It’s hard to believe that this will be my final blog post for this class, the semester flew by, and just like that, I have one more year left of college. I went into this class not being 100% sure what to expect, only knowing that Wilde was one of the authors who I found fascinating, yet did not get to read about as much as I would have liked throughout the course of my English major. I’m Irish myself, by ancestry anyhow, and of course Wilde is held in high regard alongside names like Joyce and Yeats as one of the great Irish writers of all time. Furthermore, I always knew Wilde as a legendary figure within the LGBT community, one of the great martyrs who was essentially worked to death for expressing his sexuality. The more one reads of Wilde, the easier it is to lionize him, as he spoke and acted with perhaps unparalleled wit and humor, as Bosie said, his words were spoken with the confidence and intelligence of a pre-written speech. 

I went into this course knowing Wilde as many things, a genius, a martyr, an icon, but I’m leaving it with a new understanding of Wilde as a man. Largely from reading the transcripts from his trials, and De Profundis, I realized the pedestal we place Wilde on, while understandably high, distorts who he was as a person and, though he likely wouldn’t like me connecting the two, as an artist. Through the non-fiction works in this course, I saw the many flaws Wilde carried with him, his arrogance, self-centeredness, and, at times, downright irresponsibility in the face of dire circumstances. I made no attempts to hide my frustration with him, for it seemed to me Wilde was a hypocrite, arguing he has a higher duty to art than anything else, then allowing his own artistic flame to be snuffed out for reasons I still do not fully comprehend. So many great artists have been taken from the world prematurely, that it angered me somewhat that Wilde essentially committed suicide by judge, refusing to leave the country when he had the opportunity, and not taking the court case for which his life depended all that seriously (though, to his credit, it likely would not have mattered much). 

However, in my judgment of Wilde, I failed to see him as he was, holding him to a higher standard (one he set himself, but still) than is fair to him, I forgot that, at the end of the day, Oscar Wilde is just a man, and every man has a breaking point. The exhaustion that must come with keeping a secret like homosexuality must have been excruciating to Wilde, and it seems to me that it got to the point where he simply wanted it all to be over, one way or the other. In this way, Wilde, by acting how we would expect a character from one of his plays to act at his own trial, he is showing his true self. In the end, Wilde may have argued he was staying true to his art, and that may be true, but ultimately, he was being true to himself, and in that way, I believe it is possible to extract a glimmer of triumph from Wilde’s complete and utter defeat; all he had to do to survive was to put on a mask, and be a different person for a few hours, but he refused, allowing himself to be destroyed, but not defeated. 

Art from the Artist, Wilde from his Wit

When I visited Dublin, I took the attached photograph of a plaque designating Oscar Wilde’s childhood home, which describes the man with the three titles of “Poet,” “Dramatist,” and “Wit.” I always found that description of him quite unique, as it would seem to imply that, when it comes to understanding Wilde, it is just as critical to understand his wit as it is the art he produced; in other words, ironically enough, it seems that Wilde has become a person particularly difficult to detach from his art. This, of course, goes against Wilde’s own beliefs (or, at least, his stated beliefs) that one must ignore the artist and criticize the art they produce independent of its creator. I think it is fair to say that, if Wilde’s goal was to create art which his audience could fully comprehend while ignoring the man behind the words, he failed, in two distinct respects. For one, very few of his works (specifically his plays) do not have characters the audience immediately understands to be a surrogate for Wilde himself. Here, we come to an impasse, as Wilde’s wit is torn between contributing to his art, and being a personality trait of his, no reader of any of his plays would complain that it is full of witticisms Wilde would likely say in real life, but how can Wilde expect the audience to disconnect the artist from the art, if his own art is such an overt reflection of his own personality? Furthermore, it’s not as if Wilde makes any real attempt to separate his art from his own life, that much is evident when reading his trial transcript, where Wilde (I do not think it is a stretch to say) acted remarkably similar to characters one might find in his plays, specifically the witty characters who do not take anything seriously. How then, can I, as a reader, be expected to separate the art from the artist, when Wilde treats the real world as if it were his own personal stage? I do not think Wilde is wrong to insert himself into his stories, all artists do, in some way or another, but I do think he is being unfair if he expects the audience to ignore his presence. I understand the desire for one’s art to be evaluated strictly on its own merits, independent of the artist behind it, but Wilde (perhaps not entirely unintentionally) makes it quite literally impossible to do so, as I think the existence of classes like this proves definitively. 

Wilde’s Very Own Jesus Christ

In De Profundis, Wilde writes that, if he were to write again, it would likely be on the subject of, as he says,  “Christ as the precursor of the romantic movement in life.” I’ve always felt that Wilde’s relationship to Christ was an interesting one, specifically in that Wilde seems to be able to view Christ from a purely artistic perspective, as he’s never seemed to mind much care about the possible heresies that may result from such an interpretation. While a more traditional Christian would have tiptoed around a more risqué interpretation of Jesus, and an atheist would have simply avoided interpreting Christ as being any more than a normal man; Wilde is neither, and thus has a rather unique perspective on Jesus’ teachings. I think that Wilde’s interpretation of Jesus as an artist tells us quite a bit about how Wilde views art as a whole, such as how Christ viewed children as examples for the old to follow, and not the other way around. It seems that Wilde (and if you agree with his interpretation, Christ) were somewhat ahead of the curve, as it seems that more and more the older generation is held to the standards of the younger, and not the other way around. It would seem that Wilde, according to both his writings and quotes from his three trials, treasured youth in a very artistic sense, as he seemed to believe that humans were not beings that accrued wisdom and virtue as they aged, but rather that people are born into this world as pure beings, and as they grow older, they become more and more corrupt. In a way, it is something of a mercy that Wilde died as young as he did, as I honestly don’t know if he would have been able to stand growing old.

My Frustration with Wilde

The more I read of Gross Indecency, the more progressively annoyed I got with Oscar as the play went on, for a number of reasons. For one, his wit, which is delightful in small doses, grew rather tiresome as the play wore on, and I started to understand somewhat why Wilde was someone who was both widely admired, and rather despised by the people of his time. I understand that this play is an artistic rendition of real events, but from what I understand it is a rather accurate one, specifically in regards to how Wilde acted in the courtroom.

The play paints Wilde as someone who is steadfastly determined to be a martyr, despite the harm that may befall those close to him. After all, Douglas was essentially forced to flee to Paris, and his wife and kids had to change their last names because of the verdict. Before being fully aware of the events, I thought of Wilde as a victim of an unfair justice system that punished him for his sexuality, and while that certainly is a side of the story, I find it hard not to perceive Wilde as the engineer of his own destruction. There were just so many ways for him to avoid imprisonment, from not suing the Marquess in the first place to fleeing to France on any number of occasions, at some point, him going to prison becomes somewhat of a conscious decision on his part. While I do very much feel for Wilde, it seems overwhelmingly selfish on his part to choose depriving his children of a father, and the love of his life of a lover, all to make a point about art that, at least in my opinion, is not all that clear. It seems to me that Wilde believed he was forced into choosing either to defend his art, or give in to those who opposed it, but I honestly question if that was ever the case, and I seriously question whether him going to prison accomplished whatever it is Oscar wanted to accomplish. 

Enjoying vs. Interpreting Art

One of the most impactful moments in the play is when, after a number of characters spend much time fashioning detailed and meaningful allegories concerning the moon, Herodias dismisses them all, saying “the moon is just the moon, that is all.” I feel that this dismissal of there being a deeper meaning behind the moon’s appearance, while certainly serving as character development for the princess, also serves as a reflection of the opinions of the Aesthes on art as a whole, and perhaps Wilde’s criticism (or support, it can be hard to keep track) of these views. It seems to me that a central battle that is being waged in the background of all of Wilde’s works is whether art exists to be interpreted, or appreciated, and whether those two actions are mutually exclusive. 

For many, interpretation of art is not necessary to fully enjoy it, and even the most pretentious of art critics will agree that there are certain attributes of truly great art that lend themselves to surface level enjoyment of the work. Those critics will also likely argue that, while great works of art can provide surface level enjoyment, those works can only be enjoyed to the fullest extent after carefully analyzing and understanding every element of the art. However, this logic assumes that there is a direct correlation between information known about something, and one’s enjoyment in that thing, which is obviously not always true. For instance, one’s enjoyment of a particular music artist can be completely destroyed if they investigated their personal lives, and found that they were a horrible person. Despite the enjoyment being destroyed, many would still argue that it is better to know the truth about said artist, which suggests that increased information on a subject does not necessarily increase one’s enjoyment, something anybody who has ever watched a Marvel movie with a film major undoubtedly already knows. 

Focusing back on Wilde, what are his opinions on the topic? Does he believe that art should be enjoyed, but not interpreted? That doesn’t seem to make much sense, given the layered nature of most of his art. However, I believe Wilde would certainly argue that art’s main purpose is to be appreciated, rather than put under a microscope. In the end, I find it hard to nail down exactly what Wilde believes concerning the relationship of appreciation and interpretation in art, though I hope I’ll attain a better understanding of it as the course progresses. 

Wilde Being Earnest with Himself

Everytime I read The Importance of Being Earnest, it seems absurd to me that the socialites of Wilde’s day were not at all outraged by the mockery of themselves and their society which makes up essentially the entirety of the tragicomedy. There was, I’m sure, some blowback from those who watched the play, but it seems that Earnest did very well, as it is widely considered to be Wilde’s best, and most famous production. I suppose it is likely because the play is rarely biting or direct in its criticism of the upper class that it gets away with all of its mockery, and I imagine a good bit of it went over many of the audience members’ heads at the time it was first put to stage. 

Despite this play clearly being a parody of the ridiculous restrictions and expectations of upper class life in England, I believe that Wilde also intended to poke fun at himself with The Importance of Being Earnest. I think this can be seen in his insert character, Algernon Moncrieff, who, like most of Wilde’s other insert characters, relentlessly mocks the society he is living in, much to the general confusion of those around him. A line that stands out to me is, after Algernon states his apathy concerning societal standards, Aunt Augusta retorts, “Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.” While Augusta as a character is clearly a mockery of high society, I feel there is some truth that can be extracted from her words here, and it may be that Wilde is admitting a bit of hypocrisy on his part, that he openly mocks high society while taking an active part in it on a regular basis. Overall, while The Importance of Being Earnest serves to mock the social elite of Wilde’s day, it would seem that Wilde is not completely ignorant to the fact that, by most definitions, he himself belongs to that group himself. 

Is Marriage Ideal?

Marriage is undeniably inescapable in Wilde’s play, An Ideal Husband. It seems that there are as many perceptions of marriage as there are characters in the play, as each main character views the prospect (or reality) of marriage completely differently. Though the institution is mocked constantly throughout the play, its importance is never understated, even by those desiring to be life-long bachelors. Even Lord Goring, one of Wilde’s more obvious insert characters, says to Robert, “No man should have a secret from his own wife.” Though he immediately follows this statement up with the qualification, “She invariably finds it out.” Even Goring is ultimately unable to avoid married life, as the play concludes to his marriage to Mabel, though their wedding is itself a parody of marriage itself, as Mabel expresses disgust at the very idea that Goring would be an ideal husband to her. 

It seems that, through heavily parodying the idea of marriage, but never reducing it to absurdity, that the play is recognizing that all things worth parodying must have at least some level of importance in society. In this way, An Ideal Husband is far from anti-marriage, just as The Importance of Being Earnest is far from being anti-posh, rather both seek to point out the absurdity of real life, without reducing real life to mere absurdity. 

This is not to say that An Ideal Husband is pro-marriage or even neutral on the subject, but rather that it is able to make its criticisms of marriage more effectively by recognizing its importance, something that would not be possible if Wilde painted the institution as wholly undesirable and negative. Overall, I think it is clear that there are a lot of moving parts in An Ideal Husband, and if you read past the incredibly rich and witty dialogue, you can see Wilde toeing the line of what can and cannot be said, or performed on stage. 

Art and the Artist, in Dorian Gray

I find it interesting that the turning point of the novel is not necessarily a dramatic moment, but rather a quiet decision made by the main character which ends up having disastrous consequences on himself and those around him. When Sybil dies, Dorian has to make a choice: he can either mourn her death as a human being he once loved, or reduce her to mere fuel for his art, making her death nothing more than inspiration for him. Due to the influence of Lord Henry, he chooses the latter, and at this point his fate is essentially sealed, his true nature is permanently scarred, and will never again be accurately reflected in his pristine and beautiful face. This decision essentially switches Dorian’s place with his painting, leaving him as a mere façade, and the painting to reflect who he really is. 

It seems to me that the painting represents Wilde’s own struggles to practice what he preaches, and keep the artist out of the art. Basil initially believes that the painting cannot be displayed, because it reveals too much about his own character, and ironically enough, this same piece of art becomes a looking glass to Dorian’s soul, becoming completely distorted from Basil’s original vision. Later in the novel, Basil seems to have had a change of perspective on his art, instead believing that true art conceals the artist, rather than revealing his true nature. This belief seems to be more closely aligned to Wilde’s, but I’m not sure if that’s the message the book itself is attempting to get across. If anything, it seems that the strong desire to completely remove the artist from his art is a destructive force thus far, implying that such a thing is impossible.

Finding the Douglases in their art

What interested me the most about the readings for this week was what can be inferred about the relationship between some of the poets and the Decadence movement. Though many of these same artists would detest the very idea that the artist can be found in their art, I do not think it can be denied that some of the poetry we read this week was deeply personal. 

This is seen perhaps most clearly in Lord Alfred Douglas’ works, as his works seem to often reflect his personal feelings about his own sexuality, and the Decadence movement as a whole. The first poem of his we read, “Apologia,” seems to me to be a representation of Douglas’ inner conflict between his sexuality and religion, as he seems to understand that they are not compatible, though he longs to indulge both. The closing lines of “Two Loves” talk of a True Love which, in its own words is “the love that dare not speak its name.” These closing lines and the poem as a whole seem to reflect how difficult it is for Douglas to keep his true feelings hidden from the world, and to not feel shame for indulging in a love that the rest of society says is morally wrong. Both of these themes are prevalent in many of Wilde’s works as well, and it is quite telling how influential they both were to each other. 

A complicated relationship to the Decadence movement can be seen in Lady Alfred Douglas’ works, as it seems to me that her relationship to the movement is one of both appreciation and criticism. In her first selection, “Peacocks: A Mood” she characterizes the decadents of her age as the titular bird, clearly in appreciation of their aesthetic qualities. However, though she recognizes the peacocks as “gorgeous,” she criticizes them because “They trample the pale flowers, and their shrill cry/Troubles the garden’s bright tranquility.” It seems that the poem is recognizing the beauty that can be found in the art of the Decadence movement, but also seems to warn that such a focus on art for arts sake can ultimately destroy the artistic landscape of the time. 

Wilde’s use of Parody in “The Canterville Ghost” and “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime”

What struck me the most about both “The Canterville Ghost” and “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” was how subversive they were to two popular genres of stories, those being ghost stories and murder mysteries respectively. 

“Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” very clearly mocks Victorian society, a culture in which everybody does what they feel they are supposed to do, instead of what they might want to do. This is reflected most in the titular character, who feels that, because a fortune teller foretells murder in his future, he must go about killing someone close to him, just to get the inevitable murder out of the way. Arthur never considers simply not murdering anybody, but instead allows others to command his actions for him. Through attempting to conform to external pressures, he ends up performing several vile acts, culminating in throwing a man off a bridge, killing him. Arthur feels no regret after this, immediately marries his fiancé, and lives happily ever after. I believe the story is also a commentary on how the upper class get away with everything, as Arthur attempted two murders and succeeded with a third and faced zero legal repercussions. 

“The Canterville Ghost” is quite clearly a satire on common ghost stories at the time, as the titular specter is far from an intimidating villain, but rather a bumbling fool. It seems significant that the ghost is haunting a house in England that is lived in by a family of Americans, and that said Americans are immune from his attempts to frighten them. To me, the ghost is a reflection, somewhat of Victorian values, as he feels it is his duty to spook and frighten the residents of the house, almost as if he is honor bound to do so. As Americans have different values, they are completely unfazed by the ghost, but instead attempt to rationally deal with the small amount of trouble he causes their family. I found it interesting that the daughter of the family, named Virginia in reference to both the state in which Europeans first journeyed to America and the Virgin Mary, served as the savior of the ghost, allowing him to abandon his duty and finally rest, after becoming one with nature. This seems to be symbolic of Wilde’s desire for all people to give up the stuffy customs of the day, and start living life at one with the world, and with oneself.