The Criminal Aesthetic: Recapturing the Forger at the Fin-de-Siècle

  • Sara Malton


While clearly granting the forger a much more central position in its narrative economy than earlier novels, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nonetheless shows a marked urgency to suppress the forger, to mark him as that “other” counterfeit self and to conceal him within what Elaine Showalter aptly terms “Dr. Jekyll’s closet.” I turn now to two authors whose works allow the forger to come out of the closet, as it were, and take center stage, Thomas Hardy and Oscar Wilde. Hardy’s A Laodicean (1881) and Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) are remarkably attentive to the typology of the forger operative in earlier fiction, a typology that, as I have shown, persistently envisions the forger as financially and genealogically illegitimate. Like Stevenson, Wilde and Hardy frequently reinscribe this typology to the point of parody, but their highly self-conscious treatment of the forger registers a significant transition of this criminal’s depiction in nineteenth-century narratives, as it serves to overtly question the legitimacy of various social and, indeed, literary fictions themselves.


Mass Culture Pure Gold Authentic Identity Literary Fiction Authentic History 
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© Sara Malton 2009

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  • Sara Malton

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