Oscar Wilde was undoubtedly an earlier version of Mick Jagger in his daring to confront a staid middle class with outrageous dress and demeanour. As has been noted: “The Rolling Stones were in the vanguard of the British Invasion of bands that became popular in the US in 1964–65. At first noted for their longish hair as much as their music, the band are identified with the youthful and rebellious counterculture of the 1960s. Critic Sean Egan states that within a year of the release of their 1964 debut album, they “were being perceived by the youth of Britain and then the world as representatives of opposition to an old, cruel order — the antidote to a class-bound, authoritarian culture.”
Oscar Wilde arrived at a time where any such opposition to “authoritarian culture” was met with abject hostility. The fact that Wilde dared to speak openly about “the love that dare not speak its name“, his homosexuality meant that he could be tried as a criminal in 1900. Here is a short video on his life (click on the image):
Here is the actor Stephen Fry (who played the role of Oscar Wilde in Wilde) expressing his sense of the kind of person Wilde was:
As can be seen from every line in The Importance of Being Earnest Wilde had an amazing insight into the corrupt nature of late Victorian society, full of hypocrisy, condemnation of others and shallow in its understanding of the nature of human experience. Wilde dared to stand against that shallowness and dared to expose it to itself. Like all great artists he was trying to educate, trying to wake up the audience of his day into a more rounded, humanly respectful way of relating to each other. Did he succeed? Check out this amazing piece about “Oscar Wilde on Art” by Maria Popova.
If you want to cut your teeth on the words of one the most powerful intellectual supporters of Oscar Wilde (and George Orwell- who comes up in 20th Century Literature), try listening to this lecture by Christopher Hitchens (you will have to listen to the first 20 minutes or so before Oscar Wilde comes into focus:
BLOG TOPICS FOR WEEK 10
a/ Try to compose a short piece of dialogue that imitates the “innuendo” buried in what Wilde’s characters say to one another. You can of course use contemporary characters.
b/ Write a short letter to Oscar Wilde telling him about his insight into human character.
a/ What is it that Christopher Hitchens likes about Oscar Wilde. Try to summarise it in a paragraph.
b/ Find out how many film versions of The Importance of Being Earnest have been made and write a brief appraisal of two of these versions.
c/ “The love that “‘dare not speak its name”. What is this love? Can you explore the origins of this expression and explain its meaning in the context of Wilde’s life.
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