1987. Monaco - The International Conference Rediscovering Oscar Wilde:
Opening Statement by C. George SANDULESCU, Monaco.
(This is also George Sandulescu's Preface to the Proceedings Volume. The Conference took place in May 1993 in Monaco, and the volume was published in 1995 by Colin Smythe of Gerrards Cross.)
THE SUPREME QUARTET.
It is a commonplace in Shakespeare Studies to use the phrase 'The Supreme Quartet' as a picturesque value-judgment to denote the quintessence of Shakespeare's dramatic art: four titles -- Hamlet, Othello, Lear, and Macbeth (all men !) -- far above the other 33 plays in point of artistry.
If one were to turn now to Irish Studies in search of an analogous Quartet of stars of maximal magnitude and brilliancy towering far above the other 33 -- or 99, to quote an Anthony Burgess title* -- I would begin by advancing three names, all obvious Nobel Prize Candidates (though the Swedish Establishment would more than frown upon the phrase . . . ). They are Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett, in that order. And the Princess Grace Irish Library has already organized massive international Conferences devoted to each of them.
Today I wish to advance the challenging statement that it is Oscar Wilde the one who completes -- or rather 'initiates' -- the Supreme Quartet of Irish letters. But paradoxically, though we are today celebrating a solid century since the absolute peak of his success, the Conference rallying us here now is the first ever large-size representative Conference entirely devoted to Oscar.
This perhaps leads us to another paradox: though he is by far the widest known and most generally popular and accessible of the gang of four, there is no standard edition of definitive texts -- except a more than mediocre Collins . . . In spite of the obvious fact that the Oscar devotees are sure to have provided quite a sizable market for it as early as more than half a century ago. Just compare this with the literally hundreds of scholarly get-togethers devoted to Joyce, and the dozens -- even Summer Schools or Festivals -- devoted to Yeats and Beckett . . . And this in spite of the fact that large chunks of the wide public bitterly complain, 'in public', that to fully and exactly understand what this gang of three did write poses problems. The paradox at this stage of the argument is the greater the public the fewer the critics, and their respective output, and conversely, the narrower the public, the greater the plethora of criticasters and their critical downpour !
Now that Oscar is in the focus of attention, the question of reliable texts is far more urgent than appointed Editors and Publishers consider it to be. I'll give you one example: The Princess Grace Irish Library is starting now a permanent Research Project, provisionally called Theoretikos (after one of Oscar's poems), and involving the participation of several scholars. But the obstacles seem insurmountable by comparison with Joyce, Yeats, or Beckett research, where the necessary tools are to be found in plenty.
Not only that Oscar Wilde texts are in the process of being destabilized -- remember Francis Bacon's paradox "The most corrected text is commonly the most corrupt !" -- but there is no Concordance, there are no 'error-free' Computer Disks, and there is, of course, no Facsimile Edition of the Manuscripts (just think of the mammoth 60-volume Facsimile Garland Edition of Joyce ! ). By the side of the Beckett Journals and Centres, or the Joyce and Yeats Annuals and Newsletters, the work of Wilde, certainly by far the best known of this gang of four to the widest public, is the one most inadequately charted by the scholars. This, consequently, hampers the furthering of research.
We are here to try and remedy the situation. And the fact that the present Conference takes in forty papers, whereas all the previous conferences here were limited to twenty papers -- see the already Published Proceedings for proof thereof ! -- is circumstantial evidence that the imbalance described above can indeed be remedied. The overcrowding is such, that, to be on the safe side, 'you'd better fasten your seat belts, for you may be in for a bumpy weekend !' From now on, YOU take over ! Thank you.