Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Today in Language: Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde died on November 30, 1900. Is it a tragedy to miss a new century by a hair, or a blessing to have survived right up to the end of another century?

Wilde wrote one of the most re-readable and anthropologically insightful novels of the English language, probably of world literature: The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is anthropologically insightful because it acknowledges not only the existence of sin and evil but also the horrifying effects of sin and evil: Dorian Gray lives an indefensible lifestyle, which he nonetheless gets away with . . . except when he doesn't, which is when he looks in his magical mirror and sees who he is becoming. Tragically, the effects of sin and evil are often hidden to the foolish or hardened. One chooses not to look in the mirror, or one looks and doesn't care.

Because it is so penetrating, the novel is also re-readable. We all need a reminder of how good we are not, and also a reminder to examine ourselves. The irony is that this reminder comes from a writer who was a socialite and hedonist for much of his life.

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