Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Oscar Wilde was born in Ireland, in Dublin, on 16 October, 1854 in the family of a prominent Irish surgeon. His mother influenced him greatly. She was a remarkable woman. The home atmosphere of love and happiness was favourable for the devel­opment of poetic abilities of the boy.

His mother was well-educated, knew several languages and was devoted to Ireland, writing poems and collecting the legends and folk songs of the Irish people. She even printed her early poems. She ignored the selfish morality and narrow-mindness of English bourgeoisie; Oscar inher­ited his mother’s views.

He was well-educated at a private school, then at Trinity College in Dublin, and, afterwards at Oxford. Like his mother, he was deeply interested in poetry and classics. He won the scholarship and many rewards for his excellent study. As the most capable student he was chosen to accompany his professor to Italy and Greece.

Oscar Wilde was a bright student, and he studied brilliantly. He listened to the lectures of a well-known art critic Ruskin about the aesthetic criticism of capitalism.

John Ruskin (1819-1900) praised the young painters for their seriousness of purpose. But his own views were much more profound and radical. In studying art Ruskin realized that its mission was to make life more beautiful. The artist must not only create beauty, but also make people feel that beauty.

His strong belief in the progressive power of art, his deep understanding of the social wrongs made him popular even outside England. The aesthetic works of Ruskin were widespread all over the world. His prose was pure and easy to follow, though his political and economic ideas were naive. In “The Political Economy of Art” he taught his students that art is a great weapon in the struggle for beauty, because he associated beauty with life.

Having graduated from Oxford, Wilde settled in London. By this time aesthetism had become fashionable. Oscar Wilde became the leader of this trend in literature. Moreover, he became the symbol of Beauty. Wilde visited the USA and Paris, and on returning to London he was busy with writing essays and reviews for several magazines. He had to earn money by journalism. But he disliked this sort of activity. And he never signed his articles.

In 1882 Oscar Wilde published his first volume of poems “Impressions”, written under the influence of decadents “Les Silhouettes”.

The work brought him fame. But, unfortunately, the writer followed his prin­ciples of immoral aesthetics not only in art, but in his private life as well. In 1895 Oscar Wilde was brought to trial and sentenced to two years of prison. Such kind of reputation made him leave Britain for France, where he lived in poverty until his death in November, 1900.

His masterpiece “The Picture of Dorian Gray” was written in 1891. In this work Oscar Wilde tries to prove his main principle: art doesn’t reflect reality, but reality reflects art. He discloses the idea that Art is superior to Life, because a work of Art is always beautiful, and Life is ugly and wrinkled.

Wilde loves beauty which is against bourgeois society, and he goes away from reality.

The beauty of everyday life attracts him greatly. His “Tales” are full of beau­tiful descriptions of the palaces, rooms, appearance and clothes of his characters. There are beautiful gardens in almost each of his tales: “It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flow­ers like stars, and there were twelve peach-trees that in the springtime broke out into delicate blossoms of pink and pearl, and in the autumn bore rich fruit. The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them” (“The Selfish Giant”).

According to Oscar Wilde’s theory, Nature must reflect Art, because Art is superior to Nature. Blood is like a red ruby, the sky is like a blue sapphire, grass resembles emeralds.

The same thing happens with his fairy personages. The Happy Prince (“The Happy Prince”) “was gilded all over with thin leaves of gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt”. In “The Nightingale and the Rose” the student’s “hair is dark as the hyacinth-blossom, and his lips are red as the rose of his desire; but passion has made his face like pale ivory…” The Prince in “The Remarkable Rocket” “had dreamy violet eyes, and his hair was like fine gold”.

Thus everything must be beautiful.

The language of his tales is rich, pure and exact. But the contradiction between Life and Beauty disproves Wilde’s aesthetic theory, thus adding another paradox to his life and work.

The plots of his tales are wise and profound from the philosophical point of view. The eternal misunderstanding between the rich and the poor is reflected in many of his tales. The writer can brilliantly express his deep sorrow that man is not appreciated for the feelings and beauty in the society. His personages want to be happy, though, as a rule, the end of his tale is pessimistic. When the statue of the Happy Prince in “The Happy Prince” is pulled down, the Art Professor at the University said: “As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful”. And the statue was melted in a metal. The final scene in “The Selfish Giant” is also tragic. “When the children ran in that afternoon, they found the Giant lying dead under the tree, all covered with white blossoms”.

Oscar Wilde was a gifted and talented writer. We distinguish him for his love to Man and Beauty; but he didn’t want to accept the realistic point of view that life is not as beautiful as it could be. Wilde proved that life is full of paradoxes. It was his manner of protest against the flatness and narrow-mindness of official ways of thinking.

The main paradox of his own life was in the contradiction between theory and practice. Having proclaimed that perfect art was associated with perfect immorality, he himself was very often a moralist.

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