Is Oscar Wilde Problematic

Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet and playwright, is often considered one of the most influential writers of the late 19th century. However, his works have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years due to issues of gender and sexuality, as well as what some might consider dated social attitudes. While Wilde’s writings remain widely appreciated, the current cultural environment has left many asking if they are still appropriate or if they are too problematic to be celebrated.

It is important to consider Wilde’s life and the socio-cultural context in which he lived when examining his work. Wilde himself was a provocative figure, who often challenged traditional norms with his dress and behavior. He was an open homosexual and had a tumultuous relationship with women, which some have seen as exploitative. In addition, he sometimes expressed homophobic and sexist views, though it is unclear how serious he was about them.

On top of this, much of Wilde’s work has been subjected to various forms of censorship throughout history. His novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was banned in England, the United States, and Ireland, among other countries. In addition, the 1895 trial in which Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency” has led to many of his works falling out of fashion due to their intimate connection with his own personal life.

Taking all this into account, it is clear that there are legitimate concerns about assessing Wilde’s works through a modern lens. While Wilde may have been ahead of his time in some respects, his views on gender, sexuality and race still resonate in contemporary society, and it is important to remain aware of their implications. Moreover, in trying to evaluate whether his works should be embraced or rejected, we must not ignore the fact that Wilde created them in a very different era.

At the same time, the incredible impact Wilde has had on the literary landscape should not be discounted. His works have influenced countless writers and impacted the way we think about art, beauty, and moral responsibility. Even if his opinions can be outdated or misconstrued in certain contexts, it would be a mistake to ignore the richness and complexity of his body of work.

Wilde’s Relationship with Women

A significant portion of the conversation about Wilde’s problematic elements has to do with his relationship with women. Wilde was known to have an intimate relationship with many ladies and wrote about them in various works. This has caused some to label Wilde as predatory and narcissistic. However, it is worth noting that Wilde seemed to be writing from a feminist perspective to a certain extent. While some of his views are reflective of patriarchal conventions, there is evidence to suggest that he also valued female companionship, intelligence and sensuality.

In addition, Wilde’s female characters often defy gender stereotypes, taking on initiative and power in the stories they appear in. For example, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry Wotton is the primary instigator of Dorian’s immoral behavior, but it is Sybil Vane, a female character, who ultimately conveys a moral lesson in the novel and emphasizes the importance of authenticity. This is further supported by Wilde’s own words in his 1891 novel The Soul of Man Under Socialism, which state that “women should have free access to every field of labor which they care to enter”.

The Question of Censorship

The issue of censorship is also a key factor in the debate about the legacy of Wilde and his work. As mentioned previously, several of his works, particularly The Picture of Dorian Gray, have been censored in various countries due to their content, particularly Dover censorship which aims to control or suppress artistic expression deemed socially unacceptable. Though Wilde clearly challenged social conventions with his work, it is also important to consider the value it has added to literature and culture.

In this regard, it is worth acknowledging that while some might consider Wilde’s works to be offensive or outdated, they should have the right to be read and evaluated in a thoughtful manner. Moreover, it should be remembered that Wilde himself was subject to censorship for his sexuality, and this should allow for his work to be considered in the context of the oppression and discrimination he experienced.

Wilde’s Views on Gender and Sexuality

Wilde’s views on gender and sexuality have been especially controversial in recent years. Though he embodied progressive ideas during an era that was largely intolerant of variations of gender and sexuality, he still expressed sentiments that could be interpreted as homophobic and sexist. His views on homosexuality, in particular, have come under heavy scrutiny, as they are seen by some as perpetuating outdated and damaging stereotypes. On the other hand, Wilde’s works have also been seen as an attempt to challenge gender norms, particularly with regards to the female characters he wrote about.

Furthermore, it has been argued that many of Wilde’s views on sexuality could have been shaped by the context in which he lived. He experienced significant persecution due to his homosexuality, and this might have influenced his opinion of it. The level of judgment that was common in the late 19th century could have caused Wilde to frame homosexuality in a negative light, as a result of his sense of shame and guilt.

The Contemporary Reception of Wilde’s Work

In many ways, the controversy surrounding Wilde’s work exists largely due to its reception in the contemporary world. For example, many of Wilde’s works were written during a period of sexual freedom, but they are now being evaluated through modern standards of morality. Furthermore, the fact that Wilde himself was a controversial figure has caused some to dismiss his work without considering its timeless themes and artistic merits.

This is perhaps demonstrated in the ways in which his works have been adapted or remade. For example, many versions of The Picture of Dorian Gray have removed or changed elements that might be seen as offensive, such as perceived derogatory references to Jewish people. These adaptations often demonstrate that Wilde’s works remain popular and have the potential to appeal to contemporary audiences, provided they are examined in the right context.

The Relevance of Wilde’s Writing Today

Ultimately, it is essential to recognize that Wilde’s work is still relevant today, even if it raises questions about his so-called “problematic” elements. Wilde’s works are notable for the ways in which they probe questions on art and morality, and they continue to speak to contemporary audiences in meaningful ways. Even if some of his opinions appear outdated or out of line with today’s cultural sensibilities, it is important to remember that Wilde created his works while living in a very different context.

Moreover, the fact that Wilde was an openly gay man at a time when it was thoroughly condemned should not be forgotten. His commitment to challenging social conventions paved the way for LGBT literature and culture, and even if his works are seen as problematic in some ways, they should still be celebrated for having such a pioneering effect.

Acknowledge and Interrogate Wilde’s Work

In considering Wilde’s legacy, it is important to remember that there is no one definitive answer to the question of whether or not his works are problematic. It is key to acknowledge the existing issues about his work, but also recognize its contributions to literature, culture and society. We must not shy away from interrogating the messages in his works, as it is essential to assess them in the context of today’s world.

What is clear, however, is that Wilde’s work should not be overlooked. For better or for worse, Wilde’s work has left a lasting impression on the literary landscape and will continue to do so for generations to come. Thus, instead of completely dismissing his works, we must strive to acknowledge them in the right context and explore their timeless themes and messages.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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