This connection results as much from the lurid details of his life as from his considerable contributions to English literature. His lasting literary fame resides primarily in four or five plays, one of which— The Importance of Being Earnest, first produced in —is a classic of comic theater. His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is flawed as a work of art, but gained him much of his notoriety.
This book gives a particularly s perspective on the timeless theme of sin and punishment. Wilde published a volume of poems early in his career as a writer.
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Some of these poems were successful, but his only enduring work in this genre is The Ballad of Reading Gaol. On a curious but productive tangent to his more serious work, Wilde produced two volumes of fairy tales that are delightful in themselves and provide insight into some of his serious social and artistic concerns. His significant literary contributions are rounded off by his critical essays, most notably in Intentions , and his long soul-searching letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, De Profundis, written in from Reading Gaol.
Imprisonment for homosexuality was a particularly tragic end for an artist who believed that style—in life as well as art—was of utmost importance. That Wilde became a literary artist in the first place is not so surprising since, as H. Montgomery Hyde reported in Oscar Wilde: A Biography, his mother was a poet and Irish revolutionary who published under the name "Speranza," and his father a successful eye and ear surgeon in Dublin and "author of a work which remained the standard textbook on aural surgery for many years.
His mother doted on him as a child and, according to Hyde, "insisted on dressing him in girl's clothes.
William Wilde was a notorious philanderer, and, in an ironic foreshadowing of his son's famous trials, suffered public condemnation when a libel case disclosed his sexual indiscretions with a young woman named Mary Travers. It was at Oxford that Wilde came under the influences of John Ruskin, a critic, writer, and professor, and Walter Pater, a critic and essayist whose Studies in the History of The Renaissance legitimized Wilde's nascent ideas on art and individualism.
After taking his B. Most of the poems in this volume had been previously published in various Irish periodicals. The collection met with mixed reviews, less favorable in England than in America. Punch was at the vanguard of the criticism, leveling what was to become a common charge against Wilde: "Mr. Wilde may be aesthetic, but he is not original. This is a volume of echoes, it is Swinburne and water.
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Some of these early poems—"Panthea," for example—are, as one would expect from a young aesthete, poems that extol pleasure and sensation: "to feel is better than to know. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. Perhaps the best poems of the volume are those titled "Impressions," in which "Wilde attains sharpness and total complexity in the depiction of scenes," San Juan remarked.
This most exotic of all Wilde's poems begins with the raven-like sphinx planted in the corner of the poet's room and proceeds through a series of imagined scenes in which the sphinx is depicted as a goddess, a prophet, and a lover. Reviewers criticized the work for being sensational and artificial, but later critics have found some notable qualities; in San Juan's words, "Among all Wilde's poems, 'The Sphinx' alone betrays a masculine energy that enlivens gorgeous landscape, fusing religion, iconology, and historical facts within the current of meditation and monologue.
Frances Winwar, in Oscar Wilde and the Yellow Nineties, described this social aspect of his fame: "His life from now on assumed an air of arrogance. He would do nothing in moderation—except work. But then, his real work was accomplished when he talked. Before a group of listeners, especially if they were young and handsome and titled, he outdid himself.
In the spark of their admiration his mind quickened. Epigram followed epigram, one more dazzling, more preposterous than the other, yet always, like the incandescent core of the firework, with a burning truth at the heart. That Wilde told these stories at dinner parties before they were published illustrates an unusual fact about their intended audience: they were not composed for children. A few of the stories in the first volume, particularly "The Happy Prince" and "The Selfish Giant," continually find their way into anthologies of fairy tales for children, but most of the book's nine tales do not appeal to young people.
This is particularly true of the stories in The House of Pomegranates, which generally have more elaborate plots and a more mannered style than do those in The Happy Prince and Other Tales.
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When asked if the tales of the second volume were intended for children, Wilde replied in a typically flippant way: "I had about as much intention of pleasing the British child as I did of pleasing the British public. I hardly know whether to admire more the wise wit of 'The Remarkable Rocket' or the beauty and tenderness of 'The Selfish Giant': the latter is perfect in its kind.
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Wilde's love of beauty and his conception of its fleeting quality find expression in this story of a nightingale who sacrifices its life to produce the perfect rose. In the story's final satirical twist the beautiful rose is rejected because it does not match the color of a young girl's dress. In Oscar Wilde, Robert K. Miller declared that this ironic turn reveals Wilde's "ambivalence toward love" that is "related to his ambivalence about women. The imaginative sympathy of the giant is similar to that which Wilde ascribes to Christ in his later work, De Profundis. Both Quintus and Miller emphasized Wilde's moral point of view in these stories.
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This element has already been seen in some of the early poems, and it reappears in Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Quintus was careful to point out, however, that "Wilde's tales are not.
This is Wilde's only novel, a blend of French decadence and English gothicism. It is filled with genuinely witty dialogue and beautiful descriptive passages, while sometimes descending to the level of slick melodrama and ponderous theorizing. The novel details the life of a hedonistic aristocrat, Dorian Gray. When Dorian sees the portrait that Basil Hallward paints of him, he wishes he could change places with his likeness, remain always young and beautiful, and allow the portrait to bear the effects of time—and, as it turns out, the effects of sin.
As in the world of the fairy tale, the wish is granted, but at a terrible price. At the time he was writing The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde became friendly with Robert "Robbie" Ross, whom he had first met in at Oxford and who later served as Wilde's literary executor after faithfully standing by him through Wilde's trials and the horrors of Wilde's two years in prison. Montgomery Hyde, in Oscar Wilde: A Biography, cited "strong grounds for believing that it was with [Ross] that Wilde first deliberately experimented in homosexual practices.
I heard a clergyman extolling it, he only regretted some of the sentiments. A particularly scathing attack in The Scots Observer made a veiled reference to Wilde's homosexuality and suggested he take up tailoring or some other "decent" trade. For the novel's hardcover edition, published the following year, Wilde made some changes, most important of which was the addition of six chapters and the famous epigrammatic preface.
Perhaps surprisingly, the reviews this time were more favorable. Joyce Carol Oates in Critical Inquiry described the novel as a "parable of the fall" and identified Dorian's sin in his practice of involving others, "without any emotion,. His life becomes a series of one-night stands, each encounter briefer than the last.
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The painter Basil Hallward, for all his goodness, sublimates his true feelings in the beautiful portrait. Lord Henry Wotton, for all his theories about the importance of indiscriminate experience, does not act. And Dorian Gray, whose actions with others lead him only to the point of prizing things such as tapestries, jewels, and vestments, unconvincingly tries to redeem himself with the village girl Hetty, but succeeds only in ending his life in a melodramatic fashion. Though hastily written and clumsily constructed, it manages to haunt many readers with vivid memories of its visionary descriptions.
From the reader's viewpoint, the picture suggests the treatment of angle and distance—the ways of telling and showing—which make up the perennial issues of the aesthetics and criticism of fiction. It is rather because of his dramas that Wilde's reputation has remained most secure. Makers of Worlds, Readers of Signs. Kfir Cohen and Kfir Cohen Lustig. The Center. Sadie Stein and Nina Freudenberger. Harold Bloom. The William H. Gass Reader. William H. Ecstasy and Terror.
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Lewis Hyde and Lewis Hyde. Year of the Monkey. Monster, She Wrote. Graham Greene: The Last Interview. Graham Greene. Chen Style Taijiquan Collected Masterworks. Great Goddesses. Nikita Gill. Trick Mirror. Jia Tolentino. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Richard Ellmann editor. Although known primarily as the irreverent but dazzlingly witty playwright who penned The Importance of Being Earnest , Oscar Wilde was also an able and farsighted critic.
He was an early advocate of criticism as an independent branch of literature and stressed its vital role in the creative process.