The Bodley Head
The Bodley Head
Modern literary historians have tended to be suspicious of Wilde's rhetoric in the 1880s about the autonomy of art and the artist. None the less they have been willing to see his post-1891 publications — his set of limited-edition books published by the Bodley Head — as a change of direction, as evidence of a self-conscious repudiation of the values of the mass market, a move in turn made possible by the fact that, by 1892, he was earning enough money from the theatre to allow him not to compromise his literary art. In other words, Wilde's Bodley Head books have been seen primarily as aesthetic objects (both textually and materially), designed not to make money but rather to appeal to the taste of those readers in possession of Pater's ‘special kind of temperament’: they have been taken as an indication that Wilde had finally found that elusive readership with tastes as non-commercial as he pretended his own were. This chapter shows that in his actual publishing practices Wilde seemed content in conflating aesthetic with monetary value: a social exclusiveness, which the Aesthetes had represented as a refinement of the spirit or temperament, was translated in Wilde's Bodley Head books into a simple financial elitism. Wilde was fully aware that rarity could be created by manipulating the market: that is, material rarity — the newly-revived publishing phenomenon of the limited edition could confer on his work (or be a substitute for) an aesthetic distinction which his peers had consistently refused to recognize in his writing alone.
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