Inherent class divides

Class differences have been a recurring theme in Wilde’s work. For example, in The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Bracknell advises Jack to acquire some relations. Despite Jack’s wealth and ease in conforming to high-class society, he cannot change his nature without obtaining the proper lineage. This idea of class predestination, so to speak, appears again in De Profundis. Wilde paints class as something inherent in determining one’s character, sensibilities, and abilities.

I first noticed this when Wilde spoke of the men who testified against him, who belonged to the lower class. He states: “People thought it dreadful of me to have entertained at dinner the evil things of life, and to have found pleasure in their company. But they, from the point of view through which I, as an artist in life, approached them, were delightfully suggestive and stimulating.” Wilde uses a patronizing tone for these lower-class men, objectifying his dinner guests as merely artistic stimulation. He does not even recognize their humanity, likening them to panthers or cobras while setting himself apart from them as an “artist.” It is not for particular acts that Wilde dehumanizes them- Wilde, after all, welcomed them to dine with him and engaged in homosexual acts himself. In terms of unlawful acts, Wilde is no better off than them. Wilde draws this distinction because they are lower class. He characterizes them as dangerous and rough, as if this is inherent to their class. Wilde additionally asserts that “fishermen, shepherds, ploughboys, and peasants” know nothing of Art. He seems to claim art for the upper class in addition to humanity.

Wilde also makes a class distinction when describing his fellow inmates, mentioning that he is “not one of them.” Even in prison, where Wilde is subjected to the same treatment as his peers, Wilde sets himself apart from the lower classes. There are no advantages to being high class, yet Wilde asserts his class anyway. Again, this goes to show that Wilde does not think of class as something resulting from what you do, but rather who you are, and this distinction is critical in determining what you are worth.

2 thoughts on “Inherent class divides”

  1. This is a really interesting theme in the text and I’m glad that you brought it up. I agree that Wilde is definitely expressing a lot of classism in this piece, and would like to add that in doing so he seems to be expressing an insecurity. We’ve talked in class about how Wilde doesn’t quite fit in with the highest classes and still has to work for a living. It seems to me that the classists attitudes present in Wilde’s work is a symptom of his own insecurities about not quite fitting in.

  2. This is a great explanation of Wilde’s views on class as not only status but a reflection of one’s behavior. I think your ideas could apply to Bosie as well. In De Profundis, Wilde criticizes Bosie’s excessive spending and his obsession with living an over-indulgent lifestyle that he simply could not afford. He says, “Your one idea of life, your one philosophy, if you are to be credited with a philosophy, was that whatever you did was to be paid for by someone else” (1047). However, this criticism is two-fold, and we see that especially as he says, “if you are to be credited with a philosophy.” Wilde accuses Bosie of not only vanity but a “lack of imagination.” While we definitely see Wilde distancing himself from the lower class men in the trials and in prison in your examples, the same applies to Bosie whose obsession with status made him entirely unable to know anything of art. It is interesting that Wilde points out both members of the upper and lower classes who are not artists. Returning to Wilde’s descriptions of Christ as an artist, it seems that it is not class status that makes an artist but rather a rebellious personality. Wilde says that for Christ “there were no laws: there were exceptions merely” (1035). Along these lines, it seems that the ability to experience sorrow and sympathy along with challenging the status quo are the qualities that make an artist.

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