Oscar Wilde is famous for being for one of the great comedic geniuses of his time. At the same time, Wilde’s work explores important contemporary social issues that are relevant to society as a whole. This sample essay on Wilde explores his background and goes into his most famous work. This work came from Ultius essay writers and must be cited properly if used in your own research.
Oscar Wilde’s background and work
A poet and writer, Oscar Wilde is remembered for his comedic genius most notably in The Importance of Being Earnest and his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde’s writings are often quite critical exploring the social contexts of his time through slapstick, humor and general farce. Scholars and intellectuals to this day view Wilde as one of the leading personalities within English aestheticism.
The general definition of aestheticism is the pursuit of beauty in both art and life. In certain discussions, it has often been debated whether or not Wilde was a Victorian writer or not given his criticisms and expressions. Victorian literature, which spans several years as a movement, tends to have common characteristics that include examination of daily life and problems, morality and practicality. When viewing the common themes of Victorian literature through the works of Wilde, it can be argued that Wilde is an anti-Victorian writer.
A common theme among writers who were anti-Victorian is the concept of aestheticism. The reasoning of these writers was that art should be appreciated for what it is and any additional concepts or theories about what it was or should be were more or less unnecessary. Much of the thought regarding art around the Victorian period was that it should teach and convey a mortal meaning, but writers such as Wilde saw art as nothing more than a creative talent in which one could express him or herself freely and not become slave to the moral and ethical traditions. Wilde insisted upon separating life from art and not mingling the two. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde notes that
“all art is quite useless” (Wilde 4).
Therefore, art should be examined and looked at for what it is. Victorian writers indulged in expressing to the reader that every artist had an intention to provide an understanding of something. In other words, they wanted the readers to learn something whether it was moral, practical or educational.
Oscar Wilde’s criticism of the Victorian Era
Wilde’s criticism of the consciousness of the Victorian era was profound as he continuously trivialized it. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde seeks to portray that we should add a dash and dose of laughter to our rather harsh lives. The entire play is one built on being less serious and that we do not stop and take a moment and smell the proverbial roses.
The play is a critical analysis of the Victorian lifestyle which capitalized on one’s own interests. Hooti and Jeihouni (2012) stated that The Importance of Being Earnest pushed the boundaries of seriousness that we all seem to play out in our daily lives. While Wilde’s criticism was of the Victorian period, much of it spills and seeps into the lives we now live. Basically, Wilde operated on the notion that we need to enchant and beguile ourselves with amusements in the hopes of having a more promising life.
The character of Algernon is one who adopts the insignificant assertion that Wilde believes we should all adopt, while the character of Jack is serious and focused intently on problems. In one of the exchanges between the two,
Jack asks “how can you sit here, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble…
[and Algernon responds]...well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly” (Wilde 49).
The exchange between the two further enlightens readers on the criticism Wilde had for the Victorian period, in that Jack was so focused on his problems, that he could not see the aesthetics of the situation.
Ultimately, Wilde used the device of satire to make bold statements about the Victorian period needing to lighten up. His writings continue to have a rippling effect today due to his understanding that life should be appreciated for its aesthetic value, as art should be. In other words, we often do ourselves a disservice by focusing wholeheartedly on what the issues and problems can teach us rather than the beauty of those issues and problems. It is for this reason that Wilde is an anti-Victorian writer.
Hooti, Noorbakhsh, and Mojtaba Jeihouni. “The Duality of Self in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.” American Journal of Scientific Research 54 (2012): 61-67. Print.
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. Reprint. Hollywood, FL: Simon & Brown, 2012. Print.
The Picture of Dorian Gray. Reprint. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1993. Print.