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Oscar Wilde

The name of Wilde is closely connected with Aestheticism, and even more with Decadentism, although he stood apart from the other "decadents", since he did not isolate himself from the world, but did his best to be publicly popular and successful. Until 1895 his life was marked by a hedonism that dried up his poetic qualities. Neither was he helped by his wit; which found a better vehicle in his plays.

 

Biography

By the time Oscar Wilde's father was twenty-eight, William Wilde had graduated as a doctor, completed a voyage to Madeira, Tenerife, North Africa and the Middle East, studied at Moorefield Eye Hospital in London, written two books, and been appointed medical advisor to the Irish Census of 1841. When the medical statistics were published two years later they contained data which had not being collected in any other country at the time and as result, William became Assistant Commissioner to the 1851 Census. He held the same position for the two succeeding Censuses and be was knighted for his work on them in 1864 at the age of forty-nine. When William opened Dublin practice specializing in ear and eye diseases, he felt he should make some provision for the free treatment of the city’s poor. In 1844, St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital was founded entirely at his expense.

Before his marriage, William produced three illegitimate children. Henry Wilson in 1838, Emily in 1847, and Mary in 1849. To William's credit, he provided financially for all of them. He paid for Henry's education and medical studies and took him into St Mark’s Hospital as his assistant. Emily and Mary were raised by William’s brother but both died in a fire at the ages of 24 and 22.

Oscar’s mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, first gained attention in 1846 by writing revolutionary poems under the pseudonym "Speranza" for an lrish weekly newspaper called The Nation. As the famine (in Ireland) worsened and the Year of Revolution (1848) took hold of Europe, the newspaper offices were raided and dosed down. A gifted linguist with a working knowledge of the major European languages, Jane translated Wilhelm Meinhold’s gothic horror novel Sidonia the Sorceress, which Oscar would later read with relish and draw on for the darker elements of his own work. Jane’s first child, William Charles Kingsbury, was born on September 26, 1852 and her second was christened Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Willson on October 16, 1854. The daughter that Jane longed for, Isola Emily Francesca, was delivered on April 2, 1857 but died ten years later on February 23, 1867 from a sudden fever. Oscar was profoundly affected and kept a lock of her hair scaled in a decorated envelope until the end of his life.

Oscar’s father died on April 19,1876 and the family's finances were not well. Henry Wilson (William's eldest son) paid the mortgage on the family home and continued to financially support Jane, William and Oscar until his sudden death in 1878. Academically, Oscar did very well at Oxford and was awarded the Newdigate prize for his poem Ravenna and “First In Greats” by his examiners. After graduation, Oscar moved to London with his friend Frank Miles, a well-known and society connected portrait painter. In 1881, he published his first collection of poetry. Poems was well received by the critics and helped to push Oscar's career ahead.

 In December 1881, Oscar sailed for New York to travel across the United States and deliver a series of lectures on “the aesthetics”. The fifty-lecture tour, originally planned to last four months eventually stretched to nearly a year, with 140 lectures given in 260 days. In between lectures he made time to meet Henry Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Walt Whitman. He also arranged for his play Vera to be staged in New York the following year. When he returned from America, Oscar moved to Paris to write a blank-verse tragedy that had been commissioned but enjoyed the social life and the prose was refused. He than set off on a lecture tour of Britain and lreland.

On May 29, 1884, Oscar married Constance Lloyd. Constance was four years younger than Oscar and the daughter of a prominent Irish barrister who had died when she was sixteen. She was well-read, spoke several European languages and had an outspoken, independent mind. Oscar and Constance had two sons in quick succession, Cyril in 1885 and Vivian in 1886. With a family to support, Oscar accepted a position in 1887 to revitalize a magazine called The Woman’s World. Oscar left the publication in October 1889 and over the next two years, wrote about the folklore and superstition of Ireland and published The Happy Prince And Other Tales in 1888 and The House Of Pomegranates in 1892. Oscar’s first play Dorian Gray open in 1890 and was later expanded and published as a book. It's subject of Crimean deviance and lack of morality caused a successful public outrage but made very little money. In February 1892, Oscar opened Lady Windermere’s Fan and with its financial success continued to write in the play format. His plays A Woman Of No Importance (1892), An Ideal Husband (1893) and The Importance Of Being Ernest (1893) were all successes and firmly established Oscar a playwright.

In the summer of 1891, 0scar met Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, the third son of the Marquis of Queensberry. Bosie was well acquainted with Oscar’s novel, Dorian Gray and was an undergraduate at Oxford. They soon became lovers and were inseparable until Wilde’s arrest three years later. In April 1895, Oscar sued Bosie’s father for libel on the charge of homosexuality. 0scar withdrew his case but was himself arrested and convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years of hard labour. Constance took the children to Switzerland and reverted to an old family name of Holland. Upon his release from prison, Oscar wrote The Ballad of Reading Goal, his cry of prison agony and it was published shortly before Constance’s death in 1898. Oscar briefly returned to Bosie but spent the last two year of his life wandering Europe, staying with friends, and occasionally writing for different Parisian newspaper. In I900, a recurrent ear infection became serious, meningitis set in and Oscar died on November 30.

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde lived in a time of uncertainty, sadness and sterility, “le  fin de siécle”. The most acute talents understood that an old world, with its familiar landmarks, was expiring, and a new one, still lacking an identifiable shape, was being conceived. The emptiness and the despair at the heart of "Dorian Gray" transforms into a skilful drawn portrayal of that troubled state of mind during the Victorian Age. Anything that represented an alternative to the deepening grey conformity of the industrial Western Civilization and its middle-class Protestant minions, was heartily embraced by artist and intellectuals.

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" is a tragic melodrama about a young man of extraordinary beauty, who becomes enslaved by his good looks to the point where he is willing to sell his soul for the eternity of his attractive appearance.

A portrait painted by Dorian’s dear friend and great admirer, Basil Hallward, somehow transforms into Dorian's conscience and possesses his very spirit. Henceforth Dorian will remain forever young and miraculously beautiful outwards, whilst the painting  shows its owner the wounds he is inflicting on his soul. “Eternal youth, infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and  wilder sins - he was to have all these things. The portrait was to bear the burden of his shame: that was all.” The picture of Dorian holds the secret of his life and tells his story. It stands as an emblem of his sins and is to be considered his self-perception. At first it teaches him to love his beauty, only to make him loathe his soul, demonstrating Wilde's regard for the ability of art to discern truth.

Lord Henry Wotton, a friend introduced by Basil, encourages Dorian to indulge himself further in his unhealthy self-adoration. Dorian starts to worship beauty, but he ends up paying for his narcissism. The revealing nature of the Portrait alerts Dorian of the degradation of his soul. Its bloodstained hands, cynical leer and cancerous face clearly states that Dorian has changed, for the worse. From a simple, natural and affectionate boy he has turned into a selfish, indifferent and contemptible man.

Plagued by anxiety over increasing hideous crimes and unable to subdue his memories with sexual affairs and drugs, Dorian is soon beset by terror. Unwilling to admit that his actions have moral

implications, he seeks refuge in objects d'art. Gradually he learns to see life from an aesthetic perspective. The consequence of this attitude is that he finds himself increasingly "stepping outside" his experiences in order to observe them from a distance. He tells Basil: “To become the spectator of one's own life, as Henry says, is to escape the suffering of life”.

It's the indigestible lesson of a gentleman who finds that a handsome exterior does not constitute a beautiful creature, and that the unhealthy soul of a man who cannot regard his entire self does not. really prosper. Throughout the novel, the mechanism whereby involvement is translated into aesthetic perspective is associated with fear. He is afraid of that side of his own personality for which he is not prepared to accept responsibility.

Wilde makes an explicit connection between not only neglection of, but also abuse of God’s law by having Dorian hang "the purple and gold pall as a curtain" over his portrait (the mirror of his soul), having just previously mentioned that the Bride of Christ wore "purple and jewels" to conceal her "pallid macerated body..... worn by the suffering that she seeks for, and wounded by self-inflicted pain." In the same way a martyr veils the scars of piety, Dorian hides sin.

When Basil, the creator of the painting, sees what's become of his work, what's become of his beloved Dorian, he repeatedly begs him to repent. “The prayer of your pride has been answered. The prayer of your repentance will be answered also. I worshipped you too much. I am punished for it. You worshipped yourself too much. We are both punished." In this passage, it is almost as if Wilde is pleading for his audience to look at itself.

Basil is the savior - a lover of truth and candor, planter of morality, integrity and spiritual growth, Dorian the subject (Mankind) and Lord Henry the evil that tempts the previous into decadence and despair, all that is worldly-minded and part of the external world - the Wildean dandy par excellence. Wilde celebrates the triumphs of individualism, and yet this world of self-assertion and self-development is one that is seen to fall apart. He raises a world in his own image only to condemn it for its emptiness and its follies.

The symbolic paraphrases in “Dorian Gray” are many, some more obvious than others. Wilde uses jewels as a distraction from seeing the individual person, music as a metaphor for feelings, weather to demonstrate the atmosphere or the frame of mind of one of the characters etc… He often refers to old Greek mythological figures such as Narcissus and Echo, Dionysus and Apollo to further strengthen the plot. In fact, there are at least four specific references to Narcissus in "Dorian Gray".

The myth of him and Echo reveals a further facet of Dorian's encounter with Sybil Vane. Like Narcissus, Dorian is "pale, proud and indifferent” to Sibyl’s love. And just as Narcissus cannot gain the thing he loves (his own reflection), so Dorian is punished with "mad hungers that grow more ravenous the more he feeds them”.  Narcissus is infatuated with his own too much ness, just as Dorian grows "more and more enamored of his own beauty". Narcissus eventually seeks release from his body, and wishes his reflection longer life. Dorian also separates himself from himself, and confines one aspect of his self - his conscience - to his old schoolroom. He too eventually seeks release from the condition which he had prayed to be allowed to enjoy. He too feels a strange pity for his other self: "A sense of infinite pity, not for himself, but for the painted image of himself, came over him". The parallel is confirmed by something Dorian says towards the end of the novel: “I wish I could love, ... But I seem to have lost the passion, and forgotten the desire. I am too much concentrated on myself".

With "The Picture of Dorian Gray" 'Wilde effectively challenged English society on a number of levels.

By disclosing the grinding poverty and hopelessness against which "Society" turned its face, he was putting a mirror up to his oppressors. He scornfully wrote: "Modern morality consists in accepting the standard of one's age.”

Wilde detested the brutal philistinism of mass-produced conformity as well as the artistic pretensions of the English. Critics, the social segregation in society, the political environment at the time, the bourgeois as well as the English "common sense" all got their fare share of criticism in “Dorian Gray", in the form of witticisms and snappy remarks.

This is certainly a well thought-out novel, filled with Wilde's Irish wit and paradoxical sense of humor, a play of lurid emotional colors and a sincere and clearly worded message of morality.

The language used is breathtakingly poetic and at times almost magical, removed from colloquial speech. Every word and statements has been carefully planned and serves a specific purpose in getting across Wilde's message to the reader: the importance of being your own man and not giving in to indifference, as it is the root of all evil.

Oscar Wilde's one and only novel is a marvelous and unique portrayal of evil. On one level you can take lesson in the Pleasures of Life and the Pleasures of Art. But "The Picture of Dorian Gray" also teaches you something more wonderful, the meaning of sorrow, and its beauty.

 

The preface

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.

That is all.

The nineteenth - century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth - century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject - matter of the artists but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type

All art is at once surface and symbol

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

Oscar Wilde

 

Prominence in this text the cult of the beauty and the shape. The art does not have some educational and moral scope; the defects and the virtues are a simple "matter of the art", but they do not are related to the aesthetic meant of the work. In so far as the true "art is perfectly useless".

 

A master of hedonism

(Lord Henry); " ... Some day, when you are old and wrinkled and ugly, when thought has seared your forehead with its lines, and passion branded your lips with its hideous fires, you will feel it, you will feel it terribly. Now, wherever you go, you, you charm the world. Will it always be so? ... You have a wonderfully beautiful face, Mr Gray. Don’t frown. You have. And Beauty is a form of Genius - is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no explanation. It is one of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or spring time, or the reflection in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned. It has its divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it. You smile? Ah! When you have lost it you won’t smile ... People say sometimes that Beauty is only superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not so superficial as Thought is. To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders.

 

The text illustrates one of the principles fundamental of the decadent aestheticism: the supreme value of the "beauty", understanding like "expression of the genius", advanced indeed to the same genius.

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