A Critic in Pall Mall by Oscar Wilde
Author: Oscar Wilde
Genre: Non-fiction, Essay
A Critic in Pall Mall by Oscar Wilde contains 41 reviews and writings by Wilde and published posthumously in 1919.
1. A Critic in Pall Mall Summary
We have selectively summarized some of the content from A Critic in Pall Mall:
1.1. The Tomb of Keats
The essay describes a visit to the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, particularly focusing on the tomb of the English poet John Keats. The essay begins with Wilde’s description of a marble pyramid near the Porta San Paolo in Rome, which is a tomb built for a Roman named Caius Cestius.
Wilde then turns the attention to the Old Protestant Cemetery, which is near this pyramid. In this cemetery lies the grave of John Keats, the renowned English poet. The grave is marked with an inscription that reads, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water. February 24, 1821.” Wilde reflects on the beauty of the cemetery and the flowers that grow around Keats’s tomb.
Wilde also mentions how this simple grave seems inadequate as a memorial for such a great poet, especially in a city like Rome, where grand monuments and memorials are common. The essay evokes a sense of reverence for Keats and his poetic legacy, expressing the idea that while his name may have been written in water, his memory endures and flourishes like a basil tree.
1.2. Keats’s Sonnet on Blue
The essay recounts his visit to Louisville, Kentucky during a tour in America. He was lecturing on the Mission of Art in the Nineteenth Century and used Keats’s Sonnet on Blue as an example. After his lecture, he met a woman named Mrs. Speed, who was the daughter of George Keats, John Keats’s brother. She invited him to examine Keats’s manuscripts in her possession, including unpublished letters and materials.
The essay also discusses the value of examining the evolution of a literary work and the conditions that precede its final form. It mentions the original manuscript of the sonnet, which Wilde reproduced and finds psychologically interesting. Additionally, he notes variations in different versions of the sonnet and Keats’s preference for avoiding repetition of words in consecutive lines.
1.3. To Read or Not to Read
The essay reflects Wilde’s opinion on reading and literature, emphasizing the importance of critical discernment in choosing what to read and revisiting valuable works. He categorizes books into three classes: books to read, books to re-read and books not to read at all.
Wilde expresses his surprise at the omission of certain works from lists of recommended books. He mentions the Greek Anthology as a significant work that provides insight into Greek literature and culture. He also mentions Edgar Allan Poe as a notable author whose absence he finds puzzling. Wilde suggests that Baudelaire might be a suitable replacement for Keble, emphasizing the importance of diverse tastes in literature.
1.4. The Letters of a Great Woman
The essay discusses the collection of letters written by the French writer George Sand. The letters cover a span of more than sixty years, from 1812 to 1876, and they offer insight into the life and thoughts of George Sand, whose real name was Aurore Dupin. Wilde highlights the variety and significance of these letters, which provide a window into the literary and political history of France during that time.
The letters reveal George Sand’s active engagement with various intellectual and political movements of her era. She corresponded with prominent figures like Louis Napoleon, Armand Barbes, Lamennais, Mazzini, Lamartine, and Ledru-Rollin on topics ranging from pauperism and liberty to philosophy and socialism. George Sand was known for her deep sympathy for the suffering of others and her dedication to the betterment of humanity.
Wilde discusses how George Sand’s letters became more literary after 1850. She engaged in discussions about modern realism with Flaubert, playwriting with Dumas fils, and expressed her passionate opposition to the doctrine of “L’art pour l’art” (art for art’s sake). She believed that art should serve a higher purpose, aiming for truth, beauty, and goodness.
The essay also touches on George Sand’s perspective on literature and style. She emphasized the importance of simplicity in literary style and preferred the language of peasants in the provinces over the slang of Paris. She believed that literary form should be a natural outcome of genuine emotion and conviction. While she valued individualism in art and discouraged belonging to literary schools, she also emphasized the importance of correctness in writing.
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