Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, his father was a doctor and his mother was a translator poet. After his studies he settled in London, and became a spokesman for the school of “Art for Art’s Sake”. Then he travelled in America and in Paris. In 1895, when he was arrested for homosexual offences, Wilde’s popularity declined. After his release he emigrated to France, where died in 1900. His most famous novel “The picture of Dorian Gray”, and his most famous comedy is “The Importance of Being Earnest”.
Oscar Wilde’s plays criticized Victorian values in a comic way, which didn’t offend his audiences. It was Wilde’s private life and in particular his homosexuality which offended the Victorians. He denied the moral or political significance of art, saying that works of art were autonomous and could be judged only in terms of their beauty.
The Picture of Dorian Gray: the preface
The preface is considered a manifesto of Aesthetic movement, and the main principles are:
• The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
• Books are well written or badly written, not moral or immoral.
• Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new and vital.
• Artist isn’t morbid. They can express everything.
The Picture of Dorian Gray: the plot
The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward, who is impressed by the beauty of Dorian. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil's, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry's world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and the realization of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, and for this reason Dorian expresses his desire to sell his soul, doing grow old the portrait rather than itself. Dorian desire is fulfilled and he plunging into debauched acts. The portrait is a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging.
The exchange of art and life
For Basil Hallward and Lord Henry, beauty and appearance have become the ultimate values. The split between appearance and reality forms the central core of the novel. Dorian considered his fascination with evil as a part of a larger project to spiritualise the senses. He embodies many aspects of Wilde’s philosophy, in particular his rejection of the utilitarian values of industrialized society through the cult of art and beauty for its own sake. His Aestheticism had a profound influence on the work of others, including D’Annunzio.
The Importance of Being Earnest: the plot
The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the most famous plays of Wilde. The story is about two young aristocrats, Earnest and Algernon, who want to lead a double life and fall in love with two young women. Earnest is now called Jack, the name given to him when he was adopted. He has a ward, Miss Cecily, who lives in the country. Jack has invented an alter ego, a younger brother named Earnest who lives in the city. Algernon also pretends to have a friend called Bunbury, whose disability requires frequent attention in order to ensure his departure for the country. The story revolves around the attempts of two young men to marry Gwendolen and Cecil. They have overcome a lot of obstacles, but in the end both men, who discover that they are brothers, manages to marry the girls.
The title contains a pun because the adjective earnest (that mean serious or sincere), is pronounced in the same way as the proper name Ernest. The comedy had a huge success thanks to their witty dialogue and absurd characters. He combine linguistic paradox and farce. The comedy is in fact a farce which plays on mistaken identities and misunderstandings, and which ridicules the conventions of Victorian melodrama. It is also a parody of romantic love because the two women are both in love with a name: Ernest. The characters of the comedy typically speak in paradoxes. The certainties about social class, education, love and family are shaken by the absurdities shown on the stage. The comedy can be read as an existential comedy of identities.