Monthly Archives: November 2012

Oscar Wilde’s Epigrams

Yesterday, on November 27, The Guardian published an infographic on Oscar Wilde and his most enduring epigrams. Enjoy!

Credit: Zhenia Vasiliev and Adam Frost, The Guardian



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Filed under Texts, Uncategorized, Week 9 Reviews: Wilde's "Portrait of Mr. W.H," Mallarmé’s “The Windows" and "The Azure”

“The Immoralist”, re-encountered.

As it is customary in class to begin with some first impressions, I might do well to take advantage of that approach here, and confess that this book–The Immoralist–really had very little to do with what I expected it to be.


With the crippling naivety born of self-confidence, I opened the book and rifled through the pages, awaiting an abundance of opportunities to smile knowingly, basking in the familiar glow of a lexicon well-understood, an aesthetic oft-encountered. My perusal of the book was mere formality, for surely nothing utterly unexpected could come from such a book, so famously integral to a literary tradition, whose principles can be apprehended easily enough, surely, by means of a merely instinctive approach.

In this way, I am here laid bare to your contempt, and to my own scorn as well. Quite honestly, my initial conception of this book was very soundly trounced, and any vestigial traces of self-satisfaction quickly made themselves scarce, skulking away with faces aflame.

The brief summary of the novel’s plot that was printed on the book jacket lead me to assume many things about Michel, based on my understanding of the decadent literary genre. I imagined that his illness would lead him to engage in a life of debauchery and opulence, that he would fling his young wife aside and prowl the streets of Paris, in a coat of scarlet velvet and gloves of purple kidskin, visiting brothels and corrupting nubile adolescents. Eventually, a lifetime’s fortune squandered and banished by polite society, he has no choice but to retreat to the barren landscape in which he finds himself at the beginning of the novel. In short, I thought that this was a novel that had gained its reputation on nothing more than the author’s ability to tell a hackneyed story with great verve and flair.

Quite obviously, I had no idea what I was talking about.

Above all, I found The Immoralist to be an extremely subtle account, a novel that doesn’t yield easily to straightforward interpretation; to extract any message or conclusion out of it is no simple task. My initial attempt to slot it into a conventional interpretation of decadent works failed flat on its face, so much so that I had to read the novel twice over, just in order to liberate myself from the myopic boundaries set by my thick preconceptions.

The narrator of the novel tells his story fluently, convincingly–but the reader is not allowed to forget that this is an unreliable narrator: no third-person omniscient oversees the narrative, it is the man himself who is telling the story of his life. Granted, the conditions under which he is telling this story are quite special: surrounded by three of his intimate friends (who act as witnesses to Michel’s omphaloskepsis), he recounts each action, each motivation, each aspiration that he has experienced over the past few years and lays them on the scales. Michel’s goal in doing so is to reveal himself to himself, because he is suffering from an inability to understand and come to terms with himself and his past actions–this self-narration is a sort of last resort, a desperate attempt to obtain some sort of redemption or exoneration. Thus, the stakes of this story are high: either he clears his conscience and escapes from his dissolution, or he continues to condemn himself to his current exiled state, a meagre existence that is little more than a prolonged half-life. Imagine having to be the judge of your own life, and having everything in your future hinge on an act of autobiographical retelling! No moral criteria could possibly seem sufficiently flexible for such a trial, and no pre-existing laws of conduct would seem remotely appropriate for our own case–for we are masters at justifying our own actions to ourselves, and finding a sufficient excuse for any action (whether good or bad) that we undertake is necessary to our ability to live day by day. Perhaps this inapplicability of all conventional moralities to the case of Michel’s trial of himself is a clue for why the novel is entitled The Immoralist. That is, the title is not just a simple heading which serves to indicate that within these pages licentiousness and depravity lie; instead, it is a reflection of the fact that Michel has become dislodged from any definite moral schema–he no longer knows how to judge his own actions, and as such his personhood/conception of self are in a state of perpetual abortion, as he cannot form a coherent image of the kind of person he is.

And that is also the reader’s challenge. We, too, are faced with the following questions: What kind of person is Michel? What judgements or conclusions can we form about him? Is he good–bad–sympathetic? Do we think that he is guilty of his wife’s death? But how can we even think that, given that he so assiduously and extravagantly applied himself to her care? And what kind of life do we think that he ought to lead now–should he repent and punish himself for his wife’s death, or does he actually deserve condolence and our warmest sympathies for losing someone dearly beloved, for whom he sacrificed his own career and squandered his fortune?* Do we respect him? Do we despise him?

The difficulty is that all these question can be justifiably answered in the affirmative or in the negative. Or at least, so I think, for Michel’s character is full of ambiguities and irrationalities. In a sense, we can empathize with these aspects of his character, because we, too, act on impulses and irrational motivations that we retroactively justify. Most of us are able to tell a coherent story of ourselves to ourselves, and this continuous process of confabulation and narrativization is how we can be at ease with ourselves (have a clear conscience). But Michel cannot reconcile the various actions that he has performed: he cannot understand why Moktir stole his wife’s sewing scissors, nor why the act endeared the child to him so much. He cannot understand how he can love his wife so fervently and yet feel the need to leave her during the night to meet Moktir. He cannot explain why he was so intrigued by the Heurtevent family, nor why he loved Charles so earnestly one summer and scorned him the next. Truly, he is both the landowner and the poacher. He undermines each action with an opposing one, and he cannot come to terms with himself over which action is more integral to his identity. That, I suppose, is up to Michel’s three friends and us to decide. The verdict, at least it seems to me, would take a long time in the making.




*Note the contrast between Michel and the archetypal dandy: for the dandy would have wasted his money on sumptuous gifts for his mistresses and fripperies for wenches, whereas Michel actually throws away his considerable fortune in an attempt to aid Micheline’s convalescence. 

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Filed under Week 10 Reviews: André Gide, The Immoralist

Reflections on Our Learning in this Course (Exercise #8)

Due:  By the end of the day, Sunday, December 2, 2012.

For our last group exercise of the course, we’ll be doing some group reflection on our common learning this quarter.  In the space below (and for online visitors, in the comments section), please respond to one of the following prompts (you may do more than one different prompt if you feel so inclined).

CHOICE 1:  Pick a favorite moment, passage, or visual/audio contribution from this blog (from any of the blog posts, exercises, the Twitter role play, etc.) and reflect in writing on what that moment taught you about our class topic, about the texts, about the nature of learning in this type of course, or anything else you feel was important for you to learn.

CHOICE 2:  Self-record a brief “video essay”–no more than 2 minutes long–with your mobile phone, digital camera, or other recording device, in which you reflect on your learning in class this quarter, and post it to this blog (the easiest way to do this is via uploading your video to youtube first).  I’m leaving this option deliberately vague as a task: the video can be a self-recorded 2 minutes of you talking to the camera, you talking to other people, your voice as a voiceover to certain images or video, may include music, interviews of other people, show text and writing as you see fit, include impressions from daily life around campus, be a montage of images you’ve chosen with accompanying written text (put together as a short video, e.g. with iMovie or similar software), etc.–whatever you desire. Your goal is to give the class a glimpse of something important that you, personally, are taking away from this class, and that will be an individual thing.  Be creative!  This should be fun!


I’m grateful for the chance to acknowledge the many interesting contributions my classmates have made over the course of the past months, both in writing, on this blog, and in person, in class. It is hard to choose one contribution to single out, so I do not mean to say that this is the best or more interesting post, only that it struck me as I re-read most of the posts collected on this website, for its simplicity and directness. The post is entitled “A Wilde Family” and it relates the choice of Wilde to use the fictional voices of his sons in “The Decay of Lying” to the latent presence of families, more generally, in the case of Des Esseintes and Dorian Gray as protagonists of the novels they appear in, respectively. By bringing up the notion of family, linking it to the notion of tradition, and pointing out moments in those texts in which it is suggested that the two protagonists’ sense of sin, shame, neurosis, idiosyncrasy, deviance, perversion, what have you, may have been inherited from their family past, thus undermining the singularity of those personages. The issue of inheritance is absolutely crucial to the dominant intellectual trends of the 19th century (materialism, positivism, naturalism) and to the development of social-scientific methods to articulate the personhood of individuals, as is nicely illustrated, for example, in Peter Brooks’ recent book “Enigmas of Identity.” Moreover, it is not only a social-cultural-historical problem, but one internal to literary history, too (understood as overlapping with but not of a piece with social-cultural-historical history), one that tracks the problem of the emergence of literary style as a matter of historical epistemology (or of “the emergence of concepts,” as it has been put by some of its contemporary practitioners). In the blog post, the writer (“IPN”) asks, “How unique are Dorian and Des Esseintes? Are they truly revolutionary or are they just members of eccentric families?” The same could be asked of Decadent writing in general, to which one’s answer will inevitably bear upon the Modernist offsprings of some of these works and the register of their aesthetic temperaments. I am thankful to this post, and to the course in general, for making explicit the responsibility engendered by the burden of having to settle lineages, adjudicate and allot inheritance, and ultimately shape the course of things to come. – DJM



I was especially impressed and seduced by the post « On the Decay of Lying ,» from November 1rst, and which figures a beautiful Sestina with the words lying, mirror, veil,  art, life, and nature recurring throughout. The reason why I am choosing to write about this post today, is however not only because of the mastery and beauty of the poem, but perhaps even more because I admire the author for having chosen to express her view in this form. Although not saying anything explicitly about Wilde and his handling of these concepts, the poem has a definite Wildean feel, and successfully captures both an ethereal and mysterious atmosphere. It is like the intuition that something is slightly off, although the form and the language are so perfect, one hardly thinks twice about the relationship between the words, and what the poem is really saying (‘empty walls, which began lying,” “we erased nature,” “embraced to form a veil.”) Even more surprising to me, was that I found this poem nearly peaceful and beautiful—when, upon closer examination, what it is saying is actually quite harsh : “ lying,” “sacrifice,” “bickering,” “poignant pains,” “furious bits,” “spots of blood,” “broken,” “shattered…” and the list continues.  In a Wildean manner, the form and the content seem almost contradictory, the Sestina causing the poem to have a ‘nursery rhyme’ feel to it, what with the melody-like recurrence of words. Even though the word that appear are not beautiful in themselves, this singsong feel and the magical co-occurrence of some words appease the reader into looking past the mere harshness of the content.
I think this post and poem says a lot without trying too hard, and says it in a free, original, and heart-felt way—which is what I have been trying to work on. I tend to try to analyze everything critically and rarely let the more creative side of me express itself, especially if I have some analytical point to make about something. I even inject critical analyses in my creative writings at time. I think this poem captured Wilde’s ambiguity (form versus content, harsh topics sometimes expressed in very light manners…) in the loveliest of ways, and I think I needed to see it done to realize that something this creative can be just as –if not more—insightful, than any analytical piece.  — Post By CAN

Many of the posts I found most interesting came from our week reading Monsieur Vénus. Although I was inspired by a comment in a previous post to write about fidelity, I found the post on “Hair in Monsieur Vénus” fascinating. Hair as symbol became a recurring motif in several of the works we later read and discussing it in conversation with Rachilde’s work as well as artistic representations of the goddess Venus created a useful framework to return to later on in the course. Monsieur Vénus was the first work in which we began to examine the intersection of literature and the arts, particularly painting, which we  later discussed extensively in analyses of Against Nature, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Salome. We returned to Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, particularly the positioning of Venus’ hair, several times throughout the course. Analyzing various artistic media created a more complete representation of the Decadent movement. Because many writers in the Decadent movement relied on visual art and imagery in their narrative, a foundation in artists and important works of the period was critical to my understanding and analysis of works read this quarter. -KJO

It’s difficult to pick a single favorite moment of learning from contributions on this blog. With so many ideas in one place and all concerning a topic I find deeply interesting, I’ve inevitably found myself reading through blog posts, exercise answers from other students, and open forum contributions quite a bit. In part for this reason, the moment that I will focus on here is one of the exercises, which have the benefit of being the works of everyone in the class. I especially enjoyed the second exercise, the image and sound interpretation of “The Harlot’s House” by Wilde. I had hitherto never done anything quite like this in a class. It was fascinating to hear and see the emotional impulse that other students first felt from the poem. Learning how other students interpreted the poem through what other works it reminded them of was a way to think of other interpretations from what immediately came to mind for me in a more involved way. By simply looking at the images or listening to or watching the clips, first without reading students’ explanations for them, I was able to work out new ways of interpreting and thinking about the poem, without having them handed to me as directly. Then, I could read the students’ explanations and see if my understanding matched to theirs. When it didn’t, I was introduced to more ideas. In retrospect, this exercise seems especially important because of the nature of Wilde’s writing and the Decadent writing we have encountered, all of which defy singular interpretations.  –M.P.

Even though it may sound trivial, one moment of this class that struck me was at the beginning: I was not expecting this class to be so digital humanities oriented nor I was expecting to embody decadent and dandy-like characters in a Twitter role-play. When all this was announced during the first few class-sessions I was both astonished and worried. I had never took a part in anything alike, for –I guess– most of my professors hitherto have rather been ‘old school.’ However, I quickly found myself eager to read the different contributions of my peers and felt the responsibility to maintain my blog posts as good as possible. Symbolically, one of our first assignment entitled: “Introductions: Who and What We Are!” was, in my opinion, a very valuable moment: it is interesting to see where everybody is coming from and to see how everybody’s ideas in the blog have evolved over the course of the quarter. The fact that everybody’s ideas and thoughts are displayed on an online support is both challenging for the students and democratic. The transparency of the medium (Massive Open Online Course) serves an ideal of democratic sharing of knowledge and educational resources. Plus, it’s a very thrilling thing to know that our work has been read worldwide. -R.C.

I especially appreciated both the original distribution of depictions of Salome in art and the exercise when everyone discussed a specific depiction of Salome. The pieces of art themselves were beautiful and attested to the continuing importance of this story. Plus, I knew some of the paintings from before and really liked them. I also appreciated seeing which painting everyone chose to analyze because I always think it’s interesting to see what piques other people’s attentions and I appreciated the analysis of the paintings themselves, particularly because I had not looked at closely at some of the paintings as some of the analysts had and because I find myself sometimes struggling to analyze paintings, and so I valued the accessible analyses of the paintings. Further, I enjoyed seeing how depictions evolved over time and enjoyed contemplating how different historical moments might have informed interpretations of the Salome story, which then informed those paintings. – E.R.

My absolute favorite blog post of the quarter has to be Alcibiades’ post, “Lady Gaga – A Wildean Exploration of Art, Artifice, and Existence.” She drew Oscar Wilde out of the nineteenth century and thrust him into the twenty-first by applying his theory to contemporary popular artist, Lady Gaga. The blog entry shed new light on both figures and proved that Wilde’s aesthetics and his innovative, radical mind still lives on in our post-post-modern era. Aside from being a great exploration of Wilde’s theory of art put forward in his “Pen, Pencil, and Poison,” though, I think her post really encapsulated the kind of material an online blog allows us to work with.  Adding the actual YouTube video, for instance, not only allowed us to see exactly what Alcibiades was referring to, but also gave the post a more vibrant, interesting element that engaged the reader on an enjoyable level. It was this entertaining element that actually prompted me to share the link to her post on my friend’s Facebook wall. Spreading the post around on Facebook definitely got people outside of the class (and outside of humanities) interested in what she wrote, as well as in the ideas Wilde talks about. Appreciating and talking about Oscar Wilde this casual way with friends online was, for me, a definite highlight of the blog (and course) experience. I’m so glad something like Alcibiades’ post could be written for this class, and I definitely hope my future classes will allow for this sort of sharable creativity! – A.A.

Exquisite Corpse Interpretation

One of my favorite exercises was the very first one, where each person had to comment on a few lines from Baudelaire’s “Hymn to Beauty” and to translate these lines into his or her words. In contrast to the often challenging task of reading many lengthy journal posts, this short exercise (as well as the image and sound interpretation exercises) provided me with the instant gratification of being able to see everyone’s contribution simultaneously, as well as the bigger picture it creates. When I put together all the translations, I realized that the class created an “exquisite corpse” poem (how appropriate!) about beauty, which sounds very modern, contemporary, and in some places, quite funny. Here it is:

Hymn to Beauty – An “Exquisite Corpse” poem compiled from translations and explanations by the class
Beauty, are you from heaven or from hell?
You are both godly and diabolic,
Your gaze triggers sadness or joy,
For that reason, you could be compared to alcohol.
Looking into your eyes, I see both night and day
Smelling you, I smell the odor of a dark, damp night.
Your kiss is like medicine coming down to us through the ages
That can simultaneously cool down heroes and nurture children.

Do you emerge from the black abyss or do you come down from the stars?
Charmed destiny follows your petticoats like a dog.
Horror is charming as your other gems, murder is nothing but a quaint adornment
That teases and caresses at the service of Beauty.
Beauty, you lure a short-lived insect to its death
Then you are the warmth and brightness gracing that death.
The panting lover bending to his love
Is like a dead man yearning for his desired tomb.

What difference, then, from heaven or from hell,
O Beauty, monstrous in simplicity?
If your eye, your smile and your step opens for me the door
Of infinity that I love and never knew!
In whatever form beauty is made, it does not matter,
As long as you continue to be beautiful and entrancing,
The world will be better off and life will be more enjoyable.


What I particularly enjoyed about this class was discovering the true variance in Oscar Wilde’s work.  Before, I’d been familiar with The Picture of Dorian Gray and the plays, but I hadn’t understood that underneath the witticisms and cleverness of some of Wilde’s lighter works is a strong foundation of essays and stories, which provide a plethora of depth and complex analysis which I would never have expected.  Wilde did not merely write tales of flamboyant dandies speaking biting small talk over afternoon tea- he thought deeply about thorny ideas, and for me his most valuable and fascinating endeavor was his discourse on the meaning of art.
Though it was one of the last readings in the class, I found the most engaging and significant work of the quarter to be The Portrait of Mr. W.H.  Perhaps the line that screamed to me was “Art, even the art of fullest scope and widest vision, can never really show us the external world. All that it shows us is our own soul.”  I think this one line can be applied to any of the Wilde works which we read- in Dorian Gray, for instance, there is a literal application: Dorian actually sees his soul in the portrait.  Then there is Pen, Pencil, and Poison, in which Wilde labels a murderer’s work as “art,” finding for himself something expressive and meaningful in the manner of committing murder- an interesting point of revelation, for what does it reveal about Wilde’s own soul, when his speaker speaks of the inspiring “art” of murder.  And of course, in The Portrait of Mr. W.H., we see that art is more a mirror than a separate entity- we read into things based on our own experiences, our own predilections, our own biases.  We do not see a general significance when we look at art, so skewed are we by our own perspectives.
I think understanding this idea has now led me to understanding so much of what we have done this quarter in the class.  It is directly relevant to many of the exercises we did- for example, when we did the creative interpretations based on The Harlot’s House, each of us put forward images or videos of what we ourselves associated with the poem.  The sheer variety of what we came up with serves the argument that one single piece of art- one single paged poem- will offer specific meanings to each person who reads it.  The same was alluded to when we looked at the many renderings of Salomé in art- each artist skewed Salomé in a different fashion, because they saw in her their own idiosyncratic understanding of her plight and her actions.  And when we did the Twitter exercise with Dorian Gray characters, we picked characters and, in attempting to have them speak via our own voices, we were forced to find ourselves in them.
So I suppose what I most appreciate about our quarter’s journey through Decadent literature, and through the works of Oscar Wilde, was the way in which it affected how I view art, and also how I attempt to understand these personal views of mine. -J.S.W.

I loved the twitter role play. The part that I thought was particularly interesting was the interaction between the characters from different books. We have connected plenty of ideas in class, but in some ways the short tweets brought out similarities I hadn’t even considered before. For example, I had never thought about how Raoule and Dorian might interact, but I think they have much to talk about and would get along well. Jacques might have to run for his money. The dialogue between Dorian and Des Esseintes was also very interesting and entertaining. It was like Dorian finally meeting his idol. Throughout the class we have connected the works we read under the general umbrella of Decadence. By teasing out the similarities we start to piece together what that movement really means. I think looking at the character interactions across books was a very telling and smart way to do that. It would be so fantastic and revealing if we could really hear these characters in conversation!  IPN

Youth, death, and art – these themes recurred through our readings, discussions, and posts.  I particularly enjoyed some of the insights on these themes in the blog post entitled “Eternal Youth and momentary Pleasure” from week five.  The author points out Dorian Gray’s obsession with youth, and juxtaposes this observation with the insight that “death can be a stylistic action…which actually makes life more beautiful.”  I appreciated this passage because it points to the idea of life as art, a theme that we cultivated through our class conversations.  Life as art is full of paradoxes and contradictions, as are Dorian’s beliefs, as the author of this post indicates.  There is a decadent intrigue with death, but also with living every moment to its sensory fullest.  What really impacted me from this post was the return to “The Artist,” where “the love of man that dieth not, and a symbol of the sorrow of man that endureth forever,” is reformed into “the image of The Pleasure that abideth for a Moment.”  Here, perhaps, we come as close as we should to reconciling contradictions, such as the desire for decadent moments of life and the beauty of death.  For although many of the ideas we explored do not necessarily make sense when considered together, they can be morphed from one to the next, into a layered, contradicting, yet decadently beautiful sense.  The overwhelming pleasure that Dorian sought and the “Pleasure that abideth for a Moment” are indeed made more beautiful by their tragic, artful, end.   Perhaps this is part of the cause for the decadent obsession with death – the power of sensory pleasures diminishes in beauty if the pleasures are not transient.  Death is art as much as life.   – YG


I have to admit that I can’t pick just one favorite moment for this class; it’s truly been full of pleasant surprises. Starting with the beginning of class when we learned we were going to be using a very digital take on the humanities, throughout specific exercises, but also using different mediums to discuss literature. I was skeptical and nervous at first much like R.C. wrote in his response, but as soon as I felt I had gotten the hang of using the WordPress, Twitter etc. I quickly got very excited and interested in technology as a method of interpreting literature. One of my favorite exercises would definitely have to be interpreting text through audio and visual tools. Seeing what pictures, paintings, dances, music, and videos my classmates chose to express how they had understood and felt about a piece of literature is truly a beautiful concept to me. Maybe this is because I am a musician, and this kinesthetic take on reading is quite new and exciting for me, but I have to say I loved viewing my classmates’ contributions. The Harlot’s House exercise was especially interesting, because the imagery in Wilde’s poetry is so strong. I believe the use of the digital humanities, having now observed it and done it myself, is a stimulating way of considering literature. Not only that, but it keeps the students, accountable but also involved. Being able to view your classmates’ thoughts, and the ways in which they chose to express themselves about literature is also very helpful, inspiring even. Over all, it was not a specific exercise, or moment that I can say was my favorite, but the general setup of the class and the way in which it was so interactive. I hope to encounter this much more during my time at Stanford. -MCR

I would have to say that one of my favorite parts of the class was exercise six, where we were asked to post our favorite depiction of Salomé, or the one that we found most intriguing. I was particularly fascinated by the absolute variety in the posts, the depictions of Salomé ranged from sweet and innocent to dark and lustful. It was very interesting to see the range in styles from the very early to the later, much more provocative stages. This taught me so much about visual interpretation as a whole; my image of Salomé does not necessarily match up with that of my peers’, and that’s an important distinction to make. In addition, I loved being able to expand and alter my impression of Salomé based on the other interpretations of my classmates. Although it was quite tough to pinpoint a particular moment for me that was most pivotal in my learning, this exercise remained my favorite, and one that I will continue to think about even after the conclusion of this course. -MG

For my post on Flaubert’s  Temptation of St. Anthony, I initially was planning to write on the scene with Lust and Death. I was up to my usual procrastinating tendencies, however, and when I checked the blog, I was initially dismayed that someone had already posted on that topic. This quickly changed to sheer delight—the post, entitled, “A Conversation Between Death and Lust” by YG, was truly extraordinary. It perfectly captures the tone of the scene, and functions as a compelling extension of Flaubert’s work. I was also appreciative of the original approach; the dialogue format was refreshing. I only wish that I could have come up with this myself! I’d also like to take this time to thank the class for the wonderful discussion throughout the quarter; it has been thoroughly engaging and enlightening. Alcibiades.

Not to sound cliché, but many of my favorite moments from this class came from just being immersed in the Wildean intelligence and wit which have come to define him, both as a man and as an author. In that respect, it seems obvious that my favorite texts in the course were those which exemplified Wilde’s ability to combine vicious humor with his inimitable charm and subtlety. For example, both ‘The Canterville Ghost’ and ‘The Decay of Lying’ are superb stories which are simultaneously able to make cogent points about the state of society, but in a way that makes them eminently readable. By far the greatest compliment I could pay to Wilde, no that he would ever deign to accept my praise, is that even when savagely critiquing aspects of ‘boring’ society, his stories and poems still manage to exude a boundless energy and joy. Wilde’s prose flows straight off the page, and simply being immersed in the complexity and beauty of his prose would be enough to make me love this course. Perhaps I could capture it best in the following manner: only a Wilde story could both inspire such titles as ‘Pragmatism & Hylo-Idealism’, while also being one of the funniest stories I have ever had the pleasure of reading. As someone whose pipe (and I mean pipe) dream is to write in the field of comedy, Wilde’s stories represent the pinnacle of what it means to write ‘smart comedy’. No lowbrow jokes for Wilde, no idle waste of words, but simply a true commitment to exposing the flaws of the society which he disdained in the most intellectually absorbing way possible. So, for enabling me to pin another comedic idol onto my wall, I am truly thankful for what this course has allowed me to experience.  –DF

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Stéphane Mallarmé, The Azure (1864; English translation)

The everlasting Azure’s tranquil irony

Depresses, like the flowers indolently fair,

The powerless poet who damns his superiority

Across a sterile wilderness of aching Despair.

In flight, with eyes shut fast, I feel it scrutinize

With all the vehemence of some destructive remorse,

My empty soul.  Where can I flee?  What haggard night

Fling over, tatters, fling on his distressing scorn?

Oh fogs, arise! Pour your momentous ashes down

In long-drawn rags of dust across the skies unreeling

To darkly drench the livid swarm of autumn days,

And fabricate of them a great and silent ceiling!

And you, emerge from Lethean pools and gather in

While rising through them, freight of mud and pallid reeds,

Sweet Boredom, to block up with a never weary hand

The great blue holes the birds maliciously have made …

Still more! Unceasing let the dismal chimney-flues

Exude their smoke, and let the soot’s nomadic prison

Extinguish in the horror of its blackened queues

The sun now fading yellow away on the horizon!

–The Sky is dead. –To you I run, Oh matter! Bestow

Forgetfulness of Sin and of the cruel Ideal

Upon this martyr who comes to share the stable straw

On which the happy human herd lies down to sleep.

For there I long, because at last my mind, drained

As is a rouge-pot lying on a closet-shelf,

No longer has the art of decking tearful plaints,

To yawn lugubrious toward a humble death …

But vainly! The Azure triumphs and I hear it sing

In bells.  Dear Soul, it turns into a voice the more

To fright us by its winged victory, and springs

Blue Angelus, out of the living metal core.

It travels ancient through the fog, and penetrates

Like an unerring blade your native agony;

Where flee in my revolt so useless and depraved?

For I am haunted! The Sky! The Sky! The Sky! The Sky!

–translated by Hubert Creekmore


Stéphane Mallarmé, Selected Poetry and Prose.  Ed. by Mary Ann Caws.  New York: New Directions, 1982. Pp. 15, 17.

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Additional Notes on Wilde and the Woman’s World


Dressing for the Occasion: Wilde’s Journalism, Decadence and Ethical Aestheticism

Introduction to Wilde’s Journalism

  • 1885-7 – Wilde writes more than 70 anonymous reviews for the Pall Mall Gazette
  • 1887 – Wilde becomes editor of The Lady’s World: A Magazine of Fashion and Society
    • Changes the name to The Woman’s World
    • Aimed to differentiate it from other women’s magazines
      • Moved fashion articles to the back
        • Often discussed dress reform
    • Removed the “gossipy section which had originally opened The Lady’s World” (Clayworth, 93)
  • Intermittently writes pieces for the magazine titled “Literary and Other Notes”
  • 1888-9 – Wilde’s commitment to The Woman’s World declines
  • 1889 – Wilde quits writing the magazine
  • 1890 – The Picture of Dorian Gray is published in serialized form

Ambivalence in The Woman’s World: Decadence versus Proto-Feminism?

“Under Wilde’s editorship, The Woman’s World embodies the tensions between Ruskinian ethical aesthetics and Paterian decadence – those postures of escapism espoused by Wilde’s Lord Henry Wotton and occasionally by Wilde himself” (Maltz, 193)

Decadence (Walter Pater) Ethical Aestheticism (John Ruskin)
Aestheticism Philanthropy
Articles about art Articles about poverty
Articles about art on its own rightArt for art’s sake Articles about how art reflects external conditions
(ex: anthologies of female poets)Responsibility of Art
(ex: dresses should not “injure” women)

Art for the sake of others

While many of the contributors manage to be both aesthetes and social reformers, Wilde appears to be more ambivalent about the role of social reform. Of Wilde’s editorship of The Woman’s World, Diana Maltz writes, “Most interesting, it seems, is Wilde’s ambivalent accommodation of such missionary-aesthetic feelings and pursuits in his magazine. On the one hand, he had brought communities of reformers and artists together in print, intent on transforming The Woman’s World into an inclusive journal of social and artistic issues. On the other hand, Wilde remained deeply suspicious of the climate of conscience of the 1880s, its potential for hypocrisy and its trivializing art” (Maltz, 206). Does the notion of ethical aestheticism appear in his later works? Or in any other decadent author’s works?


How and why does Wilde’s proto-feminism affect his aesthetics in the selected pieces from The Woman’s World, “The House Beautiful” and “Woman’s Dress”? Does proto-feminism or aestheticism seem to take precedence? What does this mean for his views on art? For his relation to decadence?

In “The House Beautiful,” Wilde argues against the corset by claiming that, when women do not wear corsets, “there is more health, and consequently more beauty” (Wilde, 945). Is this reconcilable with the decadent interest in sickness (for instance, Huysman’s syphilitic flowers)? Or does this concern for women’s health prevent him from sharing this decadent interest?

What is the “beauty of effect” Wilde refers to in “Woman’s Dress” (Wilde, 946)? Is this effect the same thing as Wilde’s claim in his discussion of Constance Naden’s poems that art is “a matter of result?” (Woman’s World, 81). How does this inform our understanding of Wilde’s ideas about art?

How do these discussions about objects inform Wilde’s definition of art? Is art here reconcilable with art as he presents it elsewhere, like in “The Decay of Lying?” And why?

Why don’t the progressive discussions of dress reform and other progressive ideas appear in Wilde’s other works?

Works Cited

Clayworth, Anya. “‘The Woman’s World’: Oscar Wilde as Editor: 1996 Vanarsdel Prize.” Victorian Periodicals Review. 30.2 (1997): 84-101. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.

Stokes, John. “Wilde the Journalist.” The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde. Ed. Peter Raby. Cambridge University Press, 1997. Cambridge Collections Online. Cambridge University Press. 14 November 2012.

Maltz, Diana. “Wilde’s The Woman’s World and Aesthetic Philanthropy.” Wilde Writings: Contextual Conditions. Ed. Joseph Bristow. Toronto: Published by the University of Toronto Press in Association with the UCLA Center for Seventeenth-and-Eighteenth-Century Studies and the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 2003.

Wilde, Oscar. Collins Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. 5th ed. Glasgow: Harper Collins, 2003.

Wilde, Oscar. The Woman’s World. [New York]: Source Book Press, 1970.

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Stéphane Mallarmé, “The Windows” (English translation)

The Poetry Foundation provides some general information about Stéphane Mallarmé’s work and concerns here. 

You can find a recent translation of “The Windows” here.

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Stéphane Mallarmé, “L’Azur” et “Les fenêtres” (French)

L’Azur (1864)

De l’éternel azur la sereine ironie

Accable, belle indolemment comme les fleurs
Le poète impuissant qui maudit son génie
A travers un désert stérile de Douleurs.

Fuyant, les yeux fermés, je le sens qui regarde
Avec l’intensité d’un remords atterrant,
Mon âme vide, Où fuir?
Et quelle nuit hagarde
Jeter, lambeaux, jeter sur ce mépris navrant?

Brouillards, montez! versez vos cendres monotones
Avec de longs haillons de brume dans les cieux
Que noiera le marais livide des automnes
Et bâtissez un grand plafond silencieux!

Et toi, sors des étangs léthéens et ramasse
En t’en venant la vase et les pâles roseaux
Cher Ennui, pour boucher d’une main jamais lasse
Les grands trous bleus que font méchamment les oiseaux.

Encor! que sans répit les tristes cheminées
Fument, et que de suie une errante prison
Eteigne dans l’horreur de ses noires traînées
Le soleil se mourant jaunâtre à l’horizon!

– Le Ciel est mort. – Vers toi, j’accours! donne, ô matière
L’oubli de l’Idéal cruel et du Péché
A ce martyr qui vient partager la litière
Où le bétail heureux des hommes est couché.

Car j’y veux, puisque enfin ma cervelle vidée
Comme le pot de fard gisant au pied d’un mur
N’a plus l’art d’attifer la sanglotante idée
Lugubrement bâiller vers un trépas obscur…

En vain! L’Azur triomphe, et je l’entends qui chante
Dans les cloches. Mon âme, il se fait voix pour plus
Nous faire peur avec sa victoire méchante,
Et du métal vivant sort en bleus angelus!

Il roule par la brume, ancien et traverse
Ta native agonie ainsi qu’un glaive sûr
Où fuir dans la révolte inutile et perverse?
Je suis hanté. L’Azur! L’Azur! L’Azur! I’Azur!


Les fenêtres (1863)

Las du triste hôpital, et de l’encens fétide
Qui monte en la blancheur banale des rideaux
Vers le grand crucifix ennuyé du mur vide,
Le moribond sournois y redresse un vieux dos,

Se traîne et va, moins pour chauffer sa pourriture
Que pour voir du soleil sur les pierres, coller
Les poils blancs et les os de la maigre figure
Aux fenêtres qu’un beau rayon clair veut hâler,

Et la bouche, fiévreuse et d’azur bleu vorace,
Telle, jeune, elle alla respirer son trésor,
Une peau virginale et de jadis ! encrasse
D’un long baiser amer les tièdes carreaux d’or.Ivre, il vit, oubliant l’horreur des saintes huiles,
Les tisanes, l’horloge et le lit infligé,
La toux ; et quand le soir saigne parmi les tuiles,
Son œil, à l’horizon de lumière gorgé,

Voit des galères d’or, belles comme des cygnes,
Sur un fleuve de pourpre et de parfums dormir
En berçant l’éclair fauve et riche de leurs lignes
Dans un grand nonchaloir chargé de souvenir !

Ainsi, pris du dégoût de l’homme à l’âme dure
Vautré dans le bonheur, où ses seuls appétits
Mangent, et qui s’entête à chercher cette ordure
Pour l’offrir à la femme allaitant ses petits,

Je fuis et je m’accroche à toutes les croisées
D’où l’on tourne l’épaule à la vie, et, béni,
Dans leur verre, lavé d’éternelles rosées,
Que dore le matin chaste de l’InfiniJe me mire et me vois ange ! et je meurs, et j’aime
— Que la vitre soit l’art, soit la mysticité —
À renaître, portant mon rêve en diadème,
Au ciel antérieur où fleurit la Beauté !

Mais, hélas ! Ici-bas est maître : sa hantise
Vient m’écœurer parfois jusqu’en cet abri sûr,
Et le vomissement impur de la Bêtise
Me force à me boucher le nez devant l’azur.

Est-il moyen, ô Moi qui connais l’amertume,
D’enfoncer le cristal par le monstre insulté
Et de m’enfuir, avec mes deux ailes sans plume
— Au risque de tomber pendant l’éternité ?

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