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Posted on May 4th, 2014, by

Gwendolen’s dream was to marry a man named Ernest (“There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence”¯), and she advises Worthing to find worthy relatives to the end of the season, while he is he is a foundling brought up by a compassionate squire, who discovered him in the bag forgotten in a storage room at London’s Victoria Station (Wilde 37).

An attentive reader will notice that in the course of casual conversations, the characters of Wilde’s comedies dwell upon a wide range of issues. Public life and politics, manners and morals, family and marriage – they talk about everything, it seems, excessively playful sometimes. But it is the ease with which they relate to all that reflects Wilde’s special position in relation to the norms of bourgeois society. This society wants him and his problems treated seriously. Wilde does not want to take seriously the principles of this environment: his is extremely disrespectful towards its holy things, which touches at every turn as he passes by through the words of his characters.

It is easy to see that the morale of both works can be narrowed to a rather commonplace maxim, confirming the necessity of the victory of virtue and punishment over vice. Thus, we readily agree with Wilde when he ridicules the sanctimonious morality. But Wilde's characters use to defy amoralism in its essence. In Wilde's comedy, there is always a character who is particularly close to the author: this is a genteel young man speaking out funny paradoxes, sometimes very sharp, and occasionally even really bold. Although he loves presenting himself as extremely immoral and denies all the principles of morality, in the further course of the action, it turns out that it is he who plays the major role in the triumph of truth and justice. Behind all this, Wilde hides the idea that the so-called immoral people are much more moral than those who flaunt their virtues, whereas in fact they have a lot of secret vices and sins against morality (like forgetting a child on the railway station, etc.).

Similarly to this technique, in Stevenson, if we look at Hyde closely, we can see that above him, shuddering with horror, but persistently hovers something that has left from Jekyll – kind of nebulous ring, or halo, just like this dark blob of evil has fallen from the ring of good but the ring itself has not disappeared, as Jekyll is still seeking to return to his appearance (Stevenson 43). It is very important from the perspective that hence, the transformation of Jekyll does not imply the complete metamorphosis, but concentration of evil contained in him. Thus, Jekyll is not the pure embodiment of good, and Hyde (symbolizing Jekyll’s dark side) is not the pure embodiment of evil: just the way the particles of unworthy Hyde live inside quite decent Jekyll, the halo of Jekyll hovers above Hyde, being terrified by the depravity of his own worst half, and the same way every human being may not be purely good or evil – both vice and virtue are intertwined in any personality.

On the one hand, entangled incidents in which two mysterious persons get fatally intertwined and finally turn out to be the same man, are narrated with the abundance of real-world details that enhance the overall impression of dread. However, the meaning of this fantastic story, just as in case of entertaining fibula of Wilde’s comedy, lies much deeper than its outer shell, which makes these works kin. A terrible figure of the doctor dual in his nature is a vivid example of the soul of a modern man, and, perhaps, a man of all times. Stevenson showed deep psychological penetration and courage of analysis in revealing the instability of all our criteria of good and all the richness of human nature, containing equally good and evil sides with their contradictory existences.

In his turn Wilde mocks at the absurd seriousness with which people sometimes take for granted the absurd ideas and ideals, and he is also right when he shows the shakiness of moral foundations of the bourgeois society. But if the morality of this society is hypocritical, this does not also mean that those are better who do not have any moral principles at all.

O. Wilde and R. Stevenson, social activists and writers in the turn of the 19th and 20th century, in their work strive for a deeper understanding and consciousness of the global changes that were occurring in ideological, content, philosophical, and aesthetic context of the era. They touch on the problems of spiritual impoverishment in the era on the one hand, nihilism, on the other hand, positivism in philosophy, and inanimate realism in literature. Pointing at the same time at the vital importance of both stories, revealing instability and latent defectiveness of the preset concepts and values that seemed inviolable in the positivist hierarchy, and at their universal, timeless significance, since they shed light on the metaphysical nature of man’s inner world, the authors indicate their commitment to analytical approaches that were characteristic of developing modernist aesthetics.

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