Wilde, Oscar. (1854 - 1900).
L i f e
- born in Dublin, but settled in England
- sued by his male lover's father for sodomy, sentenced to a 2 year jail, and died a broken man in a Paris exile
W o r k
< influenced by the aesthetic theories of John Ruskin and Walter Pater: became a spokesperson for Aestheticism
C r i t i c i s m :
- an amusingly provocative literary and social critic: questions institutions, moral imperatives, and social clichés
The Decay of Lying (1889):
- a Platonic dialogue claiming that ‘the proper aim of Art’ is ‘the telling of beautiful untrue things’
The Critic as Artist (1890):
- an argument for ‘art for art’s sake’
The Soul of Man under Socialism (1891):
- advocates a larger and expanding idea of freedom from drudgery
F i c t i o n :
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891):
- a handsome young man in a selfish pursuit of sensual pleasures remains fresh and healthy in appearance x but: his portrait changes to reflect his corrupted soul
D r a m a :
- less successful in tragedies, but greatly original in comedies
- uses aphoristic and paradoxical wit and polished wordplay
- evokes flippancy and snobbery with undercurrents of boredom, disillusion, and alienation
- his most influential tragedy: gives an account of the death of John the Baptist x but: includes shocking juxtapositions of repulsion x sexual desire, death x orgasm, etc.
Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895):
- successful comedies, mostly based on witty dialogue of dandified male aristocrats
P o e t r y :
“Impression du Matin” (1881):
- the title: French for ‘impression of the morning’
- his distinctive perspective on city streets anticipates T. S. Eliot
“The Ballad of Reading Gaol” (1898):
- sober and emotionally high-pitched, written during his imprisonment
(Photo: Napoleon Sarony. 1882. Source: Wikimedia Commons).
AuthorOscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde. (1854 - 1900). Irish.
WorkPlaywright. Poet. Novelist. Critic. Author of The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).
GenresDecadence and Aesheticism in 1890s. Verbal comedy.
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Sampson, George. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1946.
Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.
"Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever."
From The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).