Our talk about “The Happy Prince” and other tales on Wednesday stuck with me a lot after class because, weirdly, they allow us to have a framework about what art is. We read Wilde’s essays about art through “The Critic as Artist” and “The Decay of Lying,” but even then, his philosophy of art is difficult to pin down when we place them in the contexts of his poems, short stories—and soon—his plays and only novel. On Wednesday, we talked a lot about how we were unsure whether the tales could be classified as an accurate “fairy tale” or whether they were Wilde’s twisted version of a fairy tale. We also discussed whether children could understand everything Wilde placed before them or if the tales were meant to evolve and grow over time with the reader. Why did we read the short stories we read (“The Canterville Ghost” and “Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime”)? What is the point of it all?
Professor Kinyon’s argument that Wilde is playing with us makes the most sense to me, admittedly, but it’s hard to justify this with the religious elements peppered throughout each story. “Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime” is mostly humorous; that’s the value I see in it, at least. Yet I can’t overlook the message about predestination, as well as the attack on “duty” that the Victorians upheld. It is the same with “The Canterville Ghost,” where nationality undoubtedly plays a role in the story with Wilde’s poking fun at Americans. But then I pose another question: Why do I take religion seriously but everything else not seriously? My current view is that I find great entertainment value in Wilde’s art; it makes me laugh in all its cleverness and the jabs at his characters. Suddenly, when we talk about religion in Wilde’s art, everything takes a deeper, more serious dimension—but why does it suddenly become deeper than just entertainment when religion is introduced?
We’ve also already discussed that Wilde’s philosophy of art is contradictory; some of the philosophy he puts forth in his essays ends up contradicting elements in his stories or poems, such as the strictness of form he adheres to in the poem as well as his introducing “moral imperatives” through “The Happy Prince,” “The Nightingale and the Rose,” “The Selfish Giant,” and possibly “The Devoted Friend” arguably introduce moral imperatives. Yet the contradictory part of this lies in the last closing paragraphs of “The Devoted Friend”:
“‘I am rather afraid that I have annoyed him,’ answered the Linnet. ‘The fact is, that I told him a story with a moral.’
‘Ah! that is always a very dangerous thing to do,’ said the Duck.
And I quite agree with her.”
This blog post is all over the place because Wilde’s philosophy is also all over the place, and I find with these beginning tales we have been reading that it’s challenging to see Wilde in his art. All in all, I am super excited to start reading The Picture of Dorian Gray and compare my theses and arguments with Wilde’s treatment of the novel, because Professor Kinyon has argued that Wilde shows too much of himself in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the preface protects himself as the artist against being identified in the art.
One thought on “What is the Point of it All?”
I think it’s interesting how you mention that religion somehow seems to add deeper meaning to Wilde’s works despite how other aspects of his works seem to eschew meaning. A lot of Decadent writers’ fixation on Catholicism has a lot to do with the religion’s aesthetics, although in class we did discuss how this fascination could also have a deeper meaning. This makes me think that perhaps Wilde added religious references into his stories for simply aesthetic purposes. For instance, in The Happy Prince, the reference to God and the angels seemed a bit tacked on at the end, so that leads me to believe that the reference is just an aesthetic thing rather than Wilde trying to make the story deeper. But I guess we’ll never truly know what Wilde means by anything since he contradicts himself so often.