Oscar Wilde – Goodness and Equity

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland, in 1854. At the time the whole Ireland was part of the British Empire. His father was a physician and his mother was an appreciated Irish poetess and writer under whose influence the artistic tastes of Oscar Wilde no doubt developed.

oscar-wilde

Oscar Wilde  1854 – 1900

He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and at Magdalen College, Oxford. After finishing his studies he travelled in France and Germany. He learned French so well that he was able to write his play Salomé in that language and to receive unanimous praise for the beautiful French in which he wrote it.

In 1895 he was involved in a great scandal in the aristocratic world and was accused of immorality. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment and was sent to Reading jail.

Wilde never admitted that he was guilty and always said that he was a victim of the intrigues of his enemies. His moral sufferings in prison inspired him to write his famous poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol a masterpiece of verse, expressing profound humane feelings.

After being released from prison, he immediately left England and went to France, where he died only three years later, in 1900.

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Oscar Wilde made himself known first as a poet, by publishing poems in various periodicals and magazines. In 1881 he published his volume of Poems which enjoyed an enormous success, although today his poems are less highly regarded.

He made a great impression on the British public with something quite new in English literature when he published his collection of graceful stories The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888) which was followed by a second similar collection A House of Pomergranates (1891). In these stories he expresses his humanitarian sentiments and sympathy with the sufferings of the poor while the stories abound in witty satirical allusions to contemporary topics.

In 1891 Wilde also published The Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel which is considered to be Wilde’s most important work as in it be expresses his ideas on art which should develop, as he sees it, only under the guiding of “art for art’s sake” or aesthetic isolation.

happy-prince

Oscar Wilde as carried into the zenith of his career by a series of successful comedies which were produced between 1892 and 1895: Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, The Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest.

The influence of the Norwegian playwright Ibsen is felt to some extent in that each of the plays contains a “problem” which the author brings before us on the stage. However, this is very timidly done and Wild’s criticism of the world in which he lived is not boldly enough stated, although the aristocratic world to which his characters belong is presented in the most unfavorable light.

Oscar Wilde remains in the history of English literature as one of the chief representatives of Aestheticism or the Aesthetic Movement, which believed in art as a substitute for life and which flourished in England in the last decade of the 19th century.

However, the characters in his stories do not struggle and sacrifice themselves in order to establish the reign of beauty in the world but that of goodness and equity. On the other hand, humane feelings are not to be found among those at the top of the social scale, but only among the humble and the poor or even outside humanity (a statue, a swallow, etc.).

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Oscar Wilde is in the first place a playwright and storyteller. He was also a poet very much appreciated in his time. His plays, which contain elements from Victorian farce and melodrama, are not an expression of those views on art and life which he proclaimed in his symbolical novel The Picture of Dorian Gray or in his impressive fairy tales.

However, they make a strong impression on the spectator owing to studied wit of the dialogue all throughout the plays, which turns them into pure style and a world in which action exists only to make possible an extremely witty conversation.

Virgiliu Stefanescu-Draganesti, Oscar Wilde

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The Absurd of Idealism

A more careful reading of the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes shows us that unlike Sancho Panza, who is obsessed with the idea of enrichment, Don Quixote is obsessed with the idea that the order of the world should be grounde on: social justice and elimination of the oppression.

don q 1 “I came to the world to remove the injustice”, always says Don Quixote, for who the true purpose of life is not his own fame, but the benefits that his actions may cause.

And, through so many deprivation, suffering and humiliation, he continues to fight and suffer for the others, to distroy evil and to triumph truth and righteousness.

The character of Don Quixote is built up of a sums of moral values, showing all the time generosity, courage, renunciation, soul purity, disinterest, stoicism, tendency to action and, in general, the ideal to achieve himself in good and beautiful. In this regard, Don Quixote is one of the most beautiful characters that the Renaissance literature had created.

On the other hand, the hero misses these nobile ideals, as shown in the episode of the battle against the windmills, as well as from the other subsequent episodes, mainly for three reasons: he doesn’t fit his deeds into true necessities, doesn’t know how to pursue his intentions according to his real possibilities and the ideals he wants to implement don’t correspond to the concrete circumstances.

But Cervantes emphasizes the hero’s ensemble of moral virtues because in his conception what serves the moral and social progress of mankind is precisely these virtues. Cervantes’s humanist cultural attitude manifests itself particularly in those hero’s speeches, whose eloquence then proceeds with a perfect clarity of logic and purity of expresion.

don-quixote

In the novel is also presented the general decline of Spain, a decline that is severely judged. The leaders of Spain, about whom Sancho says “he doesn’t give a damn about them”, just think of stealing and spending the wealth of the country. Instead of any virtues they display their arrogance, forgetting that the true nobility is based on virtue; the noble rank is inherited, but virtue is conquered.

Neither the other stancheon of the Spanish state, the Church, is forgiven. The priests of that time were said to be small in their hearts, that they only think about food and urge the rich to be hunks.

Finally, Cervantes’s true democratism is in the attention he pays to the characters of the people, very numoerous and varied, objectively presented, defective, but in who beautiful moral attributes predominate.

from Cristina Ionescu, Renasterea in Spania

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Storm and Stress

In Germany, Enlightenment was followed by a movement called “Sturm und Drang” (Storm and Stress), animated by national ideals and militating for naturalism, and affirmation of sensitivity and genius. The rediscovery of the ancient ideal and the idea of man’s accomplishment characterize the orentation represented by Schiller, Hölderlin and Herder, and which found its superior illustration in Goethe’s writings.

Johann_Wolfgang_von_Goethe_(Josef_Stieler)

Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832), the greatest German writer and one of the brilliant spirits of humanity, was a personality developed in many areas, concerned with literature, art and science, excelling in all areas he had approached, and he can not be framed in a single domain.

The most important of these is his literary work, which includes lyrics, dramas and tragedies.

His masterpiece Faust is a creation whose elaboration had lasted almost 60 years, being complex and difficult to fit into a particular literary species. Goethe called it a tragedy, but we can think of it as a philosophical drama or a dramatic poem.

The subject of the man who has sold his soul to the devil appears in a medieval legend and, in the form of Dr. Faust, in folk books of the Renaissance. These sources of inspiration were used by Goethe in a original way and subordinate to a fundamental theme: the meaning of existance.

His masterpiece is preceded by a Worship and a double prologue: Prologue in Theater, an opportunity for Goethe to express his ideas about literature, and a Prologue in the Sky. Here comes a bet of God and Mephistopheles, the devil convinced that man is dominated by the principle of evil and who has committed to winning Faust’s soul.

faust_02

Faust is an old scientist at the end of hsi life full of study, and he expresses his dissatisfaction with the futility of never-complete knowledge. The tought of committing suicide is eliminated by the joy of the holidays outside and the crowd’s laugh in the nature of spring.

Mephistopheles appears at Faust and the two ones conclude a pact by which the scientist gets the youth and pleasures, promising Mephistopheles to give him his soul when the happiness will cause him to ask time to stop.

The adventures of Faust symbolize the steps of man in gaining happiness. Finally, Faust find happiness in the active life, in the useful creation for people. Old again and blind, pursued by Care, Faust has the vision of creative work in freedom and asks the moment to stop:

“To live with the free people on the free fields,

At that moment I would like to say to it for the first time:

Stay, you are so beautiful !”

Faust dies, but Mephistopheles won’t get his soul becaause his generous deed has forgiven him for the sin.

from Ovidiu Drimba, Literatura universala

 

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