Oscar Wilde : Literary Contribution

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      Oscar Wilde (1856-1900), the son of a famous Irish surgeon, was born in Dublin. In his youth he showed brilliant promise, though his genius was perverse and wayward. He was Queen's Scholar of Trinity College, Dublin, and Berkeley Gold Medallist for Greek studies. In 1874 he became a scholar of Magdalen College Oxford, where he became an apostle of the aesthetic cult of Pater, He took a First-class in Classical Moderations and Literae Humaniores, and his poem Ravenna won the Newdigate Prize in 1878. From Oxford he went to London where he was the centre of an artificial, decadent society, famous for his wit and brilliant conversation. He made an American tour in 1882 and was well received. After that he rose quickly to literary fame, but, when at the height of his powers, he was sentenced at the Old Bailey to two years imprisonment (1895). At the age of forty-four he died in Paris.

In poetry, prose, and drama, Oscar Wilde embodies the spirit of the decadent school of the nineties. His literary descent from Pater and the Pre-Raphaelites is clearly seen in his early poetry. It is far removed in subject from the realities of ordinary life; it lacks emotional depth and is artistic and ornately decorative in style. But his earlier works, Poems (1881) and The Sphinx (1894), are overshadowed by the simpler and more powerful The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), which was written during his imprisonment.
Oscar Wilde

      In poetry, prose, and drama, Oscar Wilde embodies the spirit of the decadent school of the nineties. His literary descent from Pater and the Pre-Raphaelites is clearly seen in his early poetry. It is far removed in subject from the realities of ordinary life; it lacks emotional depth and is artistic and ornately decorative in style. But his earlier works, Poems (1881) and The Sphinx (1894), are overshadowed by the simpler and more powerful The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), which was written during his imprisonment.

       Wilde's prose has the qualities of his early verse. His stories and one novel are typical products of the aestheticism of his group ingenious, witty, polished, and ornamental in style, but lacking in human warmth. Their main appeal is intellectual. Apart from Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (1887); The Canterville Ghost (1887); The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888); and his novel, the well-known The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890); Wilde also wrote De Profundis (1897). This long introspective work, written while he was in prison, was published in part in 1905, but the whole was not published until 1949.

      It is, however, as a dramatist that Wilde survives to-day. He began with two serious pieces of little worth, Vera, or the Nihilists (printed 1880) and The Duchess of Padua (printed 1883), and they were followed by Salome (1892), which was used by Richard Strauss as the libretto for his opera of that name. Then came the four comedies on which his reputation rests: Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and, best of them all, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)." They are comedies of manners in the Sheridan tradition, aristocratic in tone and outlook, and with all the conscious artistic grace and refinement of his other work. He paints a picture of the elegance and ease of the upper classes of his day, but, unlike some of his contemporaries, he has no interest in its moral implications.

      Again appeal is largely intellectual; his characters are mere caricatures, often so alike as to be difficult to distinguish, and they have little human warmth. The continued popularity of his plays depends on the dialogue, with its hard glitter, its polish and scintillating wit. His cynicism finds an outlet in the profusion of neat paradoxes, and the tone suggests a rather insolent condescension toward his audience. To Wilde's concern with dialogue, plot and character are both subordinate. His plays are carelessly constructed, and the plots smothered by the flow of wit, flaws which, together with the insincere sentimentalism of his first three comedies, were quickly seized upon by the critics. Only in The Importance of Being Earnest did Wilde achieve real artistic harmony.

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