Before this semester, I had never read anything written by Oscar Wilde. I knew he was famous, and I knew a little bit about The Picture of Dorian Gray, but that was pretty much the extent of my experience with Wilde. Nearing the end of the semester, I am grateful to have not only read a variety of complex works written by a revered author, but also to have learned more about Wilde’s history and how his character and actions influenced his own art, the art of others to follow, and our society as a whole. I was particularly interested by his plays, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest. Thinking about the various layers coexisting within the works and the degrees to which Wilde may or may not have been pushing back against traditional Victorian society and being able to connect his work to past and future authors was interesting. We talked about his Platonic and Shakespearean influences, but I also couldn’t help but relate his work to early modern playwrights like Margaret Cavendish and Aphra Behn in how they explored gender roles and questioned the role of art and genre in their work, and I really enjoyed seeing how Wilde’s own work has had an impact on how we understand art today. Looking forward, I hope to see some of Wilde’s work performed on stage for a more complete view of their meanings, since the visual performance adds yet another layer to an already interesting work. I do still wonder, how much of Wilde’s current success is a result of the quality of his work that readers still recognize today, or a result of the overarching influence of his personal life. Either way, I am leaving this class with a greater appreciation of art, of the history of turning points, and of the role Wilde played in both of those areas.
For this final blog, I wanted to reflect on this class as a whole. I already knew Oscar Wilde was a genius writer before taking a deeper look into his works, but what I wasn’t expecting was how much I learned about myself in class. I kept coming back to the variety of masks we don within our lives. Living in a simultaneously accepting and ostracizing society means we are all forced to cater to those around us. Reading the various works of Oscar Wilde, I could see how he wielded his mask in English society, and how he lost a little bit of himself trying so hard to fit in. In my research paper, part of what I am examining is how Wilde conceptualized himself and his identity throughout his lifetime. I think the space where he was able to examine and think about things was in his spirituality.
Unlike our Roman Catholicism today, Wilde grew up with the Irish folk-Catholicism of his ancestors, which had quite the hybrid make-up. This meant that different aspects of religion and pagan rituals were included in their spirituality. Being the place for the misfits and the outcasts, Wilde found the place where he could be accepted by God for simply who he was. Love was the guiding principle in his spiritual and outward life. But in a world where his attractions were thought of as gross and indecent, he did not have much of a chance to let his true self shine through. The only place where the mask slipped was in his art because as we learned from Basil Hallward, real art reveals more about the artist than it does the audience. Pieces of Wilde’s soul found their way into all his art no matter how veiled he tried to make it. Wilde was not ready to confront the truth of his identity until the mask was forcibly ripped from his face. In De Profundis, We finally get to see a Wilde who took the time to reflect on his life and its mistakes. Even though it was hard to live in a world that hated you for existing, Wilde recognized the error of his ways, and how a material life may not actually be the best way to live. After experiencing true suffering and sorrow, the decadent artist found the importance of the mental and emotional life. There is more beauty to be experienced outside the realm of the material and the pleasurable. That beauty comes to Wilde when he is finally ready to accept himself fully, and shatter the mask that he held onto for so long. It opened up the world for him and made way for religion and spirituality to become the central support of his life, rather than the invisible backbone.