
popular link between opium and "the yellow peril" explains Wilde's
juxtaposition of non-Western art and the drug. Whereas Wilde
suggested that the appropriationof non-Western artifacts injected
new life into a moribund aesthetic tradition, and in this way pro-
duced a sphere of European autonomy and freedom, he believed
that opium had the opposite effect-that it threatened to taint
European "blood" and to reduce Europeans to a state of depen-
dency. By juxtaposing "dead"non-European cultures to the "living"
issue of Chinese opium, Wilde attempted to avoid the type of
dependence on otherness which plagues Dorian: Wilde's negative
representation of Dorian's opium addiction allows him to represent
his own assimilationof non-Western cultures more positively.
Thus in Dorian Gray's opium den chapter, Wilde demonizes
Dorian's drug addiction so as to sanction his own use (or abuse) of
non-European ornament. Wilde accurately places his opium den in
the quays of London's East End docks, home to visiting sailors-
notably South East Asian sailors-and the Chinese merchants who
catered to their needs. Dorian finds himself poised on the precarious
border of the British Empire, where the silhouettes of incoming and
outgoing ships are visible on the horizon (CW, 142-43). Situated in
this way, the den enables Wilde to reflect upon the powerful yet
vulnerable solidity of the Empire in the face of newly fluid borders.
The den's inhabitantsrepresent various border crossings and mixups.
As Dorian enters the den, his attention is drawn to a group of
apparently oriental sailors: "Some Malays were crouching by a little
charcoal stove playing with bone counters and showing their white
teeth as they chattered." Also "chattering"away at the bar are two

Curtis Marez 279

prostitutes, one of which has "a crooked smile, like a Malay crease,"
suggesting that she may have contracted a case of foreignness from
either the opium or the sailors. Behind the bar is "a half-caste, in a
ragged turban and a shabby ulster,"who "grinned a hideous greet-
ing" (CW, 142-43). All of these charactersare monstrous revisions of
Wilde's earlier representations of non-Western art and peoples. The
half-caste, for example, recalls chapter eleven's "slim turbaned
Indians (who) blew through long pipes of reed or brass" (CW, 106).
The prostitute's smile is similarly suggestive: the phrase "Malay
crease" or "kris"referred at the time to a Malaysianknife famous for
its wavy edge, thus recalling Dorian's collection of exotic artifacts.73
The Malaysailors with their bone counters echo the South American
Indians Wilde describes in the novel who long ago made flutes from
human bones (CW, 106-7). Perhaps more important,the Malaysalso
recall the Chinese sailorsWilde encountered in San Francisco during
his American tour. As he told various audiences,
When I was in San Francisco, I used to visit the Chinese theaters
for their rich dresses, and the Chinese restaurantson account of
the beautiful tea they made there. I saw rough Chinese navvies,
who did work that the ordinary Californian rightly might be
disgusted with and refuse to do, sitting there drinking their tea
out of tiny porcelain cups, which might be mistaken for the petals
of a white rose, and handling them with care, fully appreciating
the influence of their beauty. . . . If these men could use cups
with that tenderness, your children will learn by the influence of
beauty and example to act in like manner.74
Here, however, their white, flower-like tea cups have been replaced
with the more ominous bone counters.
In all three descriptions of the opium den inhabitants, Wilde
zooms in on savage mouths and teeth, suggesting not only that
Dorian is unable to assimilate non-Western cultures, but also that
non-Western cultures threaten to swallow him up. Dorian's addiction
represents his dependence upon non-Western goods: he cannot
consume the drug in the privacyof his apartment,secluded from the
world around him, but is instead compelled to leave his home in the
West End and journey eastward, toward the docks which open out
onto vast foreign lands. Whereas Dorian can enjoy "savage" musical
instruments in relative social isolation, his consumption of opium
requires that he confront his position in a global economy with links
to non-Westernerslike the Malaysailors.Positionedwithin an increas-
ingly global market, Dorian'saesthetic autonomy seems to evaporate.

280 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

He has set out for the den hoping to cure the soul by means of the
senses, but finds that he is unable to transcend his dependence upon
a sensual, non-Western good-opium.
These opium den revisions of Wilde's previous representations of
non-Western art graphicallydemonstrate the ambivalences inherent
in his Aesthetic Empire. Although Wilde valorized non-Western
design as a supplement to a European aesthetic heritage, he was
horrified when otherness became a necessary supplement-an ad-
diction to difference which threatened to dissolve the personal
freedom and artistic autonomy Wilde associated with Empire.7"He
imagined a world in which non-Western ornament became an "art
for Empire's sake"by supporting the institutions of a European "art
for art'ssake"movement; opium, however, threatened to undermine
that vision of Western autonomy and transcendence, reversing the
relationship of mastery.
From Wilde'sperspective, then, Dorian is flawed because he fulfills
only one half of Lord Henry's mantra:"Tocure the soul by means of
the senses, and the senses by means of the soul."While Dorian sells
his soul to sensual pleasure and becomes a dependent,Wilde recoiled
from such dependence, claiming also to cure the senses by means of
the soul. Although Wilde conceded that sensual properties could
cure the soul, he implicitly criticized his hero, maintaining that
ultimately the relationbetween sense and soul should be reversed, for
the spiritual properties of the cultured man must purify the raw
material of sensation.
This purification process required that Wilde construct, so to
speak, a Britishsoul that would allow him to employ non-Westernart
in abstractionfrom its social and material histories. Since his theory
of the artist-critic'stranscendent aesthetic position presumed the
coherence and autonomy of a distinctly British-and by extension
European-artistic tradition, dependence upon non-Western cul-
tures potentiallythreatened to dilute the Empire'sindependent purity.
As a response to this threat, Wilde turned Dorian's addiction into a
sort of smoke screen, constructing the opium den as a sphere of
dependency which, by contrast, made Wilde's appropriationof non-
Western ornament appear as an autonomous judgement of taste.
Dorian's addiction, in other words, allowed Wilde's own dependence
on racial otherness to emerge as an autonomous assertion of will, the
Empire's self-coronation.Wilde's deconstruction of his colonial sub-
ject position and subsequent reconstruction of an identity as an
autonomous artist-critic ultimately reflected and extended the late

Curtis Marez 281

nineteenth-century establishment of autonomous aesthetic institu-
tions. The objectification of non-Western cultures also consolidated
the apparent autonomy and coherence of the Empire. The taste for
exotica that Wilde
helped disseminate, in other words, ultimately
reinforced the forms of objectification which Fanon argued are the
preconditions for colonial exploitation.76
Of course Wilde's position as spokesman for empire proved
vulnerable. His trial, imprisonment and public vilification attest to
the limited power of an "Aesthetic Empire" to protect him from
homophobia. While I would not want to diminish the centrality of
this fact-both for Wilde's
day and our own-I would only add that
Wilde's fate was significantlydetermined by racism as well. Indeed, I
would suggest that Wilde refracts his own racialization through his
character, Dorian. Early in Dorian Gray, we learn that, despite his
aristocratic veneer, Dorian's background is rather suspect. Dorian's
mother was Lady Margaret Devereux, the daughter of Lord Kelso;
yet his father was so disreputable (or at least insignificant) that his
name is never recorded. We only learn that Lady Margaret eloped
with "a penniless young fellow; a mere nobody, ... a subaltern in a
foot regiment, or something of that kind" (CW, 39). Later, Dorian
guarantee his social prominence by conveniently forgetting this
lowly paternal heritage. Dorian's forgetfulness recalls Wilde's own
experiences at Oxford, where he says he "forgot"his Irish accent.77
Dorian's origins, in other words, represent a transposition of Wilde's
own trajectory.This trajectoryleads Dorian to the opium den, where
he encounters the "colonial"identity Wilde had tried to erase: if the
toothsome Malay sailors are Wilde's others, they also constitute so
many self-portraits.As I have alreadynoted, one Americanportraitof
Wilde explicitlycompared him to a Malay,the "WildMan of Borneo."
If Wilde
attempted to represent empire by masteringnon-Western
art forms, in the end he found that racial caricatures proliferated
beyond his control, recalling him to his "proper"colonial place. The
opium den in Dorian Gray thus represents the rage of Caliban who,
gazing into the mirrorof Empire, cannot avoid seeing an Irish

Universityof Chicago
I would like to thanka number of people who read and commented upon different
drafts of this essay, including Alyson Bardsly, Kate Brown, Bill Brown, Catherine
Gallagher, David Lloyd, Shelley Streeby, and Irene Tucker. I delivered a version of

282 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

the paper before the American Studies Workshop at the University of Chicago and
am grateful to the group's members for their insightful remarks. Finally, I want to
thank the William Andrews Clark Memorial Libraryboth for their support of my
research and for the permission to reproduce several images.
Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (New York:Harper and Row, 1966), 139-
40. Hereafter I will abbreviate this text as CW and refer to it parenthetically in the
KosofskySedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: Univ. of Califor-
2 Eve

nia Press, 1990), 175.

Sedgwick, "Up the Postern Stair:Edwin Drood and the Homophobia of Empire,"
in Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York:
Columbia Univ. Press, 1985), 180-200.
4 For an important
theoretical discussion of race as a relatively autonomous
structuringcategory, see Michael Omi and HowardWinant, Racial Formationin the
United States: From the 1960s to the 1980s (New York:Routledge, 1986).
5See L.
Perry Curtis, Apes and Angels (Washington:Smithsonian Institute Press,
6 James
Joyce, Ulysses, ed. Hans Walter Gabler (New York: Random House,
1986), 6; see also Joyce's "Oscar Wilde: The Poet of Salome," in The Critical
Writings of JamesJoyce, ed. Ellsworth Mason and RichardEllmann (Ithaca:Cornell
Univ. Press, 1989), 201-5.
7 Here I am
thinking of the work of Homi K. Bhabha, especially "DissemiNation:
Time, Narrative and the Margins of the Modern Nation," and "Of Mimicry and
Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse," in The Location of Culture (New
York: Routledge, 1994), 139-70 and 85-92.
8 D. G.
Boyce, "'The Marginal Britons': The Irish," in Englishness: Politics and
Culture, 1880-1920, ed. Robert Colls and Phillip Dodd (London: Croom Helm,
1986), 234-5.
9Gladstone in a speech before the House of Commons, 8 April, 1888. Quoted by
D.G. Boyce, 235.
10See Arnold's "On the
Study of Celtic Literature"(1866) and "The Incom-
patibles"(1881), in The Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold, 11 vols. (Ann
Arbor:Univ. of MichiganPress, 1962), vols. 3 and 9. I am indebted to David Lloyd's
reading of Arnold in Nationalism and Minor Literature: James Clarence Mangan
and the Emergence of Irish Cultural Nationalism (Berkeley: Univ. of California
Press, 1987), 6-13.
My description of the colonial elite's conflicted identity has been informed by
Albert Memmi's The Colonizer and the Colonized (New York:Orion Press, 1967)
and Frantz Fanon's "The Pitfalls of National Consciousness" and "On National
Culture," in The Wretchedof the Earth (New York:Grove Press, 1968), 148-248.
12Lloyd, 61.
13Lloyd, 68-69.
14Yeats often disdained what Wilde called the
"gross popular appetite" of the
middle classes or, as the poet called it in "September 1913," the culture of the
"greasy till." In early essays Yeats, like Wilde, revised Matthew Arnold's "On the
Study of Celtic Literature."For example, see "The Celtic Element in Literature"
(1897, 1902), in Essays and Introductions (New York:Collier Books, 1961), 173-88.
Yeats is perhaps closest to Wilde in "Irelandand the Arts,"written in 1901 but first
published in the 31 August, 1904 United Irishman (203-10). Like Wilde in "The

Curtis Marez 283

Soul of Man Under Socialism," Yeats here argues that mercantilist values have
stunted the public's powers of aesthetic "appreciation,"or in Wilde's language,
aesthetic "receptivity."This early version of Yeats's cultural nationalism, though
formally similar to Wilde's notion of Empire, remains opposed to Wilde's theory of
a "British"aesthetic tradition which subsumes Ireland. "I would have our writers
and craftsmen of many kinds master this history and these legends, and fix upon
their memory the appearanceof mountains and rivers and make it all visible again in
their arts so that Irishmen, even though they had gone thousands of miles away,
would still be in their own country" (205-6). Wilde aimed his trajectory in a
different direction, endeavoring to purge the colonial memories he carried with
Pine, Oscar Wilde (Dublin: Gill and MacMillan, 1983), 14.
16 E. H.
Mikhail, Oscar Wilde: Interviews and Recollections, 2 vols. (London:
MacMillan Press, 1979), 1:19.
17Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde
(New York: Vintage Books, 1988), 38. Wilde
sometimes lapsed into Irish idioms while writing but he made every effort to
expunge such usages. See Pine, 9-10.
Mikhail, cited by Pine, 24.
comparisonis especially apt given Wilde's admirationfor the British Prime
Minister. After leaving Oxford,Wilde sent several sonnets to Gladstone. During the
1880s, the two men met and enjoyed one another's company. In July of 1881, Wilde
sent Gladstone his first volume of poems "as a very small token of my deep
admiration and loyalty to one who has alwaysloved what is noble and beautiful and
true in life and art, and is the mirror of the Greek ideal of the statesman."Wilde
later inscribed a copy of "The Happy Prince"to the Prime Minister-"to one whom
I, and all who have Celtic blood in their veins, must ever honor and revere, and to
whom my country is so deeply indebted." See Ellmann, 82 and 108; and Wilde, The
Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Rupert Hurt Davis (New York: Harcourt, Brace and
World, 1962), 79, 218.
20 Ellmann, 196.
21 For
Wilde's political creed see Ellmann, 196.
Quoted by Ellmann, 269-70.
23 Howard Brooker and Peter Widdowson, "A Literature for England," in Colls
and Dodd, 117, 122.
Brooker and Widdowson, 126.
Noteworthy in this context is his poem "Ave Imperitrix"([1880] CW, 712). For

Wilde's identification with Ireland and Irish home rule see Lloyd Lewis and Henry
Justin Smith, Oscar Wilde Discovers America (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1967),
215, 224-26; and the San Francisco Chronicle, cited in Wilde, Irish Poets and
Poetry of the Nineteenth Century, ed. Robert D. Pepper (San Francisco:The Book
Club of California, publication 142, 1972). Wilde often praised, in Arnoldian
fashion, the "Celtic race," with its supposed proximity to nature and facility for
imaginative work. See Wilde, Irish Poets, 28, 34; the Denver Tribune, 13 April 1882
(clipping at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library);and the introduction to
Oscar Wilde's Oxford Notebooks, ed. and introduced by Michael S. Helfand and
Phillip E. Smith II (Oxford:Oxford Univ. Press, 1989), 80-81. In reviews of Yeats,
Wilde lauded the author's essentially "Irishor Celtic character,"and his ability to
represent "our Irish folklore." See Reviews by Oscar Wilde, ed. Robert Ross
(London: Methuen and Co., 1908), 437-39. See also a second laudatory review of

284 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

the Oisin poems, 523-25. When English censors banned his Salome, Wilde point-
edly declaimed "I will not consent to call myself a citizen of a country that shows
such narrownessin artisticjudgement. I am not English-I am Irish-which is quite
another thing" (quoted in Mikhail, 1:188).
26Thomas F. Plowman,Pall Mall Magazine (Jan. 1885), 39.
Kevin O'Brien, Oscar Wilde in Canada (Toronto: Personal Library,1982), 158,
168-69, 170-73.
28This review
originally appeared in Woman's World for November, 1888 but is
reprinted in Wilde, Reviews, 327.
Wilde makes these claims in a typescript of "The English Renaissance" at
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library,Univ. of California at Los Angeles.
30 Such an objective orientation toward non-Europeans parallels what Fanon

writes of the Antillean who objectifies the "savage"Senegalese. In both cases, as

Fanon aptly puts it for the present context, "the other only comes on the stage to
furnish it" (Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markham [New York:
Grove Weidenfeld Press, 1967], 212). See also Fanon's "Racism and Culture," in
Toward the African Revolution (New York:Grove Weidenfeld Press, 1967), 33-35.
31The two
preceding caricatures are reproduced in Lewis and Smith, facing 82,
and 101.
32Daniel O'Connell, "An Echo of the Days When Oscar Wilde was a Guest at the
Club," San Francisco Chronicle, 24 October, 1897 (clipping at the William Andrews
Clark Memorial Library).
33Mikhail, 2:300.
34See L.
Perry Curtis, "Simianizing the Irish Celt," in Apes and Angels: The
Irishman in Victorian Caricature (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press,
1971), 29-57.
35William Andrews Clark Memorial
Library Collection of Wildeana, Univ. of
California at Los Angeles.
36 Alfred C.
Haddon, Evolution in Art As Illustrated by the Life-Histories of
Designs (1895; New York:AMS Press, 1979).
37Mikhail, 1:99.
38 Lewis and
Smith, 128-29.
39 Lewis and
Smith, 156.
40Lewis and Smith, 211.
Punch, 25 June, 1891, reproduced in Lewis and Smith, 27.
The William AndrewsClark Memorial LibraryCollection of Wildeana, Univ. of
California at Los Angeles.
43January, 1882, reproduced in Douglas Cruickshank,"The Fantastic Envelope:
An Account of Oscar Wilde's Invention of Himself and his Travels through
America,"Fessendan Review 12, 59.
44 Lewis and Smith, 37.
Mikhail, 1:106.
46Punch, January,1882, reprinted in Cruickshank,59.
47 Unidentified clipping, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Univ. of
California at Los Angeles.
48 The William Andrews Clark Memorial
Library,University of California at Los
Angeles, holds the original Beerbohm drawing.
49 See, for example, the Beerbohm and Hodges drawings in Ellmann, 492-93.
50Mikhail, 2:299.

Curtis Marez 285

5'See SandraSiegal, "Artand Degeneration: The Representationof 'Decadence"'
in Degeneration: the Dark Side of Progress, ed. J. Edward Chamberlin and Sander
L. Gilman (New York: Columbia Univ, Press, 1985), 119, 219; Elaine Showalter,
Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin-de-Siecle (New York:Viking Press,
1991), 1-18.
52 Mikhail, 2:300.
53Pine, 106.
54 Omi and Winant, 78-79. Of course Omi and Winant situate the "unstable

equilibrium" of racial meanings in relationship to postwar America, arguing that

"these conditions have not existed at all times and all places." Nonetheless, given the
historical persistence in England of "the Irish Question," Omi's and Winant's term
seems apt in the present context.
55Robin Room, "Drink, Popular Protest, and Government Regulation in Colonial
Empires," Drinking and Drug Practices Surveyor 23 (1990), 5.
Virginia Berridge and Griffith Edwards, Opium and the People (New Haven:
Yale Univ. Press, 1987); Terry Parssinen and Karen Kerner, "Development of the
Disease Model of Drug Addiction in Britain, 1870-1926," Medical History 24
(1980): 275-96, as well as Parssinen, Secret Passions, Secret Remedies: Narcotic
Drugs in British Society. 1820-1930 (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of
Human Issues, 1983). For a contemporary account, see Seymore J. Sharkey,
"Morphomania,"The Nineteenth Century (1887): 229-44.
Montagne, "The Influence of Literary and Philosophical Accounts on
Drug Taking," The Journal of Drug Issues 18 (1988): 229-44; see also Parssinen,
Secret Passions.
Marek Kohn, "The Orient Within," Narcomania (London: Faber and Faber,
1987), 31-49.
59Lewis and Smith, 248.
The informationin this paragraphis from Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire,
1875-1914 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1987). For the quotations see 57, 59, 63,
66, and 68.
61Parssinen, Secret Passions, 15-16.
62 See
Showalter, 1-18.
63 K. C.
Ng, The Chinese in London (London: Institute of Race Relations, 1968),
64 Parssinen, Secret Passions, 22-41; Berridge and Edwards, 195-205. In the 1850s
and 60s there was some concern over opiate use among the workingclass in Britain,
particularlythe practice of using drug preparations to quiet infants. Such concern,
however, was relatively short-lived, whereas the supposed Chinese opium menace
preoccupied public discourse from the roughly the 1880s through the 1920s. For an
analysis of the infant doping scare, see Berridge and Edwards, 97-105.
65Kohn, 12.
Berridge and Edwards, 199-200; Parssinen, Secret Passions, 104-5.
67Hobsbawm, 56-83.
DramatizingWilde's own aestheticizationof non-Westernpeoples, Lord Henry's
opium-abetted imaginationwanders from the room's "Japaneseeffect" to the image
of Japanese painters. In this way, Wilde reproduces a process of cultural appropria-
tion whereby Europeans obscured the differences between non-Western ornaments
and the people who produced them. Although Lord Henry fantasizes about both

286 Colonialism and Wilde's Opium Smoke Screen

non-European art and artists, he imagines the latter as bloodless ("pallid")"jade-
faced" objets.
69 Sedgwick, for example, compares opium and "the commodity-based orientalism
of Dorian Gray," suggesting that the two represent roughly equivalent means for
affirming and occluding male/male desire. See "Wilde, Nietzsche, and the Senti-
mental Relations of the Male Body" in Epistemology, 175.
Murray,notes to The Picture of Dorian Gray (London: Oxford University
of Press, 1974), 245.
Engel, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Musical Instruments in the South
Kensington Museum (London: George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode Publish-
ers, 1874).
72To be sure, Dorian's collection, which includes flutes made from human bones,
is distinctly gruesome, perhaps recalling the violent history of imperial appropria-
tion. Sedgwick argues that the exotic commodities in chapter eleven "testify ... to
the overt atrocities they sometimes depict, and most of all to the 'monstrous,
'strange,' 'terrible' (I use the Wildean terms) exactions of booty in precious
minerals, tedious labor, and sheer wastage of (typically female) eyesight, levied on
the Orient by the nations of Europe" ("Wilde, Nietzsche, and the Sentimental
Relations of the Male Body" in Epistemology, 175). However, Wilde more or less
safely contains such recollections, by displacing the violence into the distant past. In
any case, Dorian does not associate the instruments with European imperial
violence but rather with the picturesque "monstrosities"supposedly characteristic
of non-Western peoples.
73 See the Oxford
English Dictionary.
74O'Brien, 62-63.
My discussion of opium as a necessary supplement has been influenced by
Jacques Derrida, "Plato's Pharmacy," in Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson,
(Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1981), 63-171, and "The Rhetoric of Drugs," an
interview with Autrement, trans. Michael Israel, Differences: A Journal of Feminist
Cultural Studies, 5 (1993), 1-25. See also Curtis Marez, "The Coquero in Freud:
Psychoanalysis, Race, and International Economies of Distinction," Cultural Cri-
tique, 26 (1994), 65-93.
Franz Fanon, "Racismand Culture," in Toward the African Revolution, 33-35.
Quoted by Ellmann, 38.

Curtis Marez 287