Oscar Wilde’s Day Job


by Matthew Sitman

It turns out the dashing, mercurial Oscar Wilde once had a desk job – as the editor of a fashion magazine, The Woman's World. Though he was not well-suited for the rigors of office life, he did manage to finish some of his best writing during the period of his employment:

In between May 18, 1887, when he signed the contract with Thomas Wemyss Reid, who was general manager of the company, and October 1889, when he was handed his notice, Wilde managed to write the most brilliant and lengthy of his essays, including "The Critic as Artist," "The Decay of Lying," "Pen, Pencil and Poison," and "The Portrait of Mr W. H.," a speculation on Shakespeare's Sonnets (which later became a favourite of Borges), not to mention The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is often considered Wilde's best work and the defining text of the late-Victorian age.

It is difficult to imagine a serious author of our day performing a similar feat. Could Jonathan Franzen, that great enemy of superficial twittering, have written The Corrections while editing GQ, spending his weekdays in its offices? While numerous contemporary authors prefer unplugging the network cable from their laptops while writing, Wilde did the opposite thing and tried to have as many connections as possible, which he thought would contribute to his competence and inventiveness as an author.

(Photo of Wilde via Wikimedia Commons)