How I Became A Socialist And Oscar Wilde 's The Critic As Artist Essay

How I Became A Socialist And Oscar Wilde 's The Critic As Artist Essay

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The nineteenth century was a period of great growth. It yielded an age of material and scientific growth, one characterized by rise in intelligence, moral ground, scientific discovery, medical breakthroughs and improving overall health. The Industrial Revolution swept through the world and urbanization spread through England. This lead to class distinctions and societal upheaval. Underneath the breakthroughs of the age there was a group of people who feared civilization was coming quickly to an end. These “degenerationalists” firmly believed that civilization was in decline and like evolutionary theory, it could be found in biological or physical traits. The word “degeneration” was meant to mean an organism’s gradual evolution from a more complex, varied creature to one of simplicity. This change was tied together with 19th century thoughts of biological de-evolution. William Morris’ “How I Became a Socialist” and Oscar Wilde’s “The Critic As Artist” both convey the message of the decaying, degenerating masses generated by the degeneration theory; a theory based off of Charles Darwin’s Origin of man in reverse. The degeneration theory, resulting from the societal upheaval at the time and fear of the future, still holds a handhold in today’s society.

The Victorian era was arguably the greatest period of development and innovation in British history. Charles Darwin, though widely criticized, elevated the human being to an organism of the highest caliber on the evolutionary tree. Darwin proposed a mechanism that depended on natural variation in species and chance: natural selection. Given a largely varied population, with many variations on physical traits, which ones would survive? It was clear in the theory that only the most use...


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...m Morris and Oscar Wilde were inclined to agree with these thoughts. Problems within the human mind and in the human nature were believed to result in regression to the primitive. The Victorian era brought about so much change with industrialization, discovery and scientific development that the uncertainty of the future ate at them leading to theories of decay and even persists today in undertones across all forms of media.





Works Cited

Claeys, Gregory. "The "Survival of the Fittest" and the Origins of Social Darwinism." Journal of

the History of Ideas 61.2 (2000): 223-40. Web.

Brantlinger, Patrick, and William B. Thesing. A Companion to the Victorian Novel. Oxford, UK:

Blackwell, 2002. Print.

Kershner, Jr. R. B. "Degeneration: The Explanatory Nightmare." The Georgia Review 40.2

(1986): 416-44. JSTOR. Web. 13 July 2015.

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