That’s a Wrap, Folks

On the very first day of class this semester, we read the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. The first few lines were, “The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim” (27). My main takeaway from this class is how wrong that statement is. Over the course of this semester, through analyzing Wilde’s work, Wilde as a person was revealed to us. Because of the society Wilde lived in, he had to conceal his queer identity, but Wilde’s queerness shines through in his work. 

My research paper focuses on how Wilde was able to identify with Plato’s Symposium—a work that focuses on how the relationship where an older man mentors a younger man is the highest form of love—in a time when there wasn’t any other form of queer representation. Identifying with the Symposium allowed Wilde to see his queer identity being represented as beautiful in a time when homosexual acts were reviled. Therefore, Wilde enacted the relationship dynamics of the Symposium in his relationship with Bosie and other young men, where the younger men would inspire him and he would mentor and praise them. However, even if we didn’t learn anything about Wilde’s biography this semester, we’d learn a lot about Wilde and his connection to the Symposium just by examining his work. 

Although The Picture of Dorian Gray was meant to “conceal the artist,” Wilde very much reveals himself and his ideas in this work. The Symposium isn’t referenced in Dorian Gray, but the inspiration is apparent. The relationship between Basil and Dorian is one where an artist is inspired by the beauty of a younger man. Basil says, “Dorian, from the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me. I was dominated soul, brain, and power by you” (89). This relationship seems to mirror Wilde’s relationship with Bosie, but Dorian Gray was written before this relationship. Dorian Gray is actually a representation of the relationship dynamic put forth in the Symposium as the highest form of love. Basil and Dorian seem to prefigure Wilde and Bosie. Through analyzing Wilde’s work, we can see how Wilde places himself in the tradition of Plato by connecting the Symposium to Dorian Gray and then to himself. However, even though Wilde and his characters were acting out the “highest form of love,” Wilde still lived in a time that didn’t accept queerness, and both his characters’ and his own life ended in tragedy. 

Wilde is a fascinating and tragic figure, and I really appreciated being able to learn about him over the course of the semester. Despite Wilde’s efforts to conceal himself in his art, being able to analyze his works this semester really enabled me to understand Wilde as a person. In turn, since I know more about Wilde as a person, I can appreciate his works even more.

Hate is Blind, but so is Love

Throughout De Profundis, Wilde’s distinction between the Love within himself and the Hatred within Bosie showcases Wilde’s lack of self-awareness. He argues extensively about how hatred causes blindness but seems thoroughly unwilling to analyze how his love for Bosie might have blinded him as well. In class this past week, we talked about how Wilde can’t see past his own narcissism. He calls out Bosie thoroughly in De Profundis, but he doesn’t take the blame to the same extent. He analyzes the situation, but can’t see where he needs to change. 

One of the most scathing call-outs in De Profundis is when Wilde tells Bosie, “In you, Hate was always stronger than Love” (999). Wilde acknowledges that Bosie loves him. He believes that Bosie doesn’t just love him for his fame and wealth; he thinks there’s something more to Bosie’s love for him. However, any sense of love that Bosie might have for Wilde is far outstripped by Bosie’s hate for his father. Therefore, Wilde becomes a pawn in Bosie’s plan to hurt his father. The plan to land Bosie’s father in jail was doomed from the start, but Bosie couldn’t see that. Wilde writes, “Love can read the writing on the remotest star, but Hate so blinded you that you could see no further than the narrow, walled-in, and already lust-withered garden of your common desires” (1000). Although I agree with Wilde that Hate does blind people, Wilde exhibits a lack of self-awareness of how Love blinded him as well. He claims that “Love can read the writing on the remotest star” and therefore he could see the flaws in Bosie’s plan from the beginning, and yet, he still went along with taking Bosie’s father to court. All of Wilde’s friends were against this idea, but he just goes along with Bosie’s advice instead. This behavior reminded me of the Love in a Dark Time reading. Since Wilde loved Bosie in a time when their love was forbidden, that made the love more intense. It made him blindly follow Bosie. However, Wilde doesn’t acknowledge his own faults in this situation. 

Wilde villainizes Bosie and paints himself as a victim of Bosie’s hatred. Wilde writes, “The aim of Love is to love: no more, and no less. You were my enemy: such an enemy as no man ever had. I had given you my life, and to gratify the lowest and most contemptible of human passions, Hatred and Vanity and Greed, you had thrown it away” (1005). Although it is tragic that Wilde wasted his love and had his life ruined, if “Love can read the writing on the remotest star,” he should’ve seen this coming. Wilde doesn’t seem to realize that he was complicit in having his life ruined. Perhaps if he were more critical of his own choices, his life wouldn’t have been the tragedy that it was. Perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten back together with Bosie after he got out of prison. Perhaps he could’ve made changes in his life. However, Wilde let prison destroy him. He predestined himself for tragedy.

Wilde and Christ

What surprised me most about reading De Profundis is how Wilde portrays himself as a Christ-like figure. Wilde suffered a great deal while in prison, and as we read in this letter to Bosie, he goes through a significant emotional and spiritual journey. Wilde draws a lot of parallels between himself and Christ, and this identification seems to be a way to give his suffering meaning. 

One parallel between Wilde and Christ was Wilde’s forgiveness of Bosie, even though Bosie may not have appreciated his forgiveness at the time. Although Wilde spends a majority of the letter disparaging Bosie’s actions, he feels like the only thing he can do is forgive Bosie. Although Wilde states that he’s forgiving Bosie for his own sake to unburden his soul, he also states, “I cannot allow you to go through life bearing in your heart the burden of having ruined a man like me…I must take the burden from you and put it on my own” (1017). The sentiment of taking Bosie’s burden for his own really stood out to me and brought to mind Christ taking on the burden of humanity’s sins. Even though humanity caused Jesus to suffer, He had to take on their sins to save them. He forgives them. In a similar way, Wilde takes on Bosie’s sins and suffers for them. Wilde identifying with Christ in this way may have given his suffering meaning while in prison. 

Another way Wilde identifies with Christ is by portraying Christ as a romantic artist. Wilde views Christ’s life as a romantic tragedy. Christ’s ideals were too radical for the rigid Philistines of the time, and He suffered because of that. Wilde states, “All great ideas are dangerous. That is what Christ’s creed admits of no doubt. That is the true creed I don’t doubt myself” (1037). Like Christ, Wilde’s ideas of Love and Beauty were too great to be accepted by the “British Philistines,” as Wilde so calls them. Wilde views Christ as having suffered for the ultimate ideal of Art. Since Wilde also feels as if he’s suffering due to ideas presented in his art, he could take comfort in Jesus doing the same. 

Wilde’s spiritual journey was one of the most interesting aspects of De Profundis, and it’s fascinating to see how faith played a part in getting him through his experiences in prison.

Wilde Wilding in His First Trial

Throughout this semester, we’ve discussed how Oscar Wilde attempted to live as art through the way he presented himself, from the way he dressed to the way he spoke. Wilde’s modus operandi of living as art is extremely apparent through the way he behaved during his first trial in Gross Indecency. Throughout the first trial, Oscar Wilde behaves in his typical Oscar Wilde fashion: as the most intelligent and witty person in the room. It’s almost as if Wilde believed that just based on the virtue of being clever he could get out of any trouble. 

Wilde living as art and entertainment is most plainly exhibited when he is examined by Edward Carson. Carson brings up excerpts of Wilde’s letters and works to prove that Wilde has had relations with men, making Queensberry’s claim fact as opposed to libel. However, for every excerpt that Carson brings up, Wilde only has a witticism to say in response. When Carson reads out Wilde’s romantic letter to Bosie, Wilde responds that the letter is art and is therefore meant to include beautiful phrases. Only an artist such as Wilde could have written that letter. Carson replies, “‘Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry.’ Is that a beautiful phrase?” (35). Wilde only responds with, “Not as you read it, Mr. Carson. You read it very badly” (35). Wilde has enough confidence in this trial to directly insult the lawyer examining him. It’s as if he believes this trial is just another stage to entertain his audience and that he won’t face consequences as long as he’s entertaining.

Wilde getting questioned about his work is where he triumphs in this trial. Here, he proclaims that no art is moral or immoral, it is only well or poorly written. He also claims, “I rarely think that anything I write is true” (39). He reiterates the ideas we have read in other works of his, and through this, he makes a convincing case that nothing he has written can really be used against him. This part of the trial reminded me a lot of “The Decay of Lying” where Wilde makes a case that lying is essential to being entertaining. That’s what this part of the trial is: a string of entertaining lies. 

However, where Wilde falters is when the questioning moves away from his works and towards his relationships with young men. He can’t make up pretty lies when the evidence is staring him in the face. He’s forced to give up this libel suit when the young men that Wilde has had relations with are threatened to be brought in. Being art wasn’t enough to save Wilde in the end.

Salomé and Choices

What I found most interesting about Salomé is how Salomé’s choices have complete control over the direction of the play, and how this control directly comes from her attractiveness. At the beginning of the play, she is able to manipulate Narraboth into bringing out Jokanaan because he desires her. When she meets Jokanaan, she pursues him. She tells him how much he admires his appearance and asks him to let her kiss him. This is an interesting reversal of gender roles because it is usually the man who pursues the woman and tells her how beautiful she is. This reversal of gender roles happens in Wilde’s other works as well, such as in An Ideal Husband when Lady Chiltern is invested in politics while Lord Goring is interested in fashion. However, Jokanaan wants nothing to do with her, and for once, Salomé is unable to get what she wants. 

Salomé is also shown to have the ability to exert control over Herod. Like with Narraboth, Herod seems to desire Salomé, and Salomé is able to get what she wants because of this. There’s an interesting contrast between Salomé and her mother Herodias. While Salomé is able to get what she wants from Herod, Herod never listens to Herodias when she asks him to stop looking at Salomé. This could be because Herod desires Salomé over his wife, and so Salomé can sway him to do things. He offers her anything if she dances for him, including half his kingdom. However, instead of asking for half the kingdom, she asks for the head of Jokanaan. Herod tries to offer her other things, but she refuses them all. Her mother approves of Salomé’s choice. 

What’s interesting about Salomé asking for Jokanaan’s head in the play is that in the original Bible story, it’s her mother that asks her to ask for Jokanaan’s head. However, in the play, Salomé asks for the head of her own volition. This gives her more agency in this narrative. It’s like she’s punishing Jokanaan for being the one man who won’t give her what she wants. After she’s presented with Jokanaan’s head, she laments about how much she loved him. This reminded me a lot of how Dorian mourned Sibyl in The Picture of Dorian Gray and how Sibyl became more perfect to him after her death. 

At the very end of this play, however, power is returned to Herod when he has Salomé killed for her actions. This reminded me a bit of the end of An Ideal Husband when Lady Chiltern goes back on what she wants when Lord Goring tells her to so her husband can keep his career. No matter how much power Salomé had in the play, power always reverts back to the man.

Lying for Fun :)

While reading The Importance of Being Earnest, I noticed a lot of connections between this work and “The Decay of Lying.” At the beginning of Act 1, Algernon says, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!” (362). This reminded me a lot of how in “The Decay of Lying,” Vivian states that modern literature is worse off because people don’t make up entertaining lies anymore and that they were too adherent to realism. Throughout Wilde’s works, an ongoing theme is that it’s a good thing to lie as long as it’s entertaining. 

In the first half of this play, Algernon and Jack lie constantly for their own personal gain and amusement. They both made up people in order to go into the country or into town, and even when Jack decides to stop using Earnest as an excuse to go into the city, he decides the best way to get rid of Earnest is to kill him off instead of going clean. Both characters adhere to Wilde’s philosophy about lying. 

However, Wilde seems to contradict his philosophy about lying by introducing consequences to Jack’s actions. When Jack’s lie is found out by Algernon, Algernon goes out into the country pretending to be Earnest, which complicates the situation. Although I haven’t finished the play yet, I predict that Algernon’s and Jack’s lies will implode, they’ll get in trouble for what they’ve done, and they’ll learn “the importance of being earnest,” as the title suggests. Perhaps the reason why Wilde seems to be contradicting himself by introducing consequences is because Algernon and Jack lied for their own personal gain and not just to be entertaining. (Although their lies are very entertaining for us as readers.) Or maybe it’s simply Wilde contradicting his own ideas because he always contradicts himself. But just like telling the truth, consistency is boring, and it’s better to be inconsistent and entertaining than boring.

Sir Robert Chiltern and the Closet

In class on Wednesday, we spent a lot of time discussing the concept of the closet. In the closet, one hides the parts of oneself one doesn’t want others to see. They must show their best selves to the world or face dire consequences. For Oscar Wilde, he had to hide his queerness from the world, and in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian had to hide away his corruption and project the image of perfection to the rest of society. While reading An Ideal Husband, Sir Robert Chiltern’s conflict reminded me of the concept of the closet. 

Sir Chiltern has an important position as the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs and a reputation as an upstanding man of honor. However, in his youth, he sold government secrets to Baron Arnheim in order to make his fortune. Now, Mrs. Cheveley is blackmailing him by threatening to expose his past in order to make him support the Argentine Canal plan, which he knows is a scam. If Mrs. Cheveley exposed him, he could lose everything. Mrs. Cheveley says to Sir Chiltern that, “Nowadays, with our modern mania for morality, every one has to pose as a paragon of purity, incorruptibility, and all the other seven deadly virtues… Scandals used to lend charm or at least interest, to a man—now they crush him” (528). Like Dorian, Sir Chiltern has to project a perfect public image in order to maintain his place in society. 

Not only is this perfect image necessary to keep his job, but it’s also necessary to maintain his marriage. His reputation as a man of honor is the reason his wife loves him. When Mrs. Cheveley reveals to Lady Chiltern that Sir Chiltern sold government secrets, Lady Chiltern says, “What a mask you have been wearing all these years! A horrible painted mask! You sold yourself for money” (552). She’s calling Sir Chiltern out for maintaining a facade of perfection. However, Sir Chiltern’s morally dubious act was the reason he got his fortune and was able to marry Lady Chiltern in the first place. He just needed to hide that he ever did anything unvirtuous in order to maintain his lot in life.

Just Guys Being Dudes, Dudes Being Guys

In my blog post last week, I talked about how the references Wilde made to the Symposium in “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.” and at his trial were used as a defense for having close relationships with men and admiring their beauty. In class on Wednesday, we talked about homosocial relationships between men and how that featured in The Picture of Dorian Gray. To me, it seems like this use of homosocial relationships in Dorian Gray is used as a defense for Basil, Lord Henry, and Dorian’s relationship in the same way that the Symposium is used as a defense for Shakespeare and Willie Huges’ relationship in “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.”

In class, we talked about how certain homosocial behavior is viewed as acceptable only if all the participants in this behavior are straight. For instance, during a men’s basketball game, it’s perfectly acceptable to give your teammate a butt pat. However, if either of those players isn’t straight, the act is viewed with entirely new meaning. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry and Basil being completely obsessed with Dorian’s beauty can just be viewed as, to use a colloquial turn of phrase, dudes being guys, guys being dudes. Straight is often seen as the default, even today. Therefore, unless explicitly stated, Basil, Lord Henry, and Dorian can be read as completely straight, and the admiration of Dorian’s beauty is just perfectly acceptable homosocial behavior. In fact, if you see anything queer about their relationship, you’re probably the weird one. 

This can all tie back to the Preface of Dorian Gray, where Wilde says that this work is just meant to be a thing of beauty, and if you find anything off with it, there’s something off with you. He’s saying that no one should try to look past the surface level of Basil, Lord Henry, and Dorian’s relationship with each other. They’re all just good buds, and it’s perfectly cool for good buds to be obsessed with each other. What’s interesting to me is that this defense actually worked for a while, because as mentioned in class, for years, queerness wasn’t even mentioned when studying The Picture of Dorian Gray. Basil, Lord Henry, and Dorian were just viewed as friends, albeit friends who corrupted each other, but just friends nonetheless. I just think it’s interesting how for so long, no one really wanted to peer beneath the surface of Dorian Gray.

The Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name

What I found most interesting about “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.” was the references to Plato’s Symposium. It’s a collection of speeches about the nature of Eros, the god of love and desire, and a lot of it focuses on pederasty—the relationship between an older man and a young man. The older man was meant to act as a mentor for the young man and help him develop as a person, but there was also a sexual aspect to this relationship. It was fairly common practice among the elite of Ancient Greece. 

In my copy of the Symposium, it mentions that when the Symposium was studied in the past, the sexual aspect of the relationship was ignored, and it was just interpreted as a mentor and mentee relationship between men. When I read the first part “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.,” I thought that the relationship between Shakespeare and Willie Hughes was meant to be seen as romantic. However, on pages 324 and 325 Wilde references the Symposium and says that the Platonic conception of love is “nothing if not spiritual” and is removed from “gross bodily appetite.” This leads me to believe that Wilde included the references to the Symposium as somewhat of a defense against critics who might interpret the relationship between Shakespeare and Willie Hughes as indecent. Wilde might be using the references to say that it’s perfectly natural for Shakespeare to admire Willie Hughes’ beauty because that’s what the Greeks did, and it’s actually one of the higher forms of affection. 

Wilde even alludes to the Symposium at his trial. When questioned about the line, “the love that dare not speak its name” from one of Bosie’s poems, Wilde replied that, “There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope, and glamour of life before him.” This defense had mixed results at the trial, but it’s interesting to see the ideas of the Symposium get referenced in multiple works of Wilde’s.

American Stereotypes

What struck me the most about Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost” was how aggressively American the United States Minister’s family was. One of the funniest bits in the story in my opinion was the childrens’ names, with the eldest named Washington, the daughter named Virginia, and the nameless twins called the Stars and Stripes. Wilde brought up American stereotypes in this story that I didn’t even know existed, such as when the family discussed the importance of the city of Boston and how they thought that the New York accent was much more pleasant than the London drawl.

When I first read the story, I thought the family being American was just a way for Wilde to make some jabs at Americans and comment on how their disposition is so different from British people’s. However, after reading “The Decay of Lying,” I think there are more layers to Wilde deciding to make this family American.

In “The Decay of Lying,” Wilde comments on, “The crude commercialism of America, its materialising spirit, its indifference to the poetical side of things, and its lack of imagination and of high unattainable ideals” (1081).

All these traits that Wilde mentions in “The Decay of Lying” are present in the Otis family, including the “crude commercialism,” which comes up when the minister name drops name-brand stain remover and lubricant. This leads me to believe that instead of being a family that exhibits some American stereotypes, the Otis family is a stand-in for all of America.

Believing in ghosts and hauntings requires a bit of imagination and fancy, but since the Otis family is American and is indifferent to poetics and has no imagination, they initially don’t believe a ghost is haunting Canterville. Even when the ghost is proven to be real, they are almost indifferent to the ghost’s attempts to scare them, except for when Washington and the twins torment the ghosts. The ghost and the family are in an odd sort of limbo with the ghost unable to leave and the family not being affected by the ghost. It is only when Virginia listens to the ghost that the situation is resolved. She is able to sympathize with him, listen to the prophecy, and walk with him to the Garden of Death. She isn’t indifferent to poetics and imagination which is why she is able to lead him out.

The Ameican family is able to survive because of their Americanness, unlike the British inhabitants before them. However, it’s Virginia’s combination of American ideals and being open to imagination that fixes things.