In what ways can Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray be seen as an "Irish national tale"?
A particularly detailed discussion of Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray as an “Irish national tale” has been offered by Maureen O’Connor (see link below). O’Connor begins by asserting that it
has become increasingly common to link Oscar Wilde’s self-identification as Irish to his radically oppositional stance vis-à-vis late-Victorian Britain. (194)
In other words, critics and scholars increasingly assume that because Wilde thought of himself as Irish during a time when Ireland was oppressed and dominated by Britain, he may have rebelled against other kinds of oppression and domination, particularly any kinds associated with conventional British morality of the late nineteenth century.
According to O’Connor, Wilde saw Ireland mainly as an imaginary place – a place created by the imagination of other people, including Britons. Only outside Ireland could Wilde feel powerfully Irish because his Irishness then became a symbol of his status as an outsider who refused to be dominated by another culture.
In perhaps the most relevant statement of her article, O’Connor asserts that it
is the central contention of this essay that Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray not only participated in his native country’s engagement with the gothic, as has often been noted, but also that it resurrected the Romantic genre of the national tale. (195)
O’Connor interprets this resurrection partly in autobiographical terms, in which Wilde himself is the central figure who explores his own Irishness by writing the novel. She argues, however, that Wilde’ use of the Irish national tale is extremely complex and full of ambiguities and ambivalences.
O’Connor reports that when the novel was first published, it was roundly condemned by British reviewers for being frivolous and immoral. Similar charges of frivolousness had also greeted one of the most influential Irish national tales, a book titled The Wild Irish Girl. Both this novel and Wilde’s (O’Connor suggests) were seen as politically dangerous. Wilde, according to O’Connor, deliberately embraced identities that were regarded as subversive during his time, especially when they were embraced by a male.
Dorian, for instance, is associated with the beauty of his mother (his father is barely mentioned), and his fixation on memory is connected, by O’Connor, with the similar fixation by the Irish.