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The Art of ScandalModernism, Libel Law, and the Roman à Clef$
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Sean Latham

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195379990

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195379990.001.0001

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Open Secrets and Hidden Truths

Open Secrets and Hidden Truths

Wilde and Freud

(p.43) 3 Open Secrets and Hidden Truths
The Art of Scandal

Sean Latham (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

By the end of the 19th century, the realist novel’s distinctive mode of organizing social, historical, and aesthetic knowledge came under increasing pressure from the roman à clef. Amidst a rapidly expanding, mass-mediated celebrity, this long suppressed genre abruptly emerged from the margins of culture to play a key role in the founding texts of modernism. Using the work of Oscar Wilde and Sigmund Freud, this chapter contends that these two figures help initiate the onset of modernism precisely by turning toward the roman à clef, releasing narrative powers they quickly realized were well beyond their control. Unlike most of his predecessors, Freud regularly adopted the conventions of the roman à clef for his case studies, using this device as a way to mask (and sometimes mutilate) the identities of his often affluent patients while exploring the fraught boundary between fact and fiction in their psychic lives. Wilde, too, exploits these same ambiguities throughout his work. Like Freud, he attempts to cultivate and to exploit a central, organizing secret in his work that articulates the provisional identities and social practices hovering imprecisely between history and the novel.

Keywords:   Sigmund Freud, Oscar Wilde, Dora, Dorian Gray, modernism, roman à clef, theory of novel, psychoanalysis, history of psychology

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