Oscar Wilde once said “Drama is the meeting place of art and life.” In this essential, compact volume Ralph Keyes leaves a trail to that corner by gathering the flamboyant author’s thorniest, at times most insightful quotes and anecdotes. Keyes uses Wilde’s plays, reviews, letters, interrogations, even conversational repartee (given its own section) which remained Wilde’s signature to his time.
Keyes divides Wilde’s epigrams and puns into brief, easily readable sections. Wilde twists traditional views on permanent truths and those of his day: altruism (“Charity creates a multitude of sins.”) history (“History is merely gossip.”) theology, poverty, dissent (“Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation.”)
Above all, Wilde (through Keyes’ selections) quips and dissects each of the fine arts (music, prose, painting) and roles for creator, viewer, interpreter. He addresses the writer (“Even prophets correct their proofs.”) critic (“Criticism is the highest form of autobiography”), and artist (“Like the Greek gods, artists are known only to each other.”)
Amid his fast-paced one liners on male-female relations you sense how Wilde viewed marriage over and above his well-known bromide, “Divorces are made in heaven.” The book ends with Wilde explaining and defending the homosexual relationship he called “the love that dare not speak its name”. Whether or not you accept Wilde’s lifestyle preferences, his eloquent, sad defense of a letter he wrote a younger man is moving as he describes the unique merge of intellect and youthful energy which to him formed “the noblest sort of affection.” It is as close to heartfelt as anyone could get who once said, “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”
Oscar Wilde was parodied, vilified, and eventually imprisoned for his beliefs and flamboyance. But he eventually influenced artists from George Bernard Shaw to John Lennon, staking a claim as the earliest example of a postmodern artist. This book helps introduce Wilde’s full books and plays (Keyes references them consistently and provides a full bibliography), or helps you reference witty, intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual, as Wilde might have preferred) quotes for any occasion. (As to plagiarizing, Wilde himself called it, “the privilege of the appreciative man.”) His full literary courses are nutritious and filling enough, but The Wit and Wisdom of Oscar Wilde is as savory when reading or writing as salt is when dining.
Anthony G. Pizza (Florida)