Crime and Culture in “Pen, Pencil and Poison”

Oscar Wilde’s biographical essay “Pen, Pencil and Poison” seemed, like often, to feature themes such as aestheticism, crime vs. culture, sin, and the creation of one’s self. However, what struck out to me most of all in this essay was the theme of crime vs. culture and the possible parallels that it could have had for Wilde on a personal level. Wainewright is a murderer, however, we as readers don’t really see the full extent of his criminal activities until the very end of the essay, something I’m sure was no accident on Wilde’s part. As always it is somewhat difficult to discern Wilde’s honest opinion, in this case that of Wainewright. That said, Wilde compares him to Charles Baudelaire, someone Wilde admired greatly, and describes the Wainewright as “this young dandy sought to be somebody, rather than to do something. He recognized that Life itself is an art and has its modes of style no less that the arts that seek to express it…in this artistic perception he was perfectly right”.

This shows that Wilde held at least some admiration and respect for Wainewright, which brings back the important theme here—we mustn’t forget that he was a murderer, not just any murderer, but a cunning, sarcastic one at that, and the contrast is definitely noteworthy. Wilde claimed that his criminal activities revealed the soul of his true artistry; society rejected and feared him. This perhaps alludes to a more personal aspect of the life of Wilde himself—sometimes society (culture) viewed Wilde’s activities as crime, when in fact he was harming no one and probably would not consider his actions to be criminal.  Obviously, there are some major differences between the two situations, but nonetheless it seemed to me that Wilde was making an important statement about a disconnect between what society and culture view as crime and what actually should be considered crime. -MG

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Filed under Week 6 Reviews: Wilde's criticism in Intentions

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