Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Oscar Wilde

Hello and happy mid-week! Welcome to Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen at Silver Threading. Each week bloggers share their favorite quotes to motivate and inspire one another to keep think, writing, and working towards our goals. My contribution for the week is from the infamous Irish author, poet, and playwright, Oscar Wilde.

3565Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland. His father, William Wilde, was an eye and ear surgeon, as well as an author of significant works on medicine, archeology, and folklore. His mother, Jane Wilde, was an Irish poet who wrote under the pen name “Speranza”, meaning hope.

Wilde wrote numerous short stories and one novel. Known for his biting wit, he became one of the most successful playwrights of the late Victorian era in London and one of the greatest celebrities of his day. Several of his plays continue to be widely performed, especially The Importance of Being Earnest.

Many people know of the one novel written by Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, the story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. First published complete in July of 1890 it has been called Wilde’s most popular work. The book caused quite a scandal when it was first published, offending many people’s morals. Wilde would defend his book aggressively against those who believed he should be imprisoned for ” violating the laws guarding the public morality”. The book would later be brought up to the trial that would lead to his imprisonment and lifelong hardship.

As the result of a widely covered series of trials, Wilde suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned for two years hard labor after being convicted of “gross indecency” with other men. The imprisonment was hard on him and his health declined during that time. After Wilde was released from prison he set sail for Dieppe by the night ferry. He never returned to Ireland.

In November of 1900, Wilde developed cerebral meningitis, a result of an injury he received to his ear drum while imprisoned. He died November 30th, 1900, exiled and poor.

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”

// Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

This week I began reading a The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli and because it is a little bit of a difficult read I have been doing research as I go. I don’t think I realized before what a negative connotation the name Machiavelli had. To be Machiavellian is to be associated with dishonesty, cunning, and bad faith. The book and the man have come to be known as heartless and evil.

I am only in the beginning still but so far I just don’t see this book, or the advice in it on how to rule nations in it, as evil. I read this as an honest and accurate observation on human nature. It’s a realist’s account of how to gain power and keep it, if that is what you want to do, and let’s face it, that is exactly what a lot of people throughout history have wanted to do. There is no sugar coating in this book and I find the frankness refreshing. I think the book only appears evil because we see ourselves in it. It shows us our own selfishness and cruelty.

I don’t think The Prince was ever hated enough to be banned, it only has an air of negativity and bad taste surrounding it. It is still a classic and considered by many to be a must read. But it is about war and power and people like that sort of thing.

I do wonder about other books people have disliked because they found it didn’t agree with their moral sensibilities. Books like A Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and even the Harry Potter series are books that are often challenged and called immoral or unfit to be read by anyone. Yet, each of these teaches us great lessons about human nature.

I have to wonder if the reason books are hated is because they show us too much of ourselves. Why would a book be of a bad influence if the urges in it weren’t a part of us already? And if the urges in it were present in us before the reading, might it not just be something that comes to people naturally and can never be eradicated? If so, calling books immoral would be to call ourselves them same, and to try to ban or hide theses books from the public would be to turn a blind eye to our nature.

I think people who read books and walk away feeling disgusted or overly angry are those who have looked at the reality of things and could not handle it. They are people who will never see that we are who we are, and the world is what it is. We can change, sure, but only very slowly and with many false starts and failures. It is better to accept that we are, at the core, just as much cruel as we are kind and go from there. Books will be our reminder again and again and keep us on the track to improving rather than perfecting, which is entirely impossible.

Books that show us who we are, are the most important kind, and I hope to read as many of that sort as I can.

*************

Original image: “The House of Leaves – Burning 4” by LearningLark 

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Lisa

Hello! My name is Lisa. I find the human condition fascinating and I often write stuff about that. I blog at zenandpi.com but you can also find me on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, and if you like what I do, consider signing up for my newsletter. Thanks :)

10 thoughts on “Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Oscar Wilde”

  1. Very interesting. I had read The Prince for History and Government classes before, and found it intriguing while simultaneously repulsive. I do agree with you that humans label it (and books like it) as evil only to distract from the fact that we see ourselves in it. Good article!

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    1. Thank you so much! I am finding it a little repulsive too but only because I am not the type who would want to rule over nations. I do not possess the virtues Machiavelli describes and so cannot fathom acting in the manner he advises. I can see the value in what he says for those who want power and even Machiavelli thinks those in power should never be cruel more than they have to and they should try to keep their people happy. It’s all for selfish ends of course but still, it’s not all bad.

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  2. I just read a little book, “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene” by Roy Scranton (2015) He quotes someone that war is the natural state of humanity, which discourages that little “peace-nick” in me. Machiavellian seems to be the answer to living in “reality” amidst the cut and thrust of all the animals going for your jugular. Peace (?)

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    1. That book looks really interesting. I’ve added it to my “to-read” list, thank you! I wish for world peace too but I don’t have much faith in our ability to achieve it. Not now anyway. Maybe in the very distant future but even then I believe it will be a state forced on us in order to escape extinction. An extinction whose cause will no doubt be our own fault. I love people but God are we stupid and short-sighted! *sigh*

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  3. Lisa, I loved your commentary and thought process about “The Prince.” There are always going to be people who want to control others. And, your Oscar Wilde quote! Stupendous. He was a man born before his time. I always like his take on life! <3

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