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Oscar Wilde - a Poet, Playwright and a Novelist

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Nevien Mohammad Nabil

Dr. Amal Ibrahim

Drama Preliminary Year

16 April 2018

Oscar Wilde

       Oscar Wilde was an Irish/English poet, playwright and a novelist who is renowned for his literary works such as The Happy Prince, The Picture of Dorian Gray or plays like The Importance Of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere's Fan or An Ideal Husband. He remains quotable to this day and well-known for his incredible wit and mocking Victorian England society.

       Throughout the course of his literary career, Wilde excelled in a variety of literary genres, his work often reflecting a close connection between his art and his own life. Early in his career he wrote fairy tales in which, as in all good fairy tales, the good and pure always triumphed in the end. They differed, however, in one important aspect. Rather than depicting evil as an external force, Wilde chose to reveal the evil within human beings. Written for "children from eight to eighty", the tales can be read as a representation of Oscar Wilde's own inner battle against the evil forces within himself, and of his wish to remain in a world of childlike innocence.

       One of Wilde's best-known novels is The Picture of Dorian Gray. The novel's implied homosexual theme was considered immoral by Victorian society, a society in which homosexuality was considered not only immoral and unnatural, but was also a serious criminal offence punishable by imprisonment.


       The novel tells the story of Dorian Gray, an extremely handsome young man, and his selfish pursuit of sensual pleasures. When his friend Basil Hallward paints his portrait, Gray expresses his wish that he could forever stay as young and as charming as the portrait: "I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give!" (Wilde, Dorian Gray 42). Not long after, he discovers that his wish has come true; the more corrupt and immoral Dorian becomes, the older and uglier the figure in the portrait appears, while Dorian himself retains his beautiful and youthful appearance.

       After many years of leading such an immoral life, Dorian finds himself alone with his bad conscience for all the suffering he had caused others. No longer able to bear looking at the portrait, which reminded him of the life he has led, Dorian decides to destroy it by stabbing it with a knife. When his house servants rush to find out what has happened, they find the figure in the portrait exactly as it had been painted all those years ago. On the floor lies a dead man, "withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage" (249) with a knife in his heart. In his attempt to kill his conscience, Dorian Gray had killed himself.

       Through Dorian's tragic fate, Wilde portrayed what could happen to someone who cannot control his evil impulses. However, the press at the time attacked the novel for being immoral. Wilde then decided to tell basically the same story, only this time in the guise of a comedy. The play, Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), proved to be much more palatable to his Victorian public, and the play was a success.

       Of the four stage comedies by Wilde, his last, The Importance of Being Earnest is generally regarded as his masterpiece. It is considered the original modern comedy of manners. It was first staged in 1895, and was an immediate success. Although written


as a farce, The Importance of Being Earnest is actually an attack on Victorian society, in particular on its social and moral hypocrisy, the social class system, the attitude of marriage as a social tool, and the triviality of aristocratic life.

       One may wonder how it could be that Victorian audiences could laugh at a play that satirized them and their values. The answer lies in Wilde's genius in the genres of wit and farce. The trademark of farce is that the situations and the characters' attitudes, reactions, and customs are improbable and exaggerated, and cannot be explained by reason. The fact that the characters and the situations are so ridiculous creates a distance between the story and the audience, enabling the audience to laugh at them.

       Another reason for the success of the play was Wilde's genius for epigrams, which Wilde uses to challenge and question the conventional values and expectations of Victorian society. Here are some of the epigrams that appear in the play: "Divorces are made in heaven," (Wilde, Importance of Being Earnest 15). This epigram pokes fun at the popular phrase "A marriage made in heaven", "The truth is rarely pure and never simple," (18) this epigram attacks the truth of the popular phrase "The pure and simple truth". Also, "In married life, three is company, two is none," (20) here Wilde has taken the popular saying "Two is company, three is a crowd" and adapted it to suit his own purpose.

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