A major spokesman for the
Aesthetic movement in the late 19th century and an advocate of "Art for
art's sake", which proposes that beauty has no utilitarian value and is
independent of morality, is Oscar Wilde. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, on
October 16, 1854, his father, Sir William Wilde, is a surgeon, and his mother, Jane Elgee, is a fervent nationalist poet, and she, for her
desire to have a daughter, dresses little Oscar in girl's clothes. After
(1864-71), Wilde goes, on successive scholarship, to Trinity
College, Dublin (1871-74), where he studies Latin and
Greek literature.He is well known for his wit, his
ostentatious dresses and his eccentric behaviour as well as for his
aestheticism. He is an anticonformist a wonderful entertainer and a brilliant talker; his
conversation is a provocative combination of satire, paradox and epigram
through which every Victorian institution and value is criticized and ridiculed.
He is deeply impressed by the teachings of the English writers John Ruskin, a
critic of art, and Walter Pater, the theorist of
aestheticism, on the central importance of art in life and particularly on the
aesthetic intensity by which life should be lived .
Wilde establishes himself in social and artistic circles by his wit and
flamboyance. In constant need of money to live up to his worldly life, Wilde acceptes an invitation to lecture in the United States and
Canada in 1882,pronuncing on his arrival in New York his famous sentence:
"I have nothing to declare except my genius!" , in reply to the
Customs officer's routine question. On his return to Europe, he spends three
months in Paris,
where he meets writers and painters like Flaubert and Huysmans.
In 1884 he marries Constance Lloyd, who bears him two children. Their style of
life is beyond their means and Wilde is obliged to work as a reviewer for the
"Pall Mall Gazette" and then as editor of "Woman's world"
(1887-89). In 1889 Wilde produces his anti-realistic manifesto "The decay
of Lying" which asserts that the life has to be similar to an art-work and
so his same life is an example of it in its reckless pursuit of pleasure. In
addition, his homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, whom he meets
in 1891, infuriated the Marquess of Queensberry, Douglas' father. Accused, finally by the Marquess of being a sodomite, Wilde, urged by Douglas, sues for criminal libel. Unfortunately the
accusations are proved true, and Wilde is arrested, tried and sentenced to two
years' hard labour. After the prison, which provokes him many sufferings,
because of public opinion against him and the impediment to read and write, he
adopts a new name: Sebastian Melmoth.
"Sebastian" remembers the Christian martyr transfixed with arrows,
but also the arrows printed on his prison uniform and "Melmoth"
is inspired by Maturin's Gothic novel " Melmoth, the Wanderer" . He spends some time in
Naples and Switzerland, writing against the
brutality of prison life. Then he settles in Paris, where he dies suddenly on November 30,
1900, from an attack of meningitis. In his semiconscious final moments, he is
received into the Roman Catholic Church, which he has long admired.
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY
It is the only novel
written by Wilde. When it is first published in 1890 in the "Lippincott's Monthly magazine", it is fiercely
attacked by critics who judges it immoral. To reply to these accusations the
next year Wilde publishes another edition, with the addition of six chapters
and its famous "Preface" which becomes the
Manifesto of the Aestheticism. The novel challenges all the fundamental values
and beliefs of Victorian society and probes deeply into the shadow world behind
the respectable social façade. The novel is the story of Dorian Gray, a typical
dandy, that's to say a heroic figure, created by Wilde, that is the living
protest against this democratic levelling, he is at his ease everywhere and in
every situation. He is against any social convention. Nothing can surprise him.
He is never vulgar. He presents all the canons of the classical beauty:
handsome, young, aristocratic, refined. His sex is ambiguous: he unites the
feminine grace and the male virility. He is the last romantic hero, the last
manifestation of heroism in a moment of decline, like the sunset, the last ray
of sunlight of human pride, for his elegance in dressing and his intellectual
honesty. His only ideal is to realize an inimitable life. And proper this ideal
conduces him to the perversion. When his friend painter
Basil Hallward paints his picture he can translate on
it even the soul of Dorian, the young is enchanted by it and together Hanry Watton, an elegant and
cynic man, whose principles have corrupted him, makes a reflection on the
fugacity of the time and desires intensely to transfer the passing of the time
on the picture and to remaine always beautiful and
young. His desire is so strong that it really happens. So he lives a dissolute
life, in search of the most unrestrained pleasures: he despises the love of
Sybil Vane. It will conduce her to suicide. At this
point the decadence of Dorian's soul begins, he becomes a criminal, his
physical aspect remains beautiful, but inside he becomes cruel and cruel. The
signs of the time and of his decadence appear on the picture, where his face
becomes evil and it is furrowed with wrinkles, so, to appease his conscience he
collocates the picture in the attic even if every evening he goes to look it :every day the signs of the decline increases. A day
Dorian shows the picture to his friend Basil but he recognizes it only for his
signature, painted in red; the painter, who is a sincere and integral man,
reproaches him for his shameful conduct, but the cruel Dorian kills him,
because he is the creator of the picture, and dissolves his body in the nitrile acid. Then he has also a dispute with Sybil Vane's
brother. But, better than every word, the picture remembers to Dorian the
deception of his double life, showing him his real face, unknown to everyone in
its own cruel eloquence up to, overcome by unhappiness, he brakes the picture
with a knife and he immediately falls down dead, as if he has stabbed himself.
The servitude rush to the place and they look a wonderful picture of their
master and on the floor a dead man with an evening dress, with a knife in the
heart, with an old and cruel face. They understand that he is their master only
for his rings. The life, broken the charm, prevails over Dorian, who wants to
oppose to his necessary pain another life, fictitious and mysterious. The
allegoric meaning of this novel exalts the absolute and eternal value of art,
which triumphs over all the ugliness and lowness of the life. In this work the
author states that for obtaining the essential detaching from the life, for
looking himself in third person it is necessary to invent, to lie, to wear a mask. In this novel we find: similes and metaphors
compare things in the real world to the products of art and craftsmanship, to
the materials and effects created by artists. The novel is mostly written in an
intensely poetic style that does not only describe, but communicates sensuous
pleasure by the richness and musicality of its language. Words produce in the
reader the same hypnotic effect, the same "form of reverie" and
"malady of dreaming" that Dorian experiences at the sound of Lord
Henry's voice and while reading his book. The novel "The picture of Dorian
Gray" derives from the influence of different sources:
-The novel "A Rebours" (1884) by the Belgian writer J.K.Huysmans, a mannered portrait of aristocratic decadence
whose protagonist Des Esseintes becomes the prototype
of the aesthete of fin de siecle literature. This
book is read by Dorian and produces in him " a
form of reverie, a malady of dreaming", and from whose influence he can
not free himself for years.
- The psychological horror
stories, such as "The strange case of Dr Jekill
and Mr Hyde" (1886) by the Scottish novelist R.T.Stevenson
and "Frankestein" (1818) by Mary Shelley.
He draws inspiration from the Stevenson's way of describing the characters of
his work: he looks inside "the haunted house of Victorian values" and
he speaks about the "homo duplex", that's to say a man with a double
personality, a respectable public one and a hidden, violent and animal one.
(Since the beginning of his friendship with Lord Alfred Douglas the Wilde
himself had led a double life).
-The stories about a
character selling his soul to the devil, such as Chistopher
Marlow's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus"
(1588-89). However, in Wilde's novel there is no real devil and no contract
with it. Dorian manages to remain young and beautiful by the force of his
narcissism. Lord Henry Wotton has diabolical
connotations and exercises a powerful and wicked influence on him. His low,
languid voice has seductive power that is characteristic of representations of
the devil in literature.
-The romances by Dickens, for the realistic
part of the novel, for example the detailed description of night London.