The Decay of Lying – An Observation (Intentions, 1891)


by Oscar Wilde (1852 - 1900)

A mock-Socratic dialogue, in which ‘Vivian’ reads ‘Cyril’ highlights from a longer article. Vivian argues that Art expresses only itself and serves no other end, while Life imitates Art, such that people copy literary types and London fog is noticed only when painted.

Lying (the telling of beautiful untruths) should be Art’s aim. Wilde was reacting to the Romantic ‘impulse from the vernal wood’ but modern novels’ gritty realism seems a closer irritant. He takes dozens of lethally witty swipes at British and French writers, past and present, before Vivian exits into the twilight (which exists only to ‘illustrate’ poetry).

Related recommendation: Baudelaire’s ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ (1863)

Origin: Ireland / Britain

Themes: The role of Art or Artists

Genres: Aphoristic, Critical, Dialogue or Epistolary, Humorous, Semi-Fictional

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