THE ARTIST AS CRITIC: The Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde by Richard--Ed. Ellmann

THE ARTIST AS CRITIC: The Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde

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What was Oscar Wilde's paradox? Was it, as Borges claims, that he was a man born out of his time, that he was distinctly a son ""of the eighteenth century who sometimes condescended to play the game of symbolism,"" a gifted stylist of inveterate common sense who delighted in turning things on their heads, that popular pastime of the nineteenth century? ""Man is least himself,"" says Wilde, ""when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."" Can we see behind the Oscar of the green carnation and the flagrant wit, the dour, no-nonsense, middle-of-the-road figure of Doctor Johnson? Yes and no. Certainly, when reading this wonderful collection of Wilde's critical writings, we are aware at every stage of sound Anglo-Saxon reasoning -- Wilde was nowhere as serious as Johnson or Mathew Arnold, but his mind, when he chose to employ it, was surely as durable, tempered, and shrewd. This is as apparent in the occasional newspaper reviews (see the sharp appreciation of Dostoevsky and the knowingly fey one of Ouida), as it is in the important and dazzling essays, ""The Decline of Lying,"" ""The Critic as Artist,"" and ""The Truth of Masks,"" essays which have more to do with what is essentially modern in art and sensibility than probably anything else published in the English language. Conversely, however, there is the matter of temperament, the fatal flaw. For Wilde, the fat and incorrigible dandy, wished to charm, tantalize, and disturb, not instruct (""All art is quite useless""). He was the judge mesmerized by the culprit, and when creating Dorian Gray he created his Pandora's box. His bright genius was truly of the underworld.

Pub Date: April 10th, 1969
Publisher: Random House