Oscar Wilde liked people to think he was right. He had the uncanny ability of saying something that sounded good and then doing the exact opposite. Some would call that hypocrisy, but the more popular term for it seems to be “genius” judging by his status as a renowned writer and still-popular celebrity. Genius or not, Wilde knew how to put together a sentence. His life was one for the books, and his book, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is one ripe for the analysis. Many parallels resonate between the novel and his—to put it gently, extraordinary—life.
Wilde was born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Ireland (Ridley). Wilde’s father was a surgeon whose philanthropic medical work led to the founding of the Dublin Eye and Ear Hospital. Wilde’s mother was a writer, suffragist, and staunch Irish nationalist (Bredbeck). From an early age, Wilde was surrounded by his mother’s crowd of writers, so it was only fitting for him to pursue classics, the study of Roman and Greek literature and philosophy, in college. He spent three years at Trinity College in Dublin, where he won the Berkeley Medal—the highest honor in the study of classics (Bradbeck). This distinction gained him admittance into the Magdalen College at Oxford, where he made a mark for himself as the face of a new literary movement: aestheticism. The driving philosophy behind this movement valued the beauty above all else and championed “art for art’s sake”—that is, Wilde’s aesthetes believed that a piece of art’s beauty was grounds enough for it to be art, regardless of the meaning behind the painting or the actual content of the book (Ridley).
While Wilde did win Oxford’s Newdigate prize in 1878 f...
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...e — in other ages, perhaps” (Dawson). Not only did he do a lousy job at “concealing” himself (“the artist”) by inserting not one, not two, but three quasi-avatars into his work. For him to identify with all three characters, two of whom (Basil and Henry) are polar opposites, shows the volatility of Wilde’s personality. He was no stranger to contradiction, and certainly, as Dorian Gray corroborates, no stranger to its chief side-effect: hypocrisy. The test of a first-rate intelligence may be the ability to hold two opposed ideas in a mind at the same time according to one F. Scott Fitzgerald, but the test of a first-rate hypocrite is to advocate one as if you live by it and then turn around and live out the other. For Oscar Wilde, homosexual Victorian socialite, Irishman in the English aristocracy, self-proclaimed “dandy” in a prison cell, hypocrisy was a way of life.
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