How Oscar Wilde’s life imitates his art

Michèle Mendelssohn in the Oxford University Press Blog:

OscarWilde_LM-768x1215The idea that life imitates art is one of Oscar’s best yet most often misunderstood. It is central to his philosophy and to his own life. Take The Decay of Lying, for example, an essay in the form of a dialogue that he wrote in the late 1880s. What did he call the interlocutors? Why Cyril and Vyvyan, the names of his two young sons, of course. But the piece’s intellectual party really gets started when Wilde has his learned young gentlemen interview each other. Naturally, what is uppermost in their minds is the relationship between life and art. Just like their clever father, Cyril and Vyvyan are curious about how the real world and the imaginary world mirror each other.

Doublings such as these are usually a clue in Wilde that he is working through some element of autobiography. By the time he penned the essay, he was in his mid-30s, and on the verge of hitting it big. He also had a wife and family to support. He hadn’t yet written The Importance of Being Earnest or any of the mischievous society comedies that would make his name throughout the world. But he had taken a double first from Oxford, accessorized it with the Newdigate Prize for poetry, cut a dash as a London dandy and gained a reputation as a heartthrob in the United States where “Oscar Dear” became the name of one of the many songs immortalizing his charms. When he wasn’t flirting, he was lecturing Americans and Canadians about art and interior decoration, editing a feminist women’s magazine, reviewing books, and writing essays.

All the world seemed to be a stage to him, and life itself a kind of performance. And that became the subject of one of his most memorable pieces, The Decay of Lying.

More here.