For Your Entertainment (FYE)
“”The Soul of Man under Socialism” is an 1891 essay by Oscar Wilde in which he expounds an anarchist worldview. The creation of “The Soul of Man” followed Wilde’s conversion to anarchist philosophy, following his reading of the works of Peter Kropotkin.
In “The Soul of Man”, Wilde argues that, under capitalism, “the majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism—are forced, indeed, so to spoil them”: instead of realising their true talents, they waste their time solving the social problems caused by capitalism, without taking their common cause away. Thus, caring people “seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see” in poverty, “but their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it” because, “the proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.”
Wilde did not see kindness or altruism per se as a problem; what worried him was its misapplication in a way which leaves unaddressed the roots of the problem: “the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good” while preserving the system.”
“Wilde’s deepest concern was with man’s soul; when he analysed poverty and its causes and effects in The Soul of Man Under Socialism it was not simply the material well-being of the poor that distressed him, but how society does not allow them to reach a form of self-understanding and enlightenment. He adopted Jesus of Nazareth as a symbol of the supreme individualist. Wilde advocated socialism, which, he argued, “will be of value simply because it will lead to individualism” and “substituting cooperation for competition will restore society to its proper condition … and ensure material well being for each member of the community.”
Wilde examined the political conditions necessary for full self-development and devotion to art, arguing, “Art is individualism, and individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. There lies its immense value. For what it seeks to disturb is monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine.”
In a socialist society, people will have the possibility to realise their talents; “each member of the society will share in the general prosperity and happiness of the society.” Wilde added that “upon the other hand, Socialism itself will be of value simply because it will lead to individualism” since individuals will no longer need to fear poverty or starvation. This individualism would, in turn, protect against governments “armed with economic power as they are now with political power” over their citizens. However, Wilde advocated non-capitalist individualism: “of course, it might be said that the Individualism generated under conditions of private property is not always, or even as a rule, of a fine or wonderful type” a critique which is “quite true.” In this way socialism, in Wilde’s imagination, would free men from manual labour and allow them to devote their time to creative pursuits, thus developing their soul. He ended by declaring “The new individalism is the new hellenism”.
He had a strong libertarian streak as shown in his poem Sonnet to Liberty and, subsequent to reading the works of the anarchist communist Peter Kropotkin (whom he described as “a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia”) he declared himself an anarchist.
For anarchist historian George Woodcock “Wilde’s aim in The Soul of Man Under Socialism is to seek the society most favorable to the artist…for Wilde art is the supreme end, containing within itself enlightenment and regeneration, to which all else in society must be subordinated…Wilde represents the anarchist as aesthete.” Woodcock called the essay, “The most ambitious contribution to literary anarchism during the 1890’s” and finds that it is influenced mainly by the thought of William Godwin.
Political philosopher Slavoj Zizek shares Wildean sentiments and intellectual contempt for charity, noting that the problem of poverty will never be solved by keeping poor people alive, quoting the relevant passages from Wilde’s essay in his lectures and book.”
“The philosophies of irrationalism and aestheticism formed as a cultural reaction against positivism during the early 20th century. These perspectives opposed or deemphasized the importance of the rationality of human beings. Instead, they concentrated on the experience of one’s own existence.
Part of the philosophies involved claims that science was inferior to intuition. Art was considered especially prestigious, as it was considered to represent the noumenon. The style was not accepted greatly by the public, as the social system generally limited access of the art to the elite.
Some of the proponents of this style were Fyodor Dostoevsky, Henri Bergson, Lev Shestov and Georges Sorel. Symbolism and existentialism derived from these philosophies.”
“The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, and combine them with larger social themes, drew Oscar Wilde to write drama.”
“The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only published novel by Oscar Wilde, appearing as the lead story in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine on 20 June 1890, printed as the July 1890 issue of this magazine. Wilde later revised this edition, making several alterations, and adding new chapters; the amended version was published by Ward, Lock, and Company in April 1891. The title is sometimes rendered incorrectly as The Portrait of Dorian Gray.
The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian’s beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil’s, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry’s world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfillment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian (whimsically) expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than himself. Dorian’s wish is fulfilled, plunging him into debauched acts. The portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging.”
“The Picture of Dorian Gray is considered a work of classic gothic fiction with a strong Faustian theme.”
“The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at St. James’s Theatre in London, it is a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personae in order to escape burdensome social obligations. Working within the social conventions of late Victorian London, the play’s major themes are the triviality with which it treats institutions as serious as marriage, and the resulting satire of Victorian ways. Contemporary reviews all praised the play’s humour, though some were cautious about its explicit lack of social messages, while others foresaw the modern consensus that it was the culmination of Wilde’s artistic career so far. Its high farce and witty dialogue have helped make The Importance of Being Earnest Wilde’s most enduringly popular play.”