Oscar Wilde: Quotations (2)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Extracts from the Works
Drama Letters
Various Remarks


Digital whole texts*
Plays
Importance of Being Earnest (1895) An Ideal Husband (1895)
Prose works

“The Decay Of Lying” (1889)
The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
De Profundis (1905)
Poetry
“The Ballad of Reading Gaol”  
Short stories
“The Happy Prince”
“The Nightingale & the Rose”
“The Selfish Giant”
“The Devoted Friend”
“The Remarkable Rocket”

‘I hate to seem inquisitive, but would you kindly tell me who I am?’ - The Importance of being Earnest. (Quoted in David Charles Rose, Oscar Wilde’s Elegant Republic, Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2011, Epigraph - Preface.)

Yeats recalls Wilde's dinner-table conversation: ‘He commended and dispraised himself during dinner by attributing characteristics like his own to his country: “We Irish are too poetical to be poets; we are a nation of brilliant failures, but we are the greatest talkers since the Greeks.” When dinner was over he read to me from the proofs of The Decay of Lying and when he came to the sentence, “Schopenhauer has analysed the pessimism that characterises modern thought, but Hamlet invented it. The world has become sad because a puppet was once melancholy”, I said, “Why do you change ‘sad’ to ‘melancholy’?” He replied that he wanted a full sound at the close of the sentence, and I thought it no excuse and an example of the vague impressiveness that spoilt his writing for me. [...]’ (Autobiographies, 1955, p.135.)

*Each of these copies will be displayed in a separate window. Whole-text versions of the most of the works listed here are held in RICORSO Library, “Irish Literary Classics” [index]. A Password is required to access some parts of this region.

Poetry
Amor Intellectualis: ‘Oft have we trod the vales of Castaly / And heard sweet notes of sylvan music blown / From antique reeds to common folk unknown: / And often launched our bark upon that sea / Which the nine Muses hold in empery, / And ploughed free furrows through the wave and foam, / Nor spread reluctant sail for more safe home / Till we had freighted well our argosy. / Of which despoilèd treasures these remain, / Sordello’s passion, and the honied line / Of young Endymion, lordly Tamburlaine / Driving his pampered jades, and more than these, / The seven-fold vision of the Florentine, / And grave-browed Milton’s solemn harmonies.’ (“Rosa Mystica”, Poems, 1881). [See further examples of Wilde’s poetry, attached.]

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Ballad of Reading Gaol”: ‘Every prison that men build, is built with bricks of shame, / and bound with bars lest Christ should see, how men their brothers maim.’ ‘The vilest deeds like poison weeds, bloom well in prison air, / it is only what is good in man, that wastes and withers there.’ Also, ‘And all the woe that moved him so that he gave that bitter cry, / And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats, / none knew so well as I; / For he who lives more lives than one / More deaths than one must die.’ (Cited in Derek Mahon, review of Richard Ellmann’s life of Wilde [1987], rep. in Journalism, 1970-1995, Gallery 1996; for full text, see RICORSO Library, “Irish Literary Classics”, infra and as attached).

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Prose
Intentions (1891)
“The Decay of Lying” (1889) “The Critic as Artist” [1890]
Fiction
“The Happy Prince” (1888) The Picture of Dorian Gray
Prose essays
Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891) De Profundis (1905)
Sundry essays
The Rise of Historical Criticism
“The English Renaissance of Art”
“Irish Poets & Poetry in the 19th c.”

Dorian Gray: ‘In this country it is enough for a man to have distinction and brains for every common tongue to wag against him. And what sort of lives do these people who pose as being moral lead themselves? We are in the native land of the hypocrite’ (The Picture of Dorian Gray, London: Penguin Books 1985, p.184.)

The Decay of Lying” (1889) - Cyril: ‘I can quite understand your objection to art being treated as a mirror. You think it would reduce genius to the position of a cracked looking glass. But you don’t mean to say that you seriously believe Life imitates Art, that Life in fact is the mirror, and Art the reality?’ Vivian: ‘Certainly I do.’ (The Decay of Lying, quoted in Don Gifford, Ulysses Annotated [rev. edn.], California UP 1988, p.16; also in Seamus Deane, ‘Joyce the Irishman’, in The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, ed. Derek Attridge, Cambridge UP 1990, pp.37-38).

The Decay of Lying” (1889): ‘The solid British intellect lies in the desert sands like the Sphinx in Flaubert’s marvellous tale, and fantasy, La Chimère, dances round it, and calls to it with her false, flute-toned voice. It may not hear her now, but surely some day, when we are bored to death with the commonplace character of modern fiction, it will hearken to her and try to borrow her wings.’ (Quoted in Ellmann, ed., The Artist as Critic, W. H. Allen, 1970, p.318; Una Kealy, MA Diss., UUC, 1999, p.11, and Do., “George Fitzmaurice”, PhD Thesis, UU, 2004, p.73.) [For further extracts, see attached; for full text, go to RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics”, index, or direct.]

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The Critic as Artist’ (1891): ‘The longer one studies life and literature, the more strongly one feels that behind everything that is wonderful stands the individual, and that it is not the moment that makes the man, but the man who creates the age. Indeed, I am inclined to think that each myth and legend that seems to us to spring out of the wonder, or terror, or fancy of tribe and nation, was in its origin the invention of one single mind.’ (Ibid., pp.127-28; cited in Christopher Corr, PhD Thesis, UUC 1995; also Irish University Review, 28, 1, Spring / Summer 1998, p.27.)

The Critic as Artist’ (1891): ‘For, just as it is only by contact with the art of foreign nations that the art of a country gains that individual and separate life that we call nationality, so, by curious inversion, it is only by intensifying his own personality that the critic can interpret the personality and work of others, and the more strongly this personality enters into the interpretation the more real the interpretation becomes, the more satisfying, the more convincing and the more true.’ (Artist as Critic, ed. Ellmann, p.373]; cited in Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature, Pluto Press 1998, p., citing Intentions and the Soul of Man under Socialism, Dawsons of Pall Mall 1969, p.162.)

The Critic as Artist’ (1891): ‘Oh! to all our second-rate litterateurs. We are overrun by a set of people who, when poet or painter passes away, arrive at the house along with the undertaker, and forget that their one duty is to behave as mutes. But we won’t talk about them. They are the mere body-snatchers of literature.’ (The Works of Oscar Wilde, London: Galley Press 1987, p.949.)

The Critic as Artist’ (1891) [on Plato and Aristotle]: ‘[T]hink merely of one perfect little work of aesthetic criticism, Aristotle’s Treatise on Poetry. It is not perfect in form, for it is badly written, consisting perhaps of notes dotted down for an art lecture, or of isolated fragments destined for some larger book, but in temper and treatment it is perfect, absolutely. The ethical effect of art, its importance to culture, and its place in the formation of character, had been done once for all by Plato; but here we have art treated, not from the moral, but from the purely aesthetic point of view. Plato had, of course, dealt with many definitely artistic subjects, such as the importance of unity in a work of art, the necessity for tone and harmony, the aesthetic value of appearances, the relation of the visible arts to the external world, and the relation of fiction to fact. He first perhaps stirred in the soul of man that desire that we have not yet satisfied, the desire to know the connection between Beauty and Truth, and the place of Beauty in the moral and intellectual order of the Kosmos. The problems of idealism and realism, as he sets them forth, may seem to many to be somewhat barren of result in the metaphysical sphere of abstract being in which he places them, but transfer them to the sphere of art, and you will find that they are still vital and full of meaning. It may be that it is as a critic of Beauty that Plato is destined to live, and that by altering the name of the sphere of his speculation we shall find a new philosophy. But Aristotle, like Goethe, deals with art primarily in its concrete manifestations, taking Tragedy, for instance, and investigating the material it uses, which is language, its subject- matter, which is life, the method by which it works, which is action, the conditions under which it reveals itself, which are those of theatric presentation, its logical structure, which is plot, and its final aesthetic appeal, which is to the sense of beauty realised through the passions of pity and awe. That purification and spiritualising of the nature which he calls [Greek: catharsis/cleansing] is, as Goethe saw, essentially aesthetic, and is not moral, as Lessing fancied. Concerning himself primarily with the impression that the work of art produces, Aristotle sets himself to analyse that impression, to investigate its source, to see how it is engendered. As a physiologist and psychologist, he knows that the health of a function resides in energy. [...]’ (The Works of Oscar Wilde, London: Galley Press 1987, p.956; see also Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, ed. Richard Ellmann, London: W. H Allen & Co. 1968 in ibid., p.352.)

The Critic as Artist’ (1891) [on Plato and Aristotle:] ‘All fine imaginative work is self-conscious and deliberate. No poet sings because he must sing. At least, no great poet does. A great poet sings because he chooses to sing. It is so now, and it has always been so. We are sometimes apt to think that the voices that sounded at the dawn of poetry were simpler, fresher, and more natural than ours, and that the world which the early poets looked at, and through which they walked, had a kind of poetical quality of its own, and almost without changing could pass into song. The snow lies thick now upon Olympus, and its steep scarped sides are bleak and barren, but once, we fancy, the white feet of the Muses brushed the dew from the anemones in the morning, and at evening came Apollo to sing to the shepherds in the vale. But in this we are merely lending to other ages what we desire, or think we desire, for our own. Our historical sense is at fault. Every century that produces poetry is, so far, an artificial century, and the work that seems to us to be the most natural and simple product of its time is always the result of the most self-conscious effort. Believe me, Ernest, there is no fine art without self-consciousness, and self- consciousness and the critical spirit are one.’ (Galley Edn., p.959.)

The Critic as Artist’ (1890): ‘For there is no art where there is no style, and no style where there is no unity, and unity is of the individual. No doubt Homer had old ballads and stories to deal with, as Shakespeare had chronicles and plays and novels from which to work, but they were merely his rough material. He took them, and shaped them into song. [...] The longer one studies life and literature, the more strongly one feels that behind everything that is wonderful stands the individual, and that it is not the moment that makes the man, but the man who creates the age. Indeed, I am inclined to think that each myth and legend that seems to us to spring out of the wonder, or terror, or fancy of tribe and nation, was in its origin the invention of one single mind. The curiously limited number of the myths seems to me to point to this conclusion. But we must not go off into questions of comparative mythology. We must keep to criticism. And what I want to point out is this. An age that has no criticism is either an age in which art is immobile, hieratic, and confined to the reproduction of formal types, or an age that possesses no art at all. There have been critical ages that have not been creative, in the ordinary sense of the word, ages in which the spirit of man has sought to set in order the treasures of his treasure-house, to separate the gold from the silver, and the silver from the lead, to count over the jewels, and to give names to the pearls. But there has never been a creative age that has not been critical also. For it is the critical faculty that invents fresh forms. The tendency of creation is to repeat itself. It is to the critical instinct that we owe each new school that springs up, each new mould that art finds ready to its hand.’ Note that he speaks in the ensuing about our indebtedness to the ‘Greek critical spirit’ for ‘the epic, the lyric, the entire drama in every one of its developments [..].’ (Galley Edn., p.960.) [Cont.]

See longer extract including the assertion that criticism is the best form of autobiography as being the record of the soul, together with an allusion to Giordano Bruno’s Bestia Trionfans - Galley Edn. (1987), pp.965-67 - as attached.

The Critic as Artist’ [1890]: ‘[...] just as it is only by contact with the art of foreign nations that the art of a country gains that individual and separate life that we call nationality, so, by curious inversion, it is only by intensifying his own personality that the critic can interpret the personality and work of others, and the more strongly this personality enters into the interpretation the more real the interpretation becomes, the more satisfying, the more convincing, and the more true.’ (Galley Edn., p.972; for full-text version, see RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics” via index, or direct.]

The Critic as Artist’ [1890]: ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.’ (Collected Works, p.1142; quoted in Fionnula Henderson, UG Diss., UU [2001].)

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The Happy Prince” (1888): [...] So they pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince. “As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful,” said the Art Professor at the University. / Then they melted the statue in a furnace, and the Mayor held a meeting of the Corporation to decide what was to be done with the metal. “We must have another statue, of course,” he said, “and it shall be a statue of myself.” / “Of myself,” said each of the Town Councillors, and they quarrelled. When I last heard of them they were quarrelling still. / “What a strange thing!” said the overseer of the workmen at the foundry. “This broken lead heart will not melt in the furnace. We must throw it away.” So they threw it on a dust-heap where the dead Swallow was also lying. / “Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird. / “You have rightly chosen,” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.” [End.] (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics”, via index, or direct.)

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The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) - Preface [consisting in epigrams] - selected:

  • ‘The artist is the creator of beautiful things.’
  • ‘The Critic is he who can translate into anoter manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.’
  • ‘The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autbiography.’ ‘There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.’
  • ‘The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.’
  • ‘No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.’
  • ‘Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for art.’
  • ‘All Art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their own peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.’
  • ‘It is the spectator, and not life, that Art really mirrors.’
  • ‘All art is quite useless.’

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) [Lord Henry’s gospel]: ‘The aim of life is self-development. To realise one’s nature perfectly, that is what each of us is here for […] Return to the Hellenic ideal […] The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Resist it and your soul grows weak with longing for the things it has forbidden itself. [Penguin 1994 Edn., p.26; see longer extract, infra.] ‘Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul - A new Hedonism, that is what our century wants. you might be its visible symbol.’ [q.p.]

New Hedonism: ‘Yes, there was to be, as Lord Henry had prophesied, a new Hedonism that was to re-create life, and to save it from the hard, uncomely puritanism that is having, in our day, its curious revival. It was to have its service of the intellect, certainly; yet, it was never to accept any theory or system that would involve the sacrifice of any mode of passionate experience. Its aim, indeed, was to be experience itself, and not the fruits of experience, sweet or bitter as they might be. Of the ascetism that deadens the sense, as of the vulgar profligacy that dulls them, it was to know nothing. But it was to teach man to concentrate himself upon the moments of a life that is itself but a moment.’

For further extracts see attached; for full text go to RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics”, index, or direct. Now read on ...

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The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Dorian: ‘How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June […] If it were only the other day! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that - for that - I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!’ (Quoted in Eileen Battersby, ‘Second Reading: The Picture of Dorian Gray’, in The Irish Times, Weekend, 23 Aug. 2008, p.12.)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) - Lord Henry Wotton: “I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream--I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of mediaevalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal - to something finer, richer than the Hellenic ideal, it may be. But the bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself. The mutilation of the savage has its tragic survival in the self-denial that mars our lives. We are punished for our refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification. Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the world take place also. You, Mr. Gray, you yourself, with your rose-red youth and your rose-white boyhood, you have had passions that have made you afraid, thoughts that have fined you with terror, day-dreams and sleeping dreams whose mere memory might stain your cheek with shame -’ (p.25.)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) - Lord Henry: ‘There is no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral - immoral from the scientific point of view. […] Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of some one else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realise one’s nature perfectly - that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one’s self.’ (p.25.)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891): ‘The only artists I have ever known who are personally delightful are bad artists. Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are. A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realise.” (p.68.)

[Dorian aims to be] ‘a type that was to combine something of the real culture of the scholar with all the grace and distinction and perfect manner of a citizen of the world’ (Dorian Gray, Norton Critical Edn., p.101.)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Lord Henry: ‘[…] It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style. They affect us just as vulgarity affects us. They give us an impression of sheer brute force, and we revolt against that. Sometimes, however, a tragedy that possesses artistic elements of beauty crosses our lives. If these elements of beauty are real, the whole thing simply appeals to our sense of dramatic effect. Suddenly we find that we are no longer the actors, but the spectators of the play. Or rather we are both. We watch ourselves, and the mere wonder of the spectacle enthralls us. In the present case, what is it that has really happened? Some one has killed herself for love of you. I wish that I had ever had such an experience. It would have made me in love with love for the rest of my life. The people who have adored me - there have not been very many, but there have been some - have always insisted on living on, long after I had ceased to care for them, or they to care for me. They have become stout and tedious, and when I meet them, they go in at once for reminiscences. That awful memory of woman! What a fearful thing it is! And what an utter intellectual stagnation it reveals! One should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar.’ (p.188.)

[Henry to Dorian:] I am so glad you have never done anything, never carved a statue, or painted a picture, or produced anything outside of yourself! Life has been your art. You have set yourself to music. Your days are your sonnets.’ (p.248.)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891): ‘That [which] lends to Gothic art its enduring vitality, this art being, one might fancy, especially the art of those whose minds have been troubled with the malady of reverie […]. Out of the unreal shadows of the night comes back the real life that we had known. We have to resume it where we had left off, and there steals over us a terrible sense of the necessity the continuance of energy in the same wearisome round of stereotyped habits, or a wild longing, it may be, that our eyelids might open some morning upon a world that had been refashioned anew in the darkness for our pleasure … a world in which the past would have little or no place, or survive, at any rate, in no conscious form of obligation or regret.’ (Ibid., 101-03; quoted in Mary C. King, ‘Oscar Wilde: Naming, Re-cognising and Re-Collecting and the Picture of Dorian Gray’, typescript paper on Wilde, 1997, with the remark: ‘Thus Wilde as critic anticipates W. J. McCormack’s diagnosis of the pathology of the Gothic in Irish Victorian literature’.)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) - sundry quotations:

  • ‘Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away like sand, and creeds follow one another like the withered leaves of autumn; but what is beautiful is a joy for all seasons and a possession for all eternity.’
  • ‘To elaborate some new scheme of life that would have its reasoned philosophy and its ordered principles.’
  • ‘[To] find in the spiritualising the sense its highest realisation’ (idem.)
  • ‘We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were much too afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to. Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!’
  • ‘Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing […] you might be its symbol.’

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The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891): ‘[…] The new individualism, for whose service socialism, whether it wills or not, is working, will be perfect harmony. It will be what the Greeks sought for, but could not expect in thought, realise completely because they had slaves, and fed them; it will be what the Renaissance sought for, but could not realise completely except in Art, because they has slaves, and starved them. It will be complete, and through it each man will attain to his perfection. The new Individualism is the new Hellenism.’ ‘People sometimes enquire what form of government is most suitable for an artist to live under. To this there is only one answer, […] no government at all. Authority over him and his art is ridiculous […] There are three kinds of despots. There is the despot who tyrannises over the body. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul and body alike. The first is called the Prince. The second is called the Pope. The third is called the People.’ ‘Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do.’ [q.pp.] Also, ‘In the modern stress of competition and struggle for place, sympathy is naturally rare, and is also very much stifled by the immoral ideal of uniformity of type and conformity to rule which is so prevalent everywhere, and is perhaps most obnoxious in England.’ (‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’, in Complete Works, p.1102.)

See full-text version of The Soul of Man Under Socialism in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics”, via index or direct.)

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The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891): ‘[T]he best among the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient and rebellious. They are quite right to be so … Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it. As for being discontented, a man who would not be discontented with such surroundings and such a low mode of life would be a perfect brute. Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and rebellion […] As for the virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course, but one cannot possibly admire them’ (ibid., p.1176.)

The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891), on the virtuous poor: ‘They have made private terms with the enemy and sold their birthright for very bad pottage. They must also be extraordinarily stupid. I can quite understand a man accepting laws that protect private property, and admit of its accumulation, as long as he himself is able under these conditions to realise some form of beautiful and harmonious life. But it is almost incredible to me that a man whose life is marred and made hideous by such laws can possibly acquiesce in their continuance.’ (From The Soul of Man Under Socialism, ed. GF Maine, 1961, q.p.)

The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891): ‘The recognition of private property has really harmed Individualism, and obscured it, by confusing a man with what he possesses. It has led Individualism entirely astray. It has made gain, not growth, its aim. So that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that the important thing was to be. The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has but in what man is. Private property has crushed true Individualism and set up an Individualism that is false.’ (Complete Works, Collins 1973, p.1178)

The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891): ‘It will be a marvellous thing - the true personality of man - when we see it. It will grow naturally and simply, flowerlike, or as a tree grows. It will not be at discord. It will never argue or dispute. It will not prove things. It will know everything … It will not be always meddling with others, or asking them to be like itself. It will love them because they will be different. And yet, while it will not meddle with others, it will help all, as a beautiful thing helps us, by being what it is.’ (Idem., quoted in Fionnula Henderson, “Oscar Wilde and Aestheticism: A Study of the Social Comedies”, UG Diss, UU [2001].)

Soul of Man 1891

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The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891): ‘The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predict of it. The systems that fail are those that rely on he permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development. The error of Louis XIV was that he thought human nature would always be the same. The result of his error was the French Revolution. It was an admirable result. (Works, q. edn., p.1194; cited in Selina Mooney, MA Diss. UUC, 1999.)

‘Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people’s lives alone, not interfering with them.’ (Idem.)

‘Pleasure is nature’s test, her sign of approval. When man is happy, he is in harmony with himself and his environment.’ (Complete Works, p.1197.)

The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891): ‘But it may be asked how Individualism, which is now more or less dependent on the existence of private property for its development, will benefit by the abolition of such private property. The answer is very simple. It is true that, under existing conditions, a few men who have had private means of their own, such as Byron, Shelley, Browning, Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, and others, have been able to realise their personality more or less completely. not of these did a single day’s work for hire.’ (Quoted in Ellmann, Oscar Wilde, p.260.)

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De Profundis (1905): ‘We who live in prison, and in whose lives there is no event but sorrow, have to measure time by throbs of pain, and the record of bitter moments. We have nothing else to think of […] and the remembrance of suffering in the past is necessary to us as the warrant, the evidence, of our continued identity.’ (Complete Works, London; Galley Press 1966, 1973, p.884.)

‘What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion.’ (Ibid., p.913).

‘I am a born antinomian. I am one of those who are made for exceptions, not for laws.’ (ibid., p.913-15.)

‘I don’t regret for a single moment having lived for pleasure. I did it to the full, as one should do everything that one does to the full […]. But to have continued the same thing would have been wrong because it would have been limiting […] The other half of the garden had its secrets also.’ (Ibid., p.922.)

‘While to propose to be a better man is a piece of unscientific cant, to have become a deeper man is the privilege of those who have suffered.’ (Ibid., p.934.)

‘People thought it dreadful of me to have entertained at dinner the evil things of life, and to have found pleasure in their company. But they, from the point of view through which I, as an artist in life, approached them, were delightfully suggestive and stimulating. It was like feasting with panthers. The danger was half the excitement […] They were to me the brightest of gilded names. Their poison was part of their perfection.’ (Ibid., p.938.)

‘All bad art is the result of good intentions’ (Ibid., p.941.)

‘Artists, like art itself, […] are of their very essence quite useless.’ (Ibid., p.946.)

‘I am conscious now that behind all this Beauty, satisfying though it be, there is some spirit hidden of which the painted forms and shapes are but the modes of manifestation, and it is with this spirit that I now desire to be in harmony.’ (Ibid., p.955).

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De Profundis (1905): ‘When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable disgrace […]. To reject one’s own experiences is to arrests one’s own development. To deny one’s experiences is to put a lie to the lips of one’s own life. it is no less than the denial of the Soul.’ (q.p.)

De Profundis (1905): ‘The fact of my having been the common prisoner of a common gaol I must frankly accept, and, curious as it may see to you, one of the things I shall have to teach myself is not to be ashamed of it. I must accept it as a punishment, and if one is ashamed of having been punished, one might just as well never have been punished at all. Of course there are many things of which I was convicted that I had not done, but then there are many things of which I was convicted that I had done, and a still greater number of things in my life for which I never was indicted at all.’ ‘I must accept the fact that one is punished for the good as well as the evil that one does. I have no doubt that it is quite right one should be. It helps one, or should help one, to realise both, and not to be too conceited about either. And if I then am not ashamed of my punishment, as I hope not to be, I shall be able to think, and walk, and live with freedom.’ (The foregoing all quoted by P. J. Kavanagh, in Book of Consolations, pp.98-99.)

De Profundis (1905): ‘Whatever I touched, I made beautiful in a new mode of beauty’ (Methuen edn., 1961, p.77.) ‘The trivial in thought and action is charming. I had made it the keystone of a very brilliant philosophy expressed in plays and paradoxes.’ (Ibid., p.26.)

De Profundis (1905): ‘I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art: I altered the minds of men and the colours of things: there was nothing I said or did that did not make people wonder: I took the drama, the most objective form known to art, and made it as personal a mode of expression as the lyric or the sonnet, at the same time that I widened its range and enriched its characterisation.’ (Complete Works, p.1017.)

De Profundis (1905) [Of Alfred [Lord] Douglas]: ‘[Your mother] saw, of course, that heredity had burdened you with a terrible legacy, and frankly admitted it, admitted it with terror: he is “the one of my children who has inherited the fatal Douglas temperament”, she wrote of you.’ (Letters, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis, NY 1962, p.433.)

‘Through your father you come of a race, marriage with whom is horrible, friendship fatal, and that lays violent hands either on its own life or on the lives of others.’ (Ibid., p.440.)

De Profundis (1905): ‘The fact that the man you hated was your own father, and that the feeling was thoroughly reciprocated, did not make your Hate noble or fine in any way. If it showed anything it was simply that it was a hereditary disease.’ (Ibid., p.451.)

[All the foregoing quoted in John Wilson Foster, ‘Against Nature? Science and Oscar Wilde’, in Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture, Dublin: IAP 2009, p.41 - in demonstration of Wilde’s interest in heredity and pathology, prefaced by the quotation, ‘there is no use in telling a person a thing that they don’t feel and can’t understand’ and the remark: ‘A refrain in De Profundis is the flawed heredity of the Douglases’, Letters, p.448; Foster, op. cit., p.41.)]

De Profundis (1905): ‘Christ had no patience with the dull lifeless mechanical systems that treat people as if they were things, and so treat everybody alike: for him there were no laws: there were exceptions merely [...]’. (Quoted by William Duncan, ‘Law and the Irish psyche: the conflict between aspiration and experience’, in ‘The Irish Psyche’, special issue of The Irish Journal of Psychology, 15, 2 & 3, 1994, p.453.)

De Profundis (1905): ‘The two great turning points of my life were when my father sent me to Oxford and when society sent me to prison.’ (Selected Letters, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis, London 1979, ‘De Profundis’, p.197; quoted in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.36.) [See longer extracts, attached, or go to full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics”, index - or direct.]

De Profundis: ‘[A]ll trials are trials for life, just as all sentences are sentences of death ... Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on just and unjust alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide ...’ (Quoted in Geoffrey Lewis, Edward Carson: The Man Who Divided Ireland (London: [Hambledon Continuum] Bloomsbury 2006, p.45; our itals.) Cf., Joyce’s ‘snow .. falling on the living and the dead’. This may be considered a similar trope but hardly the result of direct influence, still less an allusion to Wilde’s book - or can it? [BS]

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The Rise of Historical Criticism” (early writing; date unknown), Section 2: ‘At an early period in their intellectual development the Greeks reached that critical point in the history of every civilised nation, when speculative [sic] invades the domain of revealed truth, when the spiritual ideas of the people can no longer be satisfied by the lower, material conceptions of their inspired writers, and when men find it impossible to pour the new wine of free thought into the old bottles of a narrow and trammelled creed. / From their Aryan ancestors they had received the fatal legacy of a mythology stained with immoral and monstrous stories which strove to hide the rational order of nature in a chaos of miracles, and to mar by imputed wickedness the perfection of God’s nature - the very shirt of Nessos in which the Heracles of rationalism barely escaped annihilation. […]’. [Cont.]

The Rise of Historical Criticism” (q.d.), - cont.: ‘It is difficult to shake the popular belief in miracles, but no man will admit sin and immortality [?err for immorality] as attributes of the Ideal he worships; so the first symptoms of a new order of thought are shown in the passionate outcries of Xenophanes and Heraclitos against the evil thing said by Homer of the sons of God; and in the story told of Pythagoras, how that he saw tortured in Hell the “two founders of Greek theology”, we can recognise the rise of the Aufklarung [viz., Enlightenment] as clearly as we see the Reformation foreshadowed in the Inferno of Dante. / Any honest belief, then, in the plain truth of these stories soon succumbed before the destructive effects of the a priori ethical criticism of this school; but the orthodox party, as is their custom, found immediately a convenient shelter under the aegis of the doctrine of metaphors and concealed meanings. / To those allegorical school the tale of the fight around the walls of Troy was a mystery, behind which, as behind a veil, were hidden certain moral and physical truths. To contest between Athena and Ares was that eternal contest between rational thought and the brute force of ignorance; the arrows which rattled in the quiver of the “Far Darter” were no longer the instruments of vengeance shot from the golden bow of the child of God, but the common rays of the sun, which was itself nothing but a mere inert mass of burning metal’. [Cont.]

The Rise of Historical Criticism” (q.d.), - cont.: ‘Modern investigation, with the ruthlessness of Philistine analysis, has ultimately brought Helen of Troy down to a symbol of the dawn […] / Now while this tendency to look for metaphors and hidden meaning must be ranked as one of the germs of historical criticism, yet it was essentially unscientific. Its inherent weakness is clearly pointed out by Plato, who showed that while this theory will no doubt explain many of the current legends, yet, if it is to be appealed to at all, it must be as a universal principal; a position he is by no means prepared to admit. / Like many other great principles it suffered from its disciples, and furnished its own refutation when the web of Penelope was analysed into a metaphor of the rules of formal logic, the warp representing the premises, and the woof the conclusions. / Rejecting, then the allegorical interpretation of the sacred writings [1107] as an essentially dangerous method, proving either too much or too little, Plato himself returns to the earlier mode of attack, and re-writes history with a didactic purposes, laying down certain ethical canons of historical criticism. God is good; God is just; God is true; God is without the common passions of me. There are the tests to which we are to bring the stories of the Greek religion.’ (Works, London: Galley Press Edn. 1987, pp.1104-08; 1107-08.)

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The English Renaissance of Art”: ‘Literature must rest always on a principle, and temporal considerations are no principle at all. For to the poet all times and places are one; the stuff he deals with is eternal and eternally the same: no theme is inept, no past or present preferable. The steam whistle will not affright him nor the flutes of Arcadia weary him; for him there is but one time, the artistic moment; but one law, the law of form; but one land, the land of Beauty - a land removed indeed from the real world and yet more sensuous because more enduring; calm, yet with that calm which dwells in the faces of Greek statues, the calm which comes not from the rejection but from the absorption of passion, the calm which despair and sorrow cannot disturb but intensify only. And so it comes that he who seems to stand most remote from his age is he who mirrors it best, becase he has stripped life of what is accidental and transitory, stripped it of that “mist of familiarity which makes life obscure to us”.’ (Lecture delivered at Chickering Hall, New York, 9 Jan. 1882; accessed at content.answers.com [online] - 2. 09.2007.)

Irish Poets and Poetry in the Nineteenth Century’: According to Wilde, Celtic mythology revealed ‘the loveliness of the world … through a mist of tears’; he spoke also of the ‘passionate melancholy’ of the Ossian poems of Macpherson which, he said, had revolutionised the ‘dull’ eighteenth-century literature and offered the Romantic poets a ‘well of undefiled pure poetry’ to draw from. (See Thomas Wright, Oscar’s Books: A Journey around the Library of Oscar Wilde [2008], London: Vintage Books 2009, p.14; citing R. D. Pepper, ed., Irish Poets and Poetry in the Nineteenth Century [Lecture of 1882] (San Francisco 1972, p.29.)

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Dramatic Writings
Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), Mrs Erlynne: ‘You don’t know what it is to fall into the pit, to be despised, mocked, abandoned, sneered at - to be an outcast! To find the door shut against one, to have to creep in by hideous byeways, afraid every moment lest the mask should be stripped from one’s face, and all the while hear the laughter, the horrible laughter of the world, a thing more tragic than all tears the world has ever shed … You haven’t got the kind of brains that enables a woman to get back. You have neither the wit nor the courage. You couldn’t stand dishonour … Your place is with your child.’ (Act. III.) Mrs Erlynne: ‘I have no ambition to play the part of a mother. Only once in my life have I known a mother’s feelings. That was last night. There were terrible - they made me suffer - they made me suffer too much. For twenty years, as you say, I have lived childless - I want to live childless still. Besides, my dear Windermere, how on earth could I pose as a mother with a grown-up daughter? Margaret is twenty-one, and I have never admitted that I am more than twenty-nine, or thirty at the most. (Act IV.) ‘There is the same world for all of us, and good and evil, sin and innocence, go through it hand in hand. To shut one’s eyes to half of life that one may live securely is as though one blinded oneself that one might walk with more safety in a land of pit and precipice’. (Act IV). Mrs Erlynne, ‘I suppose, Windermere, you would like me to retire into a convent or become a hospital nurse, or something of that kind, as people do in silly novels. That is stupid of you, Arthur, in real life we don’t do such things - not so long as we have any good looks left, at any rate. No - what consoles one nowadays is not repentance, but pleasure. Repentance is quite out of date.’ (Complete Works, p.460.) Of Mrs Erlynne: ‘I assure you, women of that kind are most useful. They form the basis of other people’s marriages.’ (Lady Windermere’s Fan, Complete Works, Glasgow: Harper Collins 1994 p.438.) [See also a summmary and interpretation by John Stokes, under Commentary, supra.]

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A Woman of No Importance (1893), ‘The worst form of tyranny […] the tyranny of the weak over the strong.’ (Act. III). Hester [on Lord Henry Weston]: ‘A man with a hideous smile and and hideous past. He is asked everywhere. No dinner party is complete without him. What of those whose ruin is due to him? They are outcasts. They are nameless. If you met them in the street you would turn your head away. […] You are unjust to women in England. And till you count what is a shame in a woman to be infamy in a man, you will always be unjust …’ (Complete Works, pp.483-84.) Mrs Arbuthnot: ‘[…] nor will I ever stand before God’s alter and ask God’s blessing on so hideous a mockery as a marriage between me and George Harford. I will not say the words the Church bids us to say. I will not say them. I dare not. How could I swear to love the man I loathe, to honour him who wrought you dishonour, to obey him who, in his mastery, made me to sin? No: marriage is a sacrament for those who love each other. It is not for such as him, or such as me.’ (ibid., pp.507-08.)

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An Ideal Husband (1895) - Selected Quotations

Mrs Cheveley: ‘My dear Sir Robert, what then? You are ruined, that is all! Remember to what a point your Puritanism in England has brought you. In old days nobody pretended to be a bit better than his neighbours. In fact, to be a bit better than one’s neighbour was considered excessively vulgar and middle-class. Nowadays, with our modern mania for morality, every one has to pose as a paragon of purity, incorruptibility, and all the other seven deadly virtues - and what is the result? You all go over like ninepins - one after the other. Not a year passes in England without somebody disappearing. Scandals used to lend charm, or at least interest, to a man - now they crush him. And yours is a very nasty scandal. You couldn’t survive it. If it were known that as a young man, secretary to a great and important minister, you sold a Cabinet secret for a large sum of money, and that that was the origin of your wealth and career, you would be hounded out of public life, you would disappear completely. And after all, Sir Robert, why should you sacrifice your entire future rather than deal diplomatically with your enemy? For the moment I am your enemy. I admit it! And I am much stronger than you are. The big battalions are on my side. You have a splendid position, but it is your splendid position that makes you so vulnerable. You can’t defend it! And I am in attack. Of course I have not talked morality to you. You must admit in fairness that I have spared you that. Years ago you did a clever, unscrupulous thing; it turned out a great success. You owe to it your fortune and position. And now you have got to pay for it. Sooner or later we have all to pay for what we do. You have to pay now. Before I leave you to-night, you have got to promise me to suppress your report, and to speak in the House in favour of this scheme.’ (Act I.)

 

Lord Goring: ‘My dear Robert, it’s a very awkward business, very awkward indeed. You should have told your wife the whole thing. Secrets from other people’s wives are a necessary luxury in modern life. So, at least, I am always told at the club by people who are bald enough to know better. But no man should have a secret from his own wife. She invariably finds it out. Women have a wonderful instinct about things. They can discover everything except the obvious. (Act II.)

 

Sir Robert Chiltern: ‘Gertrude, truth is a very complex thing, and politics is a very complex business. There are wheels within wheels. One may be under certain obligations to people that one must pay. Sooner or later in political life one has to compromise. Every one does.’ (Act II.) Further, ‘We have all feet of clay, women as well as men; but when we men love women, we love them knowing their weaknesses, their follies, their imperfections, love them all the more, it may be for that reason. It is not the perfect, but the imperfection, who have need of love. It is when we are wounded by our own hands, or the hands of others, that love should come to cure us - else what use is love at all? All sins, except a sin against itself, love should forgive. All lives, save loveless lives, true love should pardon.’ (Act. II.)

 

Lord Goring: ‘Lady Chiltern, I have sometimes thought that […] perhaps you are a little hard in some of your views on life. I think that […] often you don’t make sufficient allowances. In every nature there are elements of weakness, or worse than weakness. Supposing, for instance, that - that any public man, my father, or Lord Merton, or Robert, say, had, years ago, written some foolish letter to some one …’ (Act II.)

 

Lord Goring: [Rising.] ‘No, Lady Chiltern, I am not a Pessimist. Indeed I am not sure that I quite know what Pessimism really means. All I do know is that life cannot be understood without much charity, cannot be lived without much charity. It is love, and not German philosophy, that is the true explanation of this world, whatever may be the explanation of the next. And if you are ever in trouble, Lady Chiltern, trust me absolutely, and I will help you in every way I can. If you ever want me, come to me for my assistance, and you shall have it. Come at once to me.’

 

Lord Goring: ‘Lady Chiltern, I have sometimes thought that […] perhaps you are a little hard in some of your views on life. I think that […] often you don’t make sufficient allowances. In every nature there are elements of weakness, or worse than weakness. Supposing, for instance, that - that any public man, my father, or Lord Merton, or Robert, say, had, years ago, written some foolish letter to some one …’ (Act II.) (Act II.)

 

Lady Markby: ‘They do, dear. But I am afraid such a scheme would be quite unpractical. I don’t think man has much capacity for development. He has got as far as he can, and that is not far, is it? With regard to women, well, dear Gertrude, you belong to the younger generation, and I am sure it is all right if you approve of it. In my time, of course, we were taught not to understand anything. That was the old system, and wonderfully interesting it was. I assure you that the amount of things I and my poor dear sister were taught not to understand was quite extraordinary. But modern women understand everything, I am told.’ (Act II.)

 

Sir Robert Chiltern: ‘There was your mistake. There was your error. The error all women commit. Why can’t you women love us, faults and all? Why do you place us on monstrous pedestals? We have all feet of clay, women as well as men; but when we men love women, we love them knowing their weaknesses, their follies, their imperfections, love them all the more, it may be, for that reason. It is not the perfect, but the imperfect, who have need of love. It is when we are wounded by our own hands, or by the hands of others, that love should come to cure us - else what use is love at all? All sins, except a sin against itself, Love should forgive. All lives, save loveless lives, true Love should pardon. A man’s love is like that. It is wider, larger, more human than a woman’s. Women think that they are making ideals of men. What they are making of us are false idols merely. You made your false idol of me, and I had not the courage to come down, show you my wounds, tell you my weaknesses. I was afraid that I might lose your love, as I have lost it now. And so, last night you ruined my life for me - yes, ruined it! What this woman asked of me was nothing compared to what she offered to me. She offered security, peace, stability. The sin of my youth, that I had thought was buried, rose up in front of me, hideous, horrible, with its hands at my throat. I could have killed it for ever, sent it back into its tomb, destroyed its record, burned the one witness against me. You prevented me. No one but you, you know it. And now what is there before me but public disgrace, ruin, terrible shame, the mockery of the world, a lonely dishonoured life, a lonely dishonoured death, it may be, some day? Let women make no more ideals of men! let them not put them on alters and bow before them, or they may ruin other lives as completely as you - you whom I have so wildly loved - have ruined mine!’ (End of Act II.)

 

Lord Goring: [Pulling himself together for a great effort, and showing the philosopher that underlies the dandy.] ‘Lady Chiltern, allow me. You wrote me a letter last night in which you said you trusted me and wanted my help. Now is the moment when you really want my help, now is the time when you have got to trust me, to trust in my counsel and judgment. You love Robert. Do you want to kill his love for you? What sort of existence will he have if you rob him of the fruits of his ambition, if you take him from the splendour of a great political career, if you close the doors of public life against him, if you condemn him to sterile failure, he who was made for triumph and success? Women are not meant to judge us, but to forgive us when we need forgiveness. Pardon, not punishment, is their mission. Why should you scourge him with rods for a sin done in his youth, before he knew you, before he knew himself? A man’s life is of more value than a woman’s. It has larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. A woman’s life revolves in curves of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man’s life progresses. Don’t make any terrible mistake, Lady Chiltern. A woman who can keep a man’s love, and love him in return, has done all the world wants of women, or should want of them.’ (Act IV; Complete Works, London: Dawsons 1969, p.228.) Further [Lord Goring]: ‘To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.’ Further: ‘Dandyism is the assertion of the absolute modernity of beauty’. (q.p.)

 

Also: CHILTERN [to Lord Goring]: ‘Weak? Do you really thing, Arthur, that it is weakness which yields to temptation? I tell you that there are terrible temptations that it requires strength, strength and courage, to yield to. To stake all one’s life on a single moment, to risk everything on a single throw, whether the stakes be power or pleasure. I care not - there is no weakness in that. There is a horrible, a terrible courage, I had that courage.’ (Complete Works, Collins 1973 [1969], p.538.)

 

[See Topical Quotations, attached; & Whole Text Version in RICORSO, Library, “Irish Literary Classics”, via index or direct.]

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Salomé (1896), ‘Thy hair is like clusters of grapes, like the clusters of black grapes that hang from the vine trees of Edom […] eyes […] like black lakes troubled by fantastic moons […] there is nothing in the world as black as thy hair […] let me touch thy hair […] thy mouth is like a band of scarlet on a tower of ivory […] redder than the feet of those who tread the wine in the wine press.’

Vide Wilde’s remarks on the banning of Salomé: ‘I will not consent to call myself a citizen of a country that shows such narrowness in artistic judgement. I am not English. I am Irish which is quite another thing.’ (Pall Mall Budget, 4, 30 June 1892; Complete Writings, 1967 Edn., p.947.)

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The Importance of Being Earnest (1895; Collected Plays) - ACT ONE: Lane: ‘only married once […] in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person.’ (Act. I; p.321.) Algernon: ‘[…] if the lower orders don’t set a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.’ (p.322.) Algernon: ‘Divorces are made in heaven’ (p.323.) Algernon: ‘more than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read’ (p.324.) Algernon: ‘the truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be completely tedious if it were, and modern literature a complete impossibility!’ (p.326.) Algernon: ‘The amount of women in London who flirt with their husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad […] simply washing one’s clean linen in public.’ (p.326). Algernon: ‘Nothing will enduce me to part with Bunbury, and if you ever get married, which seems to me extremely problematic, you will be glad to know Bunbury. A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it.’ Jack: ‘That is nonsense. If I marry a charming girl like Gwendolen, and she is the only girl I ever saw in my life that I would marry, I certainly won’t want to know Bunbury.’ (Earnest, Act 1.) ‘Oh, I am not really wicked at all, cousin Cecily. You mustn’t think that I am wicked.’ Cecily [to Miss Prism:] ‘But I don’t like German. It isn’t at all a becoming language. I know perfectly well that I look quite plain after my German lesson.’ Miss Prism: ‘The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.’ Cecily: ‘If you are not, you have been recently deceiving us all in a very inexcusable manner. I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would by hypocrisy.’ (Earnest, Act 2)…. [See further extracts, attached; also full text in RICORSO Library, “Irish Literary Classics”, via index, or direct .]

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