Selected Prose of Oscar Wilde
Author: Oscar Wilde
Genre: Non-fiction, Essay
Selected Prose of Oscar Wilde is a collection of Oscar Wilde‘s essays, plays, short stories, letters, and poems, published posthumously in 1914.
1. Selected Prose of Oscar Wilde Summary
Selected Prose of Oscar Wilde includes passages from the following:
- The Decay of Lying
- Pen, Pencil and Poison
- The Critic as Artist
- The Truth of Mask
- The Young King
- The Birthday of the Infranta
- The Fisherman and His Soul
- Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime
- The Canterville Ghost
- The Portrait of Mr. W. H.
- Lady Windermere’s Fan
- A Woman of No Importance
- An Ideal Husband
- The Rise of Historical Criticism
- The English Renaissance of Art
- Poems in Prose
- Letter from Reading Prison to Robert Ross
- De Profundis
We have selectively summarized some of the content:
1.1. How They Struck a Contemporary
In this passage from “The Decay of Lying,” Wilde criticizes various writers for their lack of artistic merit and their failure to inject imagination into their works. He laments the absence of anachronisms in “The Black Arrow” and criticizes the transformation in “Dr. Jekyll” for its lack of artistry. Wilde also critiques Mr. Rider Haggard for hesitating to embrace his imaginative abilities and Mr. Henry James for writing without enthusiasm. Other novelists like Mr. Hall Caine and Mr. James Payn are also criticized for their shortcomings, with a particular focus on their flaws and weaknesses. Overall, Wilde expresses disappointment with the state of literature and creativity in their contemporary English society.
1.2. Thomas Griffiths Wainewright
The passage from “Pen, Pencil and Poison” describes the imprisonment of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright and his encounters with notable figures like Dickens, Macready, and Hablot Browne in Newgate prison. Wainewright, known for forgery and other crimes, complained about his sentence, arguing that the money in question had come from his mother, and the forgery had occurred thirteen years prior. Despite his past reputation among literary circles, his demeanor had become cynical during his incarceration. He defended his actions to an insurance agent, emphasizing his determination to maintain a gentlemanly status even in prison. When confronted about a murder, he nonchalantly remarked on the victim’s appearance.
1.3. Cardinal Newman and the Autobiographers
The passage from “The Critic as Artist” celebrates the appeal of egotism in literature, citing examples from famous figures like Cicero, Balzac, Flaubert, and others. It emphasizes the allure of individuals confessing their sins and sharing their personal secrets with the world, regardless of their character or beliefs. The essay also mentions the enduring fascination with Cardinal Newman’s spiritual journey and his association with places like the church at Littlemore. Ultimately, the passage asserts the irresistible nature of autobiography in literature.
1.4. The Poetry of Archæology
This passage is from “The Truth of Masks.” In 1485, workmen discovered an ancient Roman sarcophagus on the Appian Way, containing the perfectly preserved body of a young girl named Julia. Her beauty captivated people, and it led to the creation of a new cult in the city. Eventually, the Pope had her body secretly buried to prevent a shift of focus from Judæa’s secrets. This story reflects the Renaissance’s fascination with the ancient world, where archaeology was not just a science but a means to bring antiquity to life through romanticism. This influence extended to various art forms, including sculpture and public events like masques and processions, demonstrating the era’s interest in such matters.
1.5. From a Rejected Prize-essay
This passage is from “The Rise of Historical Criticism.” Ancient Italy had the function of blending the spiritual aspirations of Aryan and Semite cultures into a single creed. Italy wasn’t a pioneer in intellectual progress but played a crucial role in merging these influences. The Middle Ages tried to guard the spirit of progress, but when the Greek spirit emerged, humanity rose from the dead.
The study of Greek birthed criticism and research, leading to the Renaissance and the return to Greek modes of thought. This resurgence heralded the opening of the sixteenth century, with great ancient authors reprinted and the comparative method of research introduced. While some methods like the doctrine of averages and crucial instances are modern, the spirit of historical criticism links the Greek and modern eras. In the torch race analogy, those who first started with a lit torch should be honored for lighting the sacred flame of civilization and free thought.