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Posted on June 15th, 2012, by

The name Oscar Wilde is famous not only in literary circles but is known to a reader all over the world, as this writer was one of the brightest representatives of English decadence of the 19th century. Oscar Wilde is remembered to some readers as an author of numerous aphorisms for all cases in life that cover all themes starting from polemic discussions to confession in love; for others he is a composer of sophisticated tales and stories and for some readers he is a creator of light comedies with not so far light moral. But his literary work also includes numerous articles, essays and lectures about morality, art, and aesthetic issues.

In his lecture The renaissance of English art(1882) Wilde for the first time had formulated the main principles of the aesthetic program of English decadence, which had later developed in his works The truth of the masks, The decay of lie art, that were later united into one book Intentions. All the way back in college he had joined the Aesthetic Movement under the influence of John Riskin, who became his ideological teacher. The purpose of the Aesthetic Movement was to express the protest against bourgeois hypocrisy as well as bigotry that was a common thing in English upper class society. But this work shows that he developed the program of the Aesthesism and went far than his teacher Riskin. He accepted the common ties of English decadence with pre-Raphaelites, but at the same time he did highlight the principle contradictions on some important issues with Riskin, saying that he had went away from the Riskin’s teaching because the basics of Riskin’s teaching were based on moral concepts (The renaissance of English art ,1882). But to the point of Oscar Wilde and English decadents the laws of art do not coincide with the laws of morality (the renaissance of English art, 1882).

These ideas were later developed in his other critical essays that focused on more specific and particular questions of theory of art and aesthetics as well as the place of art in human’s life. His subjective and idealistic manner of thoughts is brightly demonstrated in the work The decay of lie art. The work was written in the typical manner for Oscar Wilde by expressing ideas through the colorful dialogue full of paradoxes. This essay had a brightly polemic character and became one of the manifestoes of western European decadence. Rejecting the reality, that exists objectively, out of the consciousness of a man, Oscar Wilde in this work tried to prove that art doesn’t reflect the reality and the nature of things, but the reality reflects the art. He wrote Nature is not a great mother that gave the birth to us, it’s our creation. It starts living only in our mind. Things exist only because we see them. By the words of Oscar Wilde the fogs of London exist, because poets and artists had shown people the mysterious beauty of these kind of effects. Despite the fact that pessimism was analyzed by Arthur Schaupengauer, pessimism was invented by Hamlet; Russian nihilism is nothing more than the idea of Ivan Turgenev and the leader of the French revolution Maximilian Robespier is the realization of Jan Jacque Rousseau ideas of social contract. (The decay of lie art)

These two essays argue that art cannot be an objective measure of reality and that’s why Oscar Wilde proposes the theory of creative freedom for an artist and writers as well. Finishing his idea in the form of the sharp paradox he even more states that art is based on lie and the decay of art in the nineteenth century (under the decay of art Oscar Wilde assumes realism) is explained because the art of lie appeared to be forgotten. He wrote, All vulgar art exists because the man refers to life and nature and makes an ideal of them. (The decay of lie art)

These two essays cover as well the problems of the literary critics. These problems are interpreted by Wilde in the same manner of subjectivism and idealism as the problems of art. He gives a total freedom to the literary critic stating that the main purpose of the critics is reinterpretation of the personal impressions of the work. Here Oscar Wilde is close to the literary impressionism.

Oscar Wilde at the same time rejects social functions of art stating in these essays that the social functions of art do not exist. He argues that the task of the every artist has to be only to make the view charm, admire and get pleasure form the piece of art. He makes this argument more clear in the following lines We do not want to be scared and to get sick from the narration about the deeds of the lower classes.

One of Oscar Wilde’s last literary works De Profindus was written in prison, where he spent two years being accused in homosexualism and immorality. These years were the turning point in his life, as he wrote later there were two periods in his life that put a remarkable stamp on his soul they were college years at Oxford and years of imprisonment. The changes in his outlook became tremendous. De Profindus is his prison confession and message from jail, when it was sent to print it had the effect of the bomb, even though it wasn’t printed in full.

The main features that differ De Profindus from his earlier works are the sense of pessimism and the desire to look back on his life and make a conclusion and summary of the man’s experiences. Unbearable conditions of life in jail, the crimes of English justice machine and broken human lives made a great impact on the consciousness of the writer who had common sense.  De Profindus has more realism than any of his earlier essays had more common sense referred to reality than his earlier works as well.

The mood of the De Profindus can be characterized by the deep tragedy of the author, and it’s a tragedy of a person who has to change his views and principles being already a mature and experienced personality. Wilde writes that he understands better and better from day to day that pleasures are for beautiful sex and pain is for beautiful soul. But still even despite the personal tragedy and the pessimistic mood of the de Profindus that contradicts all earlier works of the author we may be amazed by the character of Oscar Wilde. Even though that he is ready to break all the ties that unite him with his past and dedicate his new art to suffering he doesn’t want to confess in his aesthetic immorality. In De Profindus he glorifies his genuine and values his art as the only thing he had in life.

De Profindus is written in the form of a letter to his favorite Alfred Douglas, and on every line of the letter Wilde glorifies himself and criticizes Douglas from the high of his talent. He writes that Douglas played a miserable role in his life and cannot be compared to the role of the talent for himself.

If to make an analysis of his confession in De Profindus we will find a lot of contradictions and it’s not the only work of Wilde of this kind. From another hand, it’s a common place to believe in everything that a person tells on the confession. And here Oscar Wilde achieves his purpose we are charmed by a man, who is ready to do everything for his friend, who takes care when his friend is sick, etc. But again if to look on Oscar Wilde from the other perspective, he looks like a madman, who separated from the family, allowed to be robed and to be used and as a result became penniless. Wilde accepted that he spent more than a thousand pounds a month on Douglas.  He wrote the following lines in De Profindus that were dedicated to Alfred Douglas: My only fault was that I wholly referred to the trees of that side of the garden that seemed to be shinny from the gold of the sun, and turned away from the other side trying to escape the shadows and dusk. Falling, shame, poverty, grief, suffering, even tears repentance everything that cover the way of a person with shadows frightened me. And because I didn’t ant to experience any of these feelings, I was made to try all of them, I was made to accept them.

The literary work of Oscar Wilde coincided with Victorian age in England, an epoch of mortal degradation of upper classes, decadence and search of new methods in art and literature. Oscar Wilde with his lively and bright personality, wit and argumentative nature, who proclaimed the ideas of creative freedom and liberty in art at the end of his life became only disappointed and confused. His ideas of separation of art from reality can be applied to some trends of art but they cannot be applied to the whole concept of art in general. The future experience shown that true and high art cannot exist in isolation from reality, because the reality and the human nature are the sources of inspiration for an artist. The works of Oscar Wilde and his earlier essays about art stated that the main purpose of art is to give only aesthetic pleasures, but their weakness is that didn’t pay any attention to educative and moral function of art, which is an integral component in the development of a person. Oscar Wilde made a great discovery in the aesthetic role of art and its influence on spiritual development of the person and his emotional world and world of imagination. But at the same time the weakness of his art concept was that the art in his vision was the art for chosen, for educated aristocrats, but not common people. He glorified pleasures, but didn’t cover other feelings of the person and their importance. If his early essays as The renaissance of English art and The decay of lie art described the disadvantages of aesthetic art and it’s benefits to realism and other trends than his last essay De Profindus showed its crisis. The literary activity of Oscar Wilde that started from his early essays about aesthesism and ended with the work De Profindus pointed the limitations of decadence art and its frames in the range of other trends, convincing the author that the spiritual life of a man cannot be perceived without connection to the reality.

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