Oscar Wilde is remembered as a wit and a dandy, as a gay martyr, and as a brilliant writer, but his philosophical depth and political radicalism are often forgotten. Resist Everything Except Temptation locates Wilde in the tradition of left-wing anarchism, and argues that only when we take his politics seriously can we begin to understand the man, his life, and his work. Drawing from literary, historical, and biographical evidence, including archival research, the book outlines the philosophical influences and political implications of Wilde's ideas on art, sex, morality, violence, and above all, individualism. Williams raises questions about the relationships between culture and politics, between utopian aspirations and practical programs, and between individualism, group identity, and class struggle. The resulting volume represents, not merely a historical curiosity, but a contribution to current debates within political theory and a salvo in the broader culture wars.
"A timely and much-needed assessment of Wilde's political ideas, deeds, and legacy. Williams doesn’t restrict himself merely to 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism,’ so long and widely admired as a fount of political philosophy. He gives detailed attention to the full range of Wilde’s writings, as well as Wilde’s controversial life, in order to make clear the consistent political vision at the heart of them. Williams carefully situates Wilde within the broad history of radical thought and action, giving close scrutiny to Wilde’s inspirations as well as his influence on such pivotal figures as Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and George Bernard Shaw. The Wilde who emerges is more relevant and urgently needed than ever."—Nicholas Frankel, author of Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years and editor of The Annotated Prison Writings of Oscar Wilde
“Oscar Wilde is usually known as a writer of sardonic wit, but this clear and beautifully written book reveals other aspects—faith in a generous individualism, a profound dislike of hierarchies, anger against the cruel dismissal of the rejected and a humane and dignified kindness. It is, moreover, peopled with a great host of fascinating rebels who were his contemporaries.”—Sheila Rowbotham, author of Rebel Crossings: New Women, Free Lovers, and Radicals in Britain and the United States
“In his book, Kristian Williams quotes the poet John Barlas who in 1905 wrote his son that Oscar Wilde’s writing while giving ‘an appearance of sportive levity’ reflects ‘profundity and thought.’ Showing Barlas to have been correct, Williams uses Wilde’s work to explore issues of power and liberty and shows how struggles over those issues shaped Wilde’s work. A wonderful historical study, Resist Everything Except Temptation brings to life a relevant, complicated, and compelling artist.”—Terence Kissack, author of Free Comrades: Anarchism and Homosexuality in the United States, 1895–1917