Redemptive Nature

One aspect that I did not expect to see in De Profundis is Wilde’s appreciation for nature. I remember reading “The Decay of Lying” earlier this semester, which featured a dialogue between Cyril and Vivian, Wilde’s two sons. Wilde writes through Cyril that “what art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition” (970). Variety is seen through Art rather than Nature, residing in the fantastical imagination that Wilde constantly calls forth. However, we have all seen how Wilde has shifted his views toward many things in De Profundis. And one of those things is nature.

            When living in a prison cell, confined and lacking mobility, Nature is much more sought after by Wilde. He still has books (paid for by Robbie), and even if sorrow has stolen many things from him, he still returns to his true love of Art and how imagination and self-realization feed into that. But he does not have Nature. He is much more aware of the space he is living in (a prison cell) and the physical tasks he has to complete, such as scrubbing the floor of his cell. While we once stated in class that Wilde’s plays take place in some utopia setting, not quite Britain, De Profundis undeniably grounds him in the physical location of his prison cell in Reading Gaol. Wilde plans to go to a “little seaside village” after his release, where “the sea… [will wash] away the stains and wounds of the world” (954). Nature takes on a redemptive quality in this light. Instead of having monotony and an unfinished condition, Wilde believes that people have forgotten the “uses of any single thing” and how “Water can cleanse” (954). Of course, this reminded me of holy water and Christianity, as De Profundis directly concerns itself with the religion. Still, I argue that Wilde’s physical confinement made him ground himself into more of the physicality of everyday life, everyday Nature. Wilde is going to come back to a society after his imprisonment that has sneered, mocked, and punished him at every turn. But he will be able to form his own society and community, and Nature will welcome him with open, cleansing arms.      

3 thoughts on “Redemptive Nature”

  1. I saw Wilde’s appreciation of nature in this text as a further rejection of his life as art. I, too, thought about the Decay of Lying while reading De Profundis and came to the conclusion that, before ending up in prison, Wilde had viewed his life as art. There is a line in which he tells Bosie, “I thought life was going to be a brilliant comedy, and that you were to be one of many graceful figures in it” (998). That line embodies Wilde’s perspective on the world before he went to prison. Wilde had previously written that nature imitates art, and it is clear through this line that he saw his life as a kind of work of art. However, De Profundis makes clear that he sees how damaging that view was because it allowed him to not take measures to protect himself against the realities of the world. That seems like fair justification for the contradictions between De Profundis and Wilde’s earlier work.

  2. I also noticed this ‘redemption’ of nature, as you call it. I too was a little shocked by Wilde’s attitudes towards nature in “Decay of Lying” at the beginning of the class. But as I look back over the work we have read, I feel almost as Wilde’s rejection of nature was just another one of his masks, as there is actually a lot of natural imagery in his work. We’ve talked before about the association of Dorian Grey with flowers, and there are also several anthropomorphic animals and rose imagery in The Happy Prince stories. With this in mind, I’m not so sure if De Profundis represents a dramatic change in Wilde’s stance on nature or just another removal of his mask.

  3. Wilde’s appreciation of nature is pretty interesting in De Profundis. I didn’t even make the connection between his appreciation of nature in this compared to his disparaging of nature in “The Decay of Lying.” What struck me about Wilde’s desire to see the sea was his desire for “primeval things” and how he admired the “Greek attitude” about nature (1056). It seems like his desire for a more “primeval” nature experience is a way to cleanse himself from the experience of being in nature. It’s a return to a simpler time, almost.

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