Donahue sees Wilde's true creativity in his "efforts to mix the styles and subjects of other writers," an endeavor which "takes typically circuitous and recondite paths." There is something unsatisfying, though, in claiming 'originality through creative imitation,' and Praz dutifully notes that, "as generally happens with specious second-hand works, it was precisely Wilde's which became popular." Instead of seeking a defense of Wilde's originality in the external events of his drama, then, I would like to suggest that it is the cautious modification of Symbolist ideals -- Wilde's affirmation and at the same time questioning of his own poetical mission -- which makes his so unique.
Wilde and the Symbolist Movement in Literature
By 1892, when was published in France and England, the tenets of the Symbolist movement had been outlined by several different theorists, among them Mallarmé and Maeterlinck.
Too often now the pedagogical challenge is to make a lot from a little. Teaching Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," you ask for comments. No one responds. So you call on Stephen. Stephen: "The sound, this poem really flows." You: "Stephen seems interested in the music of the poem. We might extend his comment to ask if the poem's music coheres with its argument. Are they consistent? Or is there an emotional pain submerged here that's contrary to the poem's appealing melody?" All right, it's not usually that bad. But close. One friend describes it as rebound teaching: they proffer a weightless comment, you hit it back for all you're worth, then it comes dribbling out again. Occasionally a professor will try to explain away this intellectual timidity by describing the students as perpetrators of postmodern irony, a highly sophisticated mode. Everything's a slick counterfeit, a simulacrum, so by no means should any phenomenon be taken seriously. But the students don't have the urbane, Oscar Wilde-type demeanor that should go with this view. Oscar was cheerful funny, confident, strange. (Wilde, mortally ill, living in a Paris flophouse: "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.") This generation's style is considerate, easy to please, and a touch depressed.
Dorian Gray's true picture of Oscar Wilde ..
Am I coming off like something of a crank here? Maybe. Oscar Wilde, who is almost never wrong, suggested that it is perilous to promiscuously contradict people who are much younger than yourself. Point taken. But one of the lessons that consumer hype tries to insinuate is that we must never rebel against the new, never even question it. If it's new -- a new need, a new product, a new show, a new style, a new generation -- it must be good. So maybe, even at the risk of winning the withered, brown laurels of crankdom, it pays to resist newness-worship and cast a colder eye.