Names are Everything: For Oscar Wilde, Posing as a Letter and Visiting Card, Elaine Hernen
This paper considers two artefacts created by Oscar Wilde: The manuscript of ‘Epistola: In Carcere et Vinculis’, and an example of a visiting card bearing Wilde’s post-prison pseudonym, ‘Mr Sebastian Melmoth’. The Victorian obsession with categorisation acted as a ‘panoptic’ surveillance mechanism, creating a self-conscious and self-monitoring society. In contrast, Wilde adopted a transgressive and performative approach to ‘self-consciousness’, to naming and constructing the self, and the ‘self as artist’. Wilde’s prison experience left him defiantly convinced of both his own and the artist’s importance, despite bearing the ravages of a brutal incarceration. A comparison of these two artefacts aims to show that Wilde renamed the self to reclaim the artist.