Oscar Wilde Research Paper

1366 Words6 Pages

Art, morality, and depravity: what do all of these have in common? For the late Victorians and thinkers of the time, artists who adhered to aestheticism and, soon after, to the decadence movement, were enabling a loss of morality in the arts. This loss was characterised by, what they considered to be, lewd behaviours, and an increase in ‘idleness’, depression and general ennui (a great enemy of society; the so-called ‘mal du siècle’ that afflicted so many of the young). These artists wished to be free to represent whatever subject matter they could think of, without restraints. Thus, ‘aestheticism’ was born out of a necessity to stand out from the previous generations. Artists and intellectuals took to this new movement, starting in France …show more content…

That being said, not all Victorians agreed with this ‘degenerate’ interpretation of art. In fact, most of them deplored the loss of morality and the fall into debauchery, as presented by the proponents of the movement. Max Nordau, a vocal advocate for tradition and morality in art, wrote in 1892 Degeneration (Entartung), in which he strongly opposed aestheticism, as expressed by Wilde and his contemporaries, by denouncing the artists who took part in it. Indeed, Wilde’s now considered popular novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, was very shocking to Victorians and, consequently, was strongly criticised. Reviews of the Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in which it was originally published described the story as “... 'effeminate', 'unmanly' and - most damningly of all in the opinion of the British press - openly French in its aesthetic. Nothing, in late-Victorian conservative opinion, reeked quite so potently of filthy decadent practices as French literature” (“Portraits Behaving …show more content…

Nordau criticised Wilde for being a dandy, and for gallivanting unabashedly in society. “Wilde dresses in queer costumes which recall partly the fashions of the Middle Ages, partly the rococo modes. He pretends to have abandoned the dress of the present time because it offends his sense of the beautiful …” (Nordau 317). Nordau continues to mock Wilde for his aesthetics, drawing a link between his shallow search for beauty and the desire to be recognised and admired. Nordau goes as far as to claim that “[t]he predilection for strange costume is a pathological aberration ...” (318). Wilde not only portrayed aestheticism in his works, but he also ‘lived’ it by himself becoming a poster boy for this philosophy, famously declaring “my life is a work of

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