Oscar Wilde's Decorated Books

Nicholas Frankel
Investigates Wilde's valorization of literature as one of the decorative arts


Oscar Wilde's Decorated Books addresses Wilde's obsession with the visual appearance or "look" of his published writings. It examines the role played by graphic designers in the production of Wilde's writings and demonstrates how marginal and decorative elements of the printed book affect interpretation.

Nicholas Frankel approaches Wilde's writings as graphical or "printed" phenomena that reveal their significance through the beautiful and elaborate decorations with which they were published in Wilde's own lifetime. With extensive reference to and exposition on Wilde's theoretical writings and letters, the author shows that, far from being marginal elements of the literary text, these decorative devices were central to Wilde's understanding of his own writings as well as to his "aesthetic" theory of language. Extensive illustrations support Frankel's arguments.

While its principal appeal will be to students of Oscar Wilde and the Victorian fin-de-siècle, this book will also appeal to textual and literary scholars, art historians, and linguistic philosophers interested in the graphical nature of the linguistic sign.

Nicholas Frankel is Assistant Professor of English, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Frankel focuses on Wilde's interest in and contributions to artistic book design. . . . Frankel does much more than describe the multiple marks that constitute Wilde's decorated books. In order to show how books are 'scenes of production, collaboration, and inevitable compromise' he constructs historical narratives. He paints vivid portraits of the material conditions that shaped Wilde's decorated books. . . . Oscar Wilde's Decorated Books is a welcome addition to any bookshelf. This is a beautiful book. . . . It is also the first book to trace Wilde's ongoing contribution to artistic book design. Frankel listens to the drama taking place on the surface of Wilde's books. He sees that the world Wilde constructs is a world turned upside down. Books have bodies. The trivial---the surface with its colored bindings and various type faces---is serious. And Oscar Wilde's decorated books tell a dramatic and enduring story about the importance of being published properly."
    ---Joan Navarre, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, Volume 44: No. 4 (2001)
  • "Frankel has made Wilde's books come alive in a new and welcome way, by restoring to them their "bodies" and by proving, as Wilde himself would have agreed, that there is no difference between the body and the soul."
    ---Margaret D. Stetz, Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, Fall 2000
  • ". . . Frankel's work cuts against the grain of current trends in Wilde scholarship. As he explains, he is not interested in 'the figure of the author' or the 'search for textual meanings that the author might have sanctioned' but concentrates instead on 'the graphic embodiment or visual semiosis of the text as it appears before the eyes'. . . . Frankel's focus on Wilde's decorative books is rather narrow; he is reluctant to trace his insights into a wider cultural context. Paradoxically t his is also a source of the book's strength. The detailed analysis of the ways in which bindings and illustrations transform the meaning of Wilde's works offers a fresh perspective on Wilde, which will be invaluable to both literary scholars and historians of the 'Modern' book."
    ---Clare Hutton, Library, June 2002
  • "Frankel's masterfully written and quite beautifully illustrated study adds much to the canon of Wilde scholarship and offers a valuable contribution to the fields of bibliography and book studies, both narrowly and broadly defined. Oscar Wilde's Decorated Books will enrich any Wilde scholar's understanding of the importance of the aesthetics of book publishing in the 1890s, and it will enlighten and enliven conversations about the materiality---both physical and ideological---of books among scholars in a wide range of fields."
    ---Samuel Lyndon Gladden, Prolepsis: The Heidelberg Review of English Studies, February 25, 2003
  • ". . . a revolutionary book, revolutionary because it represents an entirely new reading of Wilde and his work. Frankel brings to his task a bright, well-trained mind and a genuine gift for reading literary texts. . . . [Frankel]--imbued with contemporary literary, theoretical, and philosophical studies--succeeds in seeing Wilde anew in the most perceptive, engaging, and convincing study of that author's work yet achieved. . . . No doubt some who read Oscar Wilde's Decorated Books will find its thesis difficult to accept, just as there are those who will take issue with some of its more challenging readings. But there are those, like myself, who find Frankel's perceptive and original response to the Wildean canon an exciting invitation to re-read [sic] the great writer's work with illumination and pleasure."
    ---James G. Nelson, Review, Volume 24 (2002)
  • "Frankel has merged publishing history, poststructuralist theory, and cultural studies to produce a vibrant and important study."
    ---Linda K. Hughes, Texas Christian University, SHARP News, Summer 2001(Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing)
  • "Frankel's book is a valuable scholarly study because it traces the collaborations that made the final volumes possible and he analyzes material perceptively."
    ---Linda Zatlin, Victorian Periodicals Review, Volume 34, No. 4 (2001)

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 240pp.
  • photographs, color photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2000
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11069-8

Add to Cart
  • $80.00 U.S.