Oscar Wilde’s Vision of Purity

(Written by a Stanford student–MCR.)

The image of purity in Oscar Wilde is always juxtaposed to that of death, innocence versus corruption, and love as opposed to vice. While observing the character of Virginia in Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost, I was immediately reminded of the narrator’s Love in The Harlot’s House. Although it is impossible to determine whether or not this Love is actually pure, for argument’s sake I would like to assert the woman as such. In this blog post, I propose we draw parallel qualities between the narrator’s Love, and Virginia Otis.

When the reader is first introduced to the young Virginia, she is described as being “lithe and lovely as a fawn, and with a fine freedom in her large blue eyes.” (185) In chapter 5 of The Canterville Ghost, Wilde encroaches upon his comedic style and returns to a more serious tone. It is in this chapter that we are introduced to Virginia as a pure, virginal light. The ghost says to Virginia “You can help me. You can open for me the portals of Death’s house, for Love is always with you, and Love is stronger that Death is.” (198) The ghost goes on to explain the family prophecy which states that “When a golden girl can win/Prayer from out the lips of sin,/When the barren almond bears,/And a little child gives away its tears,/Then shall all the house be still/And peace come to the Canterville.” (ibid) Only she a small girl of 15 can help the ghost transition from a world of horror and eternal haunting to that of peace and a free soul.

Similarly, the narrator’s Love in The Harlot’s House makes a transition “she left [his] side, and entered in: Love passed into the house of lust.” (897) When she enters “suddenly the tune [goes] false.” (867) Maybe the Love is some sort of saving grace, although unclear, we understand that Love and Death do not mix. Love is too pure, and for Wilde often portrayed as a female child. As much as Virginia is Love in The Canterville Ghost, it is “the dawn, with silver-sandaled feet, [who] crept like a frightened girl.” (867) that breaks the inebriating spell of the dancers in The Harlot’s House. Only Virginia, or the narrator’s Love can positively influence those around them to a point of affecting some kind of optimistic change. Without Virginia, the ghost’s true “voice” would not be heard, and the sickening waltz of the harlot’s would degenerate forever. -MCR

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1 Comment

Filed under Week 2 Reviews: Wilde's Poetry and Short Fiction

One response to “Oscar Wilde’s Vision of Purity

  1. ALo

    I really like your perspective here. I agree, and very much enjoy, that Wilde juxtaposes love with death. It’s almost an archetype, “Love Vs. Death,” but it gives the reader a sense of security amongst the confusion. I think at times, Wilde’s hilarious irony and satire can begin to mar the morals of they story, so bold contrast between concepts that the audience can easily understand and accept (love and death) tend to ground the story a bit. Loved your post!

    ~ALo

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