Can Women and the Lower Class be Decadent?

Wilde’s ideas presented in “A House Beautiful” and “Woman’s Dress” differ from ideas in his other works in some fundamental ways. While he seems to espouse an idea of “art for art’s sake” in The Picture of Dorian Gray and “The Decay of Lying,” for example, in his writings surrounding The Woman’s World seem to argue for functionality and practicality. While he claims that Nature mimics Art in “The Decay of Lying,” he conversely thinks that clothing should highlight one’s natural beauty in “A House Beautiful.” Can his contrasting statements be reconciled? Or is there possibly another explanation?

One question that comes to my mind is whether or not Wilde’s change in attitude comes from the fact that he is writing a magazine for women. While Wilde has been called a proto-feminist because of his efforts in dress reform, I am not completely sold. While I don’t think Wilde had anything against women, I wonder if he didn’t hold them to another standard. The only way for women to enter the realm of Art, for example, is if it is through decoration. This sexist divide is evident throughout “A House Beautiful.” The idea of functionality is acceptable for decoration because it is a female art and not a true Art.

A similar argument can be made for an elitist Wilde. He thinks it is beautiful that laborers clothing is functional and allows them to work effectively yet he also says there should be no function for something to be truly beautiful and artistic. He seems to see the lower classes as a separate entity where his rules for art are not applicable. The vast majority of his suggestions for decorating a house would only be feasible to someone with extensive funds. He claims that anyone can furnish a home inexpensively, but seems to imply that there are ways to do it properly that are certainly not cheap.

Perhaps the reason Wilde’s seeming contradiction can be deemed a true paradox is that it takes a certain person to reach his ideal of Art and Beauty, namely an upper-class man. Almost all of his protagonists are wealthy men. Wilde sticks to his convictions put forth in “The Decay of Lying” and Dorian Gray, but in a certain context. Not everyone can be a true Decadent at least as far as we can tell.  IPN

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Filed under Week 8 reviews: Wilde's journalism, Wilde's Salome

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