Hans-Christian Oeser: Oscar-Wilde-ABC. Unter Mitarbeit von Jörg W. Rademacher. Leipzig: Reclam, 2004.



Oscar Wilde von A wie «Amerika» bis Z wie «Zuchthaus und Zwangsarbeit»: Der in Dublin lebende Hans-Christian Oeser hat mit dem «Oscar Wilde ABC» ein Lexikon über den nach Shakespeare meistzitierten Autor der englischen Sprache zusammengestellt. Zu finden sind nicht nur Erläuterungen zu Wildes Arbeiten, sondern auch kurze biografische Abrisse von Menschen, die mit Oscar Wilde in Verbindung stehen, sowie literarische und kulturelle Begriffe des englischen Fin de Siècle.

      In Zusammenarbeit mit Jörg W. Rademacher definiert Oeser nicht nur die Person Oscar Wilde, sondern gibt auch Einblick in die moralischen und rechtlichen Maximen der Epoche. Wilde-Fans bietet dieses Nachschlagewerk einen umfangreichen Überblick. Allerdings sind Rademachers Artikel nicht immer leicht verständlich formuliert. Auch verlangen einige Essays Kenntnis des Werks Oscar Wildes.

(Handelsblatt, 10. Juni 2004)



Wilder geht's nicht: Oscar Wilde von A wie "Amerika" bis Z wie "Zuchthaus und Zwangsarbeit". Der in Dublin lebende Hans-Christian Oeser hat mit dem "Oscar-Wilde-ABC" ein Lexikon über den nach Shakespeare meistzitierten Autor der englischen Sprache zusammengestellt - Erläuterungen zu Wildes Arbeiten, biografische Abrisse von Menschen, die mit ihm in Verbindung stehen, sowie literarische und kulturelle Begriffe des englischen Fin de Siècle. Zusammen mit Jörg W. Rademacher definiert Oeser die Person Oscar Wilde und gibt Einblick in die Moral der Epoche. Wilde-Fans empfiehlt sich dieses Nachschlagewerk, auch wenn Rademachers Texte nicht immer leicht verständlich sind und mitunter Werk-Kenntnis verlangen.

(pa, Frankfurter Neue Presse, 27. Juli 2004)

Neben diesen beiden Werken verblassen andere Annäherungen wie das Oscar-Wilde-ABC, das die wichtigsten Stichworte im Kontext mit dem Autor anführt, doch zeigen diese Oeuvres eher, wie sehr sich die Rezeption im Laufe der Zeit geändert hat, und dass die Rückkehr Wildes ins (literarische) europäische Bewusstsein schon längst erfolgt ist.

(Martin Weber, Lambda nachrichten, 15. Oktober 2004)

Originell, wenn auch etwas irritierend ist das "Oscar Wilde ABC" von Hans-Christian Oeser - ein Wilde-Lexikon von "Amerika" bis "Zuchthaus und Zwangsarbeit".


(bsh, Die Furche, 21. Oktober 2004)

Am 16. Oktober dieses Jahres jährt sich Wildes Geburtstag zum 150. Mal. Hans-Christian Oeser hat aus diesem Anlass ein "Oscar-Wilde-ABC" erarbeitet (soeben bei Reclam erschienen), das zu Oscar Wilde, seinem Schaffen und seinen Zeitgenossen wenig Fragen offen lassen dürfte. In 116 alphabetisch sortierten Schlagworten von "Amerika", "Balcombe, Florence" und "C.3.3" über "Kunst und Kriminalität", "Märtyrer", "Rauschmittel", "Sozialismus" bis hin zu "Zuchthaus und Zwangsarbeit" erzählt Oeser, der als Autor und Übersetzer in Dublin lebt, das Lebensdrama des Lyrikers, Dramatikers und Konversationskünstlers Wilde. So wird das ABC zu einer Fundgrube neuer Erkenntnisse und für Einsteiger zu einem Lesebuch, das sie so schnell nicht wieder aus der Hand legen werden.


(t.akt. kultur- und freizeitmagazin thüringen, Oktober 2004)

Hans-Christian Oeser's Oscar-Wilde-ABC pulls off the rare feat of providing a very well-informed introduction to Oscar Wilde's life, works and thoughts for the Wilde newcomer, while at the same time engaging with various aspects of the academic debate on Wilde. The Oscar-Wilde-ABC is thus one of the few books which will appeal to specialists and amateurs alike - which is an admirable achievement in itself. In the relatively short span of 175 pages (compare here, for example, the 450 pages of Karl Beckson's Oscar Wilde Encyclopedia of 1998), Oeser and his collaborator Jörg W. Rademacher, who provides 26 of the 108 entries in the book, manage to fulfil their acknowledged aims of creating curiosity for Wilde's life and oeuvre and of doing justice to his many facets as a writer, thinker and talker. Taking into account the context in which the book is published, Oeser has put special emphasis on two aspects of Wilde's works of which there is relatively little awareness in Germany: Wilde as a thinker (in particular his relation to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche) as well as the influence of his Irish background on his life and works. A timeline of Wilde's life and a useful selected bibliography complete the book.

Although Oeser's Oscar-Wilde-ABC comes in the shape of a dictionary, it is not a reference work in the usual sense, and it does not pretend to be: it is obviously no coincidence that the book is not called 'Oscar-Wilde-Lexikon' [Oscar Wilde Dictionary]. There is no index, for example, which would be necessary to make the book really usable as a reference work, and links to other entries are sometimes misleading or missing. Thus the text on The Picture of Dorian Gray, for example, does not mention decadence or provide a link to the corresponding entry (where, however, The Picture of Dorian Gray is mentioned). The Oscar-Wilde-ABC therefore appears like a book that should be read from start to finish, possibly with some detours on the way, rather than be used as a reference work.

While the book is not an 'Oscar-Wilde-Lexikon', however, it provides much more than just an ABC, which in German implies the basics of a specific field. The entries cover a wide range of topics that certainly do more than only introduce Wilde. Texts on various persons and places from Wilde's life are combined with texts on individual works, important themes (e.g. 'Christus' [Christ], 'Dandy', 'Kunst und Kriminalität' [Art and Crime], 'Zitat und Plagiat' [Quotation and Plagiarism]) and, more importantly, entries on the practical aspects of Wilde's writing (e.g. 'Arbeitsweise' [Working Process], 'Aufführungspraxis' [Staging], 'Korrespondenz' [Letters], 'Verlage' [Publishing Houses]). It is in the entries on the reception and the political contextualisation of Wilde, however, where Oeser's work is most convincing. In these texts he goes beyond mere biographical fact and quotations from Wilde's works and letters, to establish a Wilde inspired by his Anglo-Irish background and the ideas of republicanism and socialism, as well as to discuss Wilde's status as a homosexual icon. The entry 'Märtyrer' [Martyr], for example, provides an excellent introduction to the theme of martyrdom in Wilde and in Wilde's reception. Oeser is very good, moreover, in his balanced treatment of contested aspects of Wilde's life. His well-informed entry on 'Krankheit, Sterben, Tod' [Illness, Dying, Death] for example, contains an admirable summing-up of the arguments for and against the syphilis hypothesis, and his entry on Lord Alfred Douglas, while underlining Douglas' later denunciation of Wilde, does not simply aim to demonise Douglas but points out his double role as Wilde's muse and evil spirit. The only problematic passages where Oeser deviates from his otherwise exemplary fashion of acknowledging the grey areas of Wilde's biography is when he makes the unverifiable claims that Douglas' brother Drumlanrig had sexual relations with his employer Rosebery (162) and that after the second trial Wilde's fate was decided in a secret meeting of three government officials who wanted to save Rosebery and the Liberal Party (118).

Some readers will be surprised by the fact that individual entries have been given to 'Torquay, Devon', 'Worthing, Sussex', and 'Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire' while women like Ellen Terry or Lillie Langtry, who are usually granted much more space in books on Wilde, have been relegated to the entry 'Schauspielerinnen' along with several other actresses. Others will be surprised that Robert Yelverton Tyrrell, Wilde's teacher at Trinity College , has an entry of his own, while some more obvious candidates like Ada Leverson or Max Beerbohm have not been granted such a privilege. This deviation from the trampled paths of Wilde's biographies fits in with Oeser's aim, however, of giving due weight to some of the lesser-known aspects of Wilde's life and works. Other examples of this strategy would be the entry on freemasonry and the surprising length of the entry on 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol'.

Despite all the positive things to be said about the Oscar-Wilde-ABC, there are some problematic aspects, which, however, do not impair the overall pleasure the book provides. Among the less grave of these are occasional slips in the otherwise concise and readable style, and the fact that Wilde's works have been listed according to their first words. Since most titles in German start with the definite article der/die/das or the indefinite article ein/eine this leads to an unfortunate clustering of entries on Wilde's works under D and E. Moreover, the translations of Wilde quotations do not always do justice to the original and are not always precise or idiomatic. More serious criticism concerns the lengths to which the authors have taken the biographical approach to Wilde's works, for example by presenting Sibyl Vane in Dorian Gray as a portrait of Florence Balcombe or by equating the gardens in the fairy tales with the park on Merrion Square . While there is no denying the biographical inspiration of many of Wilde's works, such one-to-one relations seem to me problematic. Possibly even graver is the essentialist concept of national characters that surfaces in some entries when Oeser writes of typically Irish, English or German qualities (72/3; 83, 94); such an attitude is particularly problematic in a book that specifically tries to posit Wilde in an Irish context. Moreover, the book contains occasional factual mistakes, which seem mostly due to oversight (the number of aphorisms in the Preface of Dorian Gray, for example, has unwittingly been reduced from twenty-four to four); however, Rademacher's claim that Wilde pleaded guilty during the Queensberry trial (76) must be considered a grave mis-representation of the historical facts.

Such mistakes occasionally cause the Wilde scholar to raise an eyebrow, and will send a reviewer to the bookshelf to check facts. In the context of this otherwise remarkable book, however, which is entertaining and informative and which evokes a surprisingly vivid image of Wilde's person and works, they must be considered minor weaknesses.

(Lucia Krämer, "Oscar Wilde Explored", in: The Oscholars, vol. 4, no. 4-9, issue no 35-41, April - September 2007)



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