I would like you to get a deeper knowledge of one of the greatest writers of all times by listening to Stephen Fry, who played the role of Oscar Wilde in the the film “Wilde”. Try to jot down the things that strike you the most about the writer so that you can share them in class with your classmates. We are all fascinated by different things, touched by certain words or facts, so I am eager to see what will remain in you of this interview.
Some more Stephen Fry
Which quotation by Oscar Wilde do you like the most? Why?
What made Oscar Wilde’s ideas so “dangerous”?
What ideas of his are relevant to you? Why?
In the interview and in the biography different works by Wilde are mentioned. You know you have access to them on the web and they are free, so should you ever wish to read works by him we cannot possibly analyse in class together, off you go!
I would like you to choose one of the following websites and find something of your own interest to report to the rest of the class. Get organized! First you browse the websites. Skim them to see what catches your attention, write down some of the things that interest you and in class compare your first impressions (this to avoid covering the same topic). Once you have defined the aspect of Oscar Wilde’s life or production you want to investigate you will be the expert and you will become the teacher. Looking forward to listening to you!
http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674066960 (Look at the related links)
What is dandyism?
A dandy is a man who places particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and leisurely hobbies, pursued with the appearance of nonchalance in a cult of Self. Historically, especially in late 18th- and early 19th-century Britain, a dandy, who was self-made, often strove to imitate an aristocratic lifestyle despite coming from a middle-class background.
Charles Baudelaire, in the later, “metaphysical” phase of dandyism defined the dandy as one who elevates æsthetics to a living religion, that the dandy’s mere existence reproaches the responsible citizen of the middle class: “Dandyism in certain respects comes close to spirituality and to stoicism” and “These beings have no other status, but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons, of satisfying their passions, of feeling and thinking …. Contrary to what many thoughtless people seem to believe, dandyism is not even an excessive delight in clothes and material elegance. For the perfect dandy, these things are no more than the symbol of the aristocratic superiority of his mind.”
The linkage of clothing with political protest had become a particularly English characteristic during the 18th century. Given these connotations, dandyism can be seen as a political protestation against the rise of levelling egalitarian principles, often including nostalgic adherence to feudal or pre-industrial values, such as the ideals of “the perfect gentleman” or “the autonomous aristocrat”, though paradoxically, the dandy required an audience, as Susann Schmid observed in examining the “successfully marketed lives” of Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron, who exemplify the dandy’s roles in the public sphere, both as writers and as personae providing sources of gossip and scandal.
(adapted from Wikipedia)
Read the article on what dandysm is all about. Is it fashionable still nowadays? Why?
Look at the following image and judge by yourself.
The role of Aestheticism in Oscar Wilde
During his years at Oxform (from 1874 to 1878) Wilde gained a reputation for his wit, flamboyant dress and eccentric behaviour, as well as attracting hostility because of his aestheticism. As an undergraduate, he came under the particular influence of two writers, John Ruskin and Walater Pater. The former was concerned with the moral element in art, while the latter was a dominant force in the aesthetic movement. Wilde needed the spiritual guidance of Ruskin, but was more excited by Pater’s docrtines. Even if Wilde poured scorn on the moral significance of art, there is not doubt that there is a conflict in him between the attitudes inherited from Ruskin and those derived from Pater.
In 1889 Wilde published The Portrait of Mr W.H., a story which suggested that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets not for the Earl of Southampton but for a boy actor named William Hughes. In the same year appeared the importat essay “The Decay of Lying”, which takes the form of a dialogue in which Vivian, Wilde’s spokesman, envisages the possibility of a new Renaissance of Art. In the conclusion to this dialogue, Vivian describes briefly the doctrines of the new aesthetics: 1. “art never expresses anything but itself”. Far from being the creation of its time, “it is usually in direct opposition to it”. Sometimes it revives ancient forms and “at other times it entirely anticipates its age, and produces in one century work that it takes another century to understand, to appreciate, and to enjoy. In no case does it reproduce its age”. 2. The second doctrine is that art does not imitate Life and Nature: “The moment Art surrenders its imaginative medium it surrenders everything.” Realism, as represented by Zola, is a complete failure: “Life goes faster than realism, but Romanticism is always in front of life”. The real decadence is the imosition of life on art, which stifles the imagination and shows us what we have already seen. 3. The third doctrine is that Life imitates Art more than Art imitates Life. According to Vivian, “the final revelation is that lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art”. In all this Wilde is trying to restore to art the power claimed for it by the romantic poets, thta of transforming our perceptions through imagination rather than mereley representing the natural world.
When Oscar Wilde publishes The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890 he could no longer be said to advocate the doctrine of art for art’s sake. The preface he wrote in response to the abuse of the novel insists on an aestheticism that the novel itself does not support. Wilde had written not an apology for but the tragedy of aestheticism, revealing its dangers rather than advocating its doctrine: “A life dedicated to Beauty, so much luxury and so many works of Art, only hides deception and decomposition”. Crime and vice make people coarse and ugly.
A student wrote this essay examining the use of aestheticism ideas in Oscar Wilde’s novel. Read it and report in class what you would add to it after our analysis of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.
Here is a detailed analysis of the novel, it is a video accompanied by the script, so click on the link.
Now I would like you to look at the different trailers to the film adaptations of The Picture of Dorian Gray. What are the similarities? What are the main differences? Which do you like the most and why?
Now listen to this BBC radio 4 programme (Part 1) and jot down why Oscar Wilde was chosen as the writer to talk about. What does the speaker express about the writer? What is revealed about Oscar Wilde’s private life you did not know before? What is mentioned about homosexuality in Victorian England? In what way is his private life linked and interconnected with his works? What do the speakers reveal about Wilde’s works? What do they disagree on? Which speaker do you like better? The woman or the man? What do you think about the inverviewer?
Watch the following video and take notes. What are the top 10 things you should know about “The Picture of Dorian Gray”?
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Dorian Gray is a handsome, wealthy young man living in 19th century London. While generally intelligent, he is naive and easily manipulated. These faults lead to his spiral into sin and, ultimately, misery.
While posing for a painting by his friend Basil, Dorian meets Basil’s friend Lord Henry Wotton. Wotton is cynical and witty, and tells Dorian that the only life worth living is one dedicated entirely to pleasure. After Wotton convinces Dorian that youth and beauty will bring him everything he desires, Dorian openly wishes that his portrait could age instead of him. He makes this statement in the presence of a certain Egyptian statue, which supposedly has the power to grant wishes.
Dorian visits a tavern, where he falls in love with a beautiful singer named Sibyl Vane. He eventually enters a romance with her (much to the disapproval of Sibyl’s brother), and within weeks they are engaged. Though initially overjoyed, Dorian is again persuaded by Lord Henry to pursue a more hedonistic lifestyle. Dorian sends Sibyl a hurtful letter, breaking off their relationship, and “compensating” her with a large sum of money.
The next morning, Lord Henry informs Dorian that a heartbroken Sibyl Vane had killed herself the night before. Dorian is at first shocked and guilt-ridden, but then adopts Lord Henry’s indifferent manner. He surprises Basil by going to the opera immediately after hearing of Sibyl’s death. Returning home that night, Dorian notices a change in the portrait Basil had painted, which now hangs in his living room. The portrait now looks harsher, and a shaken Dorian has it locked away in his old school room. He becomes even more dedicated to living a sinful and heartless life.
Years later, Dorian is nearing his fortieth birthday, but he looks the same as he did when he was twenty two. The townspeople are awestruck at his unchanging appearance. Over eighteen years of pointless debauchery, the portrait remained locked away, with Dorian holding the only key. Dorian had grown more and more paranoid about the picture being seen by others, and would even fire the servants that he thought might suspect something. Over the years, the painting of the young Dorian had warped into that of a hideous, demon-like creature, to reflect Dorian’s sins. Basil eventually catches a glimpse of the portrait and attempts to talk Dorian into reforming his life. However, Dorian panics and murders his friend, leaving the body locked in the school room with the painting.
Dorian blackmails an old friend into disposing of Basil’s body secretly. He then enters into a romance with Basil’s niece, Gladys, who was a young child when the portrait was painted. Though Gladys had always loved Dorian (and is overjoyed when he proposes marriage), those who were once close to him begin to find him suspicious.
Dorian begins to realize the harm his life is doing to himself and to others. He is assaulted by James Vane, Sibyl’s brother, who had sworn revenge for his sister’s death. Dorian calmly tells James that he is too young to be the same man from eighteen years before. However, James soon learns the truth, but is shot during a hunting party at Dorian’s estate while hiding in the bushes. Dorian knows he is guilty for yet another death, and realizes that he can still spare Gladys from the misfortune he would certainly cause her. After leaving her a letter explaining himself, he returns to his old school room to face the painting. After stabbing his portrait in the heart to be free of its evil spell, Dorian collapses and dies.
Dorian’s body is found, but it is now the monstrous creature from the painting. The portrait once again depicts Dorian as a young, innocent man.
Source: adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org
Click here to get to know more about the novel.
Enjoy this video recap of the novel. I find it really brilliant. It is not easy to recap a novel in 8 minutes, isn’t it?
A scene taken from the film “Wilde”. How does Wilde explain his love for Bosie? Who does he compare it to?
De Profundis (Latin: “from the depths”) is an epistle written by Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol, to Lord Alfred Douglas. During its first half Wilde recounts their previous relationship and extravagant lifestyle which eventually led to Wilde’s conviction and imprisonment for gross indecency. He indicts both Lord Alfred’s vanity and his own weakness in acceding to those wishes. In the second half, Wilde charts his spiritual development in prison and identification with Jesus Christ, whom he characterises as a romantic, individualist artist.
Wilde’s lengthy prison ‘letter’ to Lord Alfred Douglas is more than a personal message in which Wilde alternates between forgiving and rebuking his selfish, reckless lover. In De Profundis, Wilde elaborates on his philosophical and artistic outlook, and reflects on his place in literature and history. The letter is a soul-searching act of defiance; Wilde shows that he is a resolute individualist who cannot be entirely broken by a hypocritical society. It is both a profoundly personal essay and an unashamedly public letter. In his prison letter, Wilde goes through a range of contradictory moods and tones: contrition, sorrow, defiance, acceptance, tenderness, joy, fury and bitterness. He is at his proudest when claiming to be humbled, and comes across as both fool-hardy and wise, frank and self-deceiving. De Profundis is a heartbreaking confession, an artist’s manifesto, a private diary and a lover’s letter.
Wilde wrote the letter between January and March 1897, close to the end of his imprisonment. Contact had lapsed between Douglas and Wilde and the latter had suffered from his physical labour and emotional isolation; a new warden thought that writing might be more cathartic than prison labour. Wilde’s work was closely supervised and he was not allowed to send the letter, but took it with him upon release, whereupon he entrusted the manuscript to an ex-lover, the journalist Robert Ross, with instructions to have two copies made: one to be sent to the author himself and the other to Douglas. Ross published the letter in 1905, five years after Wilde’s death, giving it the title “De Profundis” from Psalm 130.
In the first part, Wilde examines the time he and Lord Alfred had spent together, from 1892 until Wilde’s trials in the spring of 1895. He examines Lord Alfred’s behaviour and its detrimental effect on Wilde’s work, and recounts Lord Alfred’s constant demands on his attention and hospitality. Poignancy builds throughout this section as Wilde details the expenses of their sumptous dinners and hotel-stays. Though he was a constant presence at Wilde’s side their relationship was intellectually sterile. Throughout Wilde’s self-accusation is that he acceded to these demands instead of placing himself within quiet, intellectual company dedicated to the contemplation of beauty and ideas, but instead succumbed to an “imperfect world of coarse uncompleted passions, of appetite without distinction, desire without limit, and formless greed”. This passage concludes with Wilde offering his forgiveness to Douglas. He repudiates him for what Wilde finally sees as his arrogance and vanity; he had not forgotten Douglas’s remark, when he was ill, “When you are not on your pedestal you are not interesting.”
The second part of the letter traces Wilde’s spiritual growth through the physical and emotional hardships of his imprisonment. Wilde introduces the greater context, making a typically grandiose claim: “I was one who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age,” though he later writes, in a more humble vein, “I have said of myself that I was one who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age. There is not a single wretched man in this wretched place along with me who does not stand in symbolic relation to the very secret of life. For the secret of life is suffering.” Pleasure and success are an artifice, he says, while pain wears no mask. He turns to humility as a remedy, and identifies with the other prisoners. Wilde adopts Jesus of Nazareth as a symbol of western kindness and eastern serenity and as a rebel-hero of mind, body and soul.
In a preface to the 1905 edition, Robert Ross, Wilde’s literary executor, published an extract from Wilde’s instructions to him which included the author’s own summation of the work:
“ I don’t defend my conduct. I explain it. Also in my letter there are several passages which explain my mental development while in prison, and the inevitable evolution of my character and intellectual attitude towards life that has taken place, and I want you and others who stand by me and have affection for me to know exactly in what mood and manner I face the world. Of course, from one point of view, I know that on the day of my release I will merely be moving from one prison into another, and there are times when the whole world seems to be no larger than my cell, and as full of terror for me. Still at the beginning I believe that God made a world for each separate man, and within that world, which is within us, one should seek to live”. (adapted from Wikipedia)
Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return. With us time itself does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one centre of pain. The paralysing immobility of a life every circumstance of which is regulated after an unchangeable pattern, so that we eat and drink and lie down and pray, or kneel at least for prayer, according to the inflexible laws of an iron formula: this immobile quality, that makes each dreadful day in the very minutest detail like its brother, seems to communicate itself to those external forces the very essence of whose existence is ceaseless change.
If you want to listen to the whole work, click here.
De Profundis is actually a letter Oscar Wilde wrote in 1897 while he was in prison in Reading Gaol. The letter is a painful, questioning, confession of sorts to his former lover, Bosie—Lord Alfred Douglas. While he was in jail Oscar Wilde was not allowed to send the letter, but on his release a copy was delivered to Lord Alfred. We do not know if he read it or not.
Because of the personal nature of this letter a full version was not published until 1962 – many years after Wilde’s death.
The letter is dramatically divided into two parts
The first part is a forensic, examination of the destructive quality of the relationship between Oscar Lord Alfred. Wilde recounts their previous extravagances in detail and indicts both himself and Lord Alfred for vanity and weakness.
The second part is a meditation on the notion of punishment, retribution and restitution. Now, Oscar Wilde goes into a new phase and the writing is optimistic. Oscar is trying to find a future for himself and is refusing to be ground down. This, after all, is what an artist must do.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol
Watch the following video taken from the BBC. What was the problem with Oscar Wilde’s Tomb? What did his grandson decide to do to safeguard it?
There are two people entombed within Oscar Wilde’s monument at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. You might have expected Wilde’s companion in eternity to be his Judas-like lover, Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, or possibly Wilde’s forgiving wife, Constance, or one of their sons, Cyril or Vyvyan, but it is Wilde’s loyal friend and one-time lover, Robbie Ross.
When Jacob Epstein designed the tomb for Wilde’s second, grander resting place (Wilde had died in debt in 1900 and was originally buried in a modest plot at Bagneux), Robbie Ross asked the sculptor to leave a niche for his own remains. Although he died in 1918 at the age of 49, Ross’s wish to be interred with Wilde wasn’t granted until 1950. Ross deserves his place by Wilde’s side; unlike Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred Douglas, Ross was a good friend till the end, not only to Wilde but to Wilde’s sons.
As Wilde’s literary executor and a mentor to the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, Ross has been a good friend to readers, too. Without Robbie Ross, we wouldn’t be able to read Wilde’s De Profundis or The Picture of Mr W.H. Ross acted as a muse while Wilde planned the short story/literary essay Mr W.H. and he prevented Lord Alfred Douglas from destroying the manuscript of Wilde’s letter/memoir/manifesto De Profundis by bequeathing the original to the British Museum. After years of effort, Ross got the Wilde estate out of bankruptcy, secured the copyright for Wilde’s children, stemmed the flow of pirated editions and oversaw the production of the first legitimate edition of Wilde’s collected works.
In De Profundis, Wilde says of Ross, “When I was brought down from my prison to the Court of Bankruptcy, between two policemen, Robbie waited in the long dreary corridor that, before the whole the crowd, whom an action so sweet and simple hushed into silence, he might gravely raise his hat to me, as handcuffed and with bowed head, I passed him by. Men have gone to heaven for smaller things than that. … When wisdom has been profitless to me, philosophy barren, and the proverbs and phrases of those who have sought to give me consolation as dust and ashes in my mouth, the memory of that little, lovely, silent act of love has unsealed for me all the wells of pity, made the desert blossom like a rose, and brought me out of the bitterness of lonely exile into harmony with the wounded, broken, and great heart of the world.”